Charlie Hebdo is facing another existential moment — and Harvey Weinstein is partly responsible. The surviving members of the French satirical weekly might appreciate the twisted irony. Less than three years after the terror attack that killed 12 members of its staff, Charlie has been receiving very explicit death threats after a cartoon they published on their cover last week took ribald aim at a prominent Islamist scholar. Le Monde reports Tuesday that among the messages delivered across social media the past few days: "We're gonna cut your throats," "Second round coming up for Charlie," and "If nobody decides to go, I'll go myself …"
Both long before, and ever since the Jan. 7, 2015 attack, Charlie Hebdo has received such threats. But in an interview published Tuesday in Le Figaro, the magazine's editor-in-chief Laurent "Riss' Sourisseau notes that "for this cover, the number is higher than usual." The Paris prosecutor's office opened an investigation Monday.
So what's the spark for such virulence? Another depiction of Islamic prophet Mohammed? Er, hardly. In its edition last Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo depicted the Swiss-born scholar Tariq Ramadan with a huge erection (perhaps an ode of sorts to an old drawing of disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn) saying, "I am the sixth pillar of Islam!" under the caption: "Rape: Tariq Ramadan's defense."
Charlie Hebdo's Ramadan and DSK covers — Source: François Momboisse via Twitter
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Ramadan has been accused in France of rape by two women, while in Switzerland, the daily La Tribune de Genève reported new allegations that he sexually harassed at least four former underage students, sometimes coercing them into having sexual intercourse with him. The 55-year-old has vigorously denied the accusations as a "campaign of lies launched by my adversaries."
Also a professor at the University of Oxford, Ramadan is a controversial figure in France, where he's perceived by critics across the political spectrum as a representative for conservative Islam and soft Islamism. His grandfather, Hassan al-Banna was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and his father, Said Ramadan played a prominent role in the organization there until he was exiled by then president Nasser, and fled to Switzerland — where Tariq was born. His brother, Hani Ramadan, is banned from entering French territory and openly defended the use of stoning against women.
An attack against Islam? In fact, against Ramadan.
The stakes in this particular sexual assault controversy, in other words, are high. But does this make Charlie Hebdo"s drawing an attack against Islam? Was its no less perverse cover of Weinstein two weeks ago an attack against movies? Hardly, again.
Laurent Joffrin, editor-in-chief at Libération, the French daily that housed the satirical newspaper's staff after the 2015 attack, summed it up in an editorial Monday: "An attack against Islam? In fact, against Ramadan, mocked as a Tartuffe with a big d***, who contradicts the very principles he is supposed to teach, and which are not, as it happens, targeted by Charlie. But subtlety is not the bigots' strongest suit ..."