Charlie Hebdo provokes Iran’s mullahs – the action has consequences

Charlie Hebdo provoked the Iranian leadership so strongly with caricatures that there were riots in the theocracy. But it’s not just the supporters of the mullahs’ regime who are bothered by the action.

09.01.2023, 17:3309.01.2023, 17:52

Chantal Stäubli

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Ali Khamenei’s life hangs by a thread. Iran’s supreme spiritual leader tries to save himself from drowning in a bloodbath by grabbing a hangman’s knot.

This is one of more than 300 cartoons submitted to the #MullahGetOut contest launched by French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Eight years after the Islamist-motivated attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, the newspaper published a special edition. This not only looks at the past, but also at the present: the protests in Iran.

The editorial team was almost wiped out at the time because of caricatures about the prophet Mohammed. Now the newspaper, which is still under police protection, is showing solidarity with the protest movement in Iran – and is shooting with full force against Iran’s religious leaders.

Provocative front page

The front page shows a stark naked woman giving birth, with tiny midget ayatollahs walking into her vagina. Next to the picture is written: «Mollahs, retournez d’où vous venez» (Mullahs, go back where you came from). The news service Twitter classified the cartoon as “sensitive content”.

The publication is the result of the #MullahsGetOut campaign. Since December, the editorial team has been collecting caricatures of people from all over the world. The only requirement: to make fun of the religious leadership in Iran – and to “send it to the dustbin of history”.

By the time the magazine went to press, the newspaper had received more than 300 cartoons – as well as thousands of threats. The newspaper published the 35 “most mature, most original and most apt” cartoons. Many of the cartoons are said to be from Iranians living in exile.

A selection of the submitted caricatures:

Ali Khamenei caught in a bloodbath - the cartoon described in the introduction.

Ali Khamenei caught in a bloodbath – the cartoon described in the introduction.picture: Sanaz B. (Iranian living in the Netherlands) / charlie hebdo

Remnants of the “mullah species”.image: Nestor R. / charlie hebdo
In English: Is it me or does it smell like feet?

In English: Is it me or does it smell like feet?image: Aisha / charlie hebdo

Competition has a catch

The action is no accident. The initiative targets an action in 1993 when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard called for caricatures of Salman Rushdie, the author of the novel The Satanic Verses.

Muslim students display a drawing of Salman Rushdie, writer of the book "Satanic Verses"outside the former British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 18, 1990. (AP Photo)

People protest against Salman Rushdie, author of the novel The Satanic Verses, in the Iranian capital of Tehran on February 18, 1990.Image: AP

The hardline Iranian newspaper Islamic Revolution shows cartoons depicting British author Salman Rushdie on the eleventh anniversary of Iran's death sentence against him Monday Feb. 14, 2000 in Tehran ...

The Iranian state newspaper Islamic Revolution published cartoons by the British author Salman Rushdie.Image: AP

As early as 1989, the Iranian ayatollah and revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (an Islamic edict) ordering the writer to be killed. Reason: The novel insults Islam. In 2016, the bounty for killing the author was increased from around $600,000 to $4 million. In 2022, Rushdie was stabbed by a Shiite extremist on an open stage in New York. He barely survived the attack.

Iran’s government feels provoked

The action did not go unnoticed in the theocracy. The first reaction was not long in coming. After publication, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the closure of the French research institute (Ifri) in Tehran. The French carried out archaeological excavations in Iran in the middle of the 19th century, and the finds are housed in the institute. The research center only reopened in 2021 after years of closure as a sign of a rapprochement in bilateral relations between France and Iran.

epa10395737 Iranian women hold pictures of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during an anti-France protest demonstration in front of the French embassy in Tehran, Iran, 08 January 2023. Ir ...

The satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo triggered an anti-France demonstration on January 8, 2023 in front of the French embassy in Tehran. Image: EPA

According to the Foreign Ministry, the renewed closure is “a first step”. In a statement threw the Ministry «Inaction on anti-Islamism and the spread of racist hatred in French publications».

France referred to freedom of the press

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna rejected the criticism and made it clear that freedom of the press applies in France, “which Iran probably has no knowledge of”.

In a second statement Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said that “freedom of expression should not be used as an excuse to insult a religion.” France must respect the “fundamental principles of international relations, including mutual respect and not interfering in internal affairs”.

Iranian police officers hold posters of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they protect the French Embassy during a gathering to protest against the publication of offensive caricatures of A ...

Iranian policemen stand by their supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during protests against the publication of the cartoons.Image: AP

epa10395738 Iranians take part during an anti-France protest demonstration in front of the French embassy in Tehran, Iran, 08 January 2023. Iran harshly condemned the publication of cartoons depicting ...

The protesters are angry with the French leadership.Image: EPA

The government is not alone in feeling provoked by the publication of the cartoons. According to the AFP news agency, numerous Iranians protested against the satirical newspaper in front of the French embassy in Tehran on Sunday. The mullahs’ supporters set fire to French flags and held up placards reading “I will sacrifice my life for the Führer” and “Shame on Charlie Hebdo”.

Caricatures downplay violence

But the criticism doesn’t just come from within the company’s own ranks. Iranian activist Sanaz Azimipour, who lives in Germany, finds the caricatures tasteless. Across from “Deutschlandfunk Culture” the Iranian-born says that the movement in Iran is feminist and progressive, but she finds the caricatures sexist.

One cartoon in particular criticizes her: ein Cowgirl, which Ali Khamenei tries to capture with a lasso. This would only downplay the violence inflicted on women in Iran.

All other cartoons are here to find.

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