By Elsa Buchanan, International Politics reporter
Charlie Hebdo’s “survivors’ issue” sold out within minutes as readers jostled and elbowed their way to grab a copy, but supporters warn this upsurge of solidarity could be short-lived.
Demand for what is being called the “survivors’ issue” of the Charlie Hebdo magazine was high across France this morning.
“I was fifth in the queue when I arrived at 6.45am to buy Charlie Hebdo, and the Maison de la Presse (newsagent) didn’t open until 7.15am,” explains Marie-Christine Larroche, a former translator from Coarraze (Pyrenees Atlantiques).
The 59-year-old had asked the newsagents to reserve a copy for her, but they refused, instead advising her to come to the kiosk very early this morning, “and to bring two croissants for them ahead of the human tide”.
Although she does not tend to buy the satirical magazine, Mrs Larroche was one of thousands of people queuing this morning outside newsagents across France with the hope of getting their hands on Charlie Hebdo’s first issue since the deadly terror attack left eight journalists, including its editor, dead in addition to four others.
It is believed earlier cartoons of the Prophet provoked the attack on the magazine, perpetrated by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi last week. One the Kouachi brothers was filmed shouting “we are avenging the Prophet” after the killings at Charlie Hebdo.
While the magazine sells about 60,000 copies every week, publishers increased its print run to five million copies to show defiance against the perpetrators of the attack.
While she waited outside the newsagent, Mrs Larroche was in touch with her sister, Claudine Larroche-Sajous, a retired teacher, who was also queuing outside a newsagent next to her home in Pau, half an hour away.
“By text my sister let me know that when she arrived at 6.10am, she was already eighth in the queue. But she managed to get her copy,” Mrs Larroche explains.
While she explains she didn’t know any of the other customers waiting in line, Mrs Larroche says the atmosphere was one of remembrance, and dialogue.
“This gave us the occasion to speak about the events together,” Mrs Larroche recalls. “The atmosphere wasn’t sad at all. We were telling each other: ‘We need to support Charlie Hebdo, we need to buy their magazine, especially this one which is of historical importance to them [the editorial team].”
Jean-Michel Cruzalebes, 62, from the neighbouring village of Igon, was late arriving at the newsagent. At the end of the queue the retired psychologist could only wait for his turn, saying: “If there is no more Charlie left, I’ll buy Le Canard Enchainé [another weekly satirical newspaper] instead.”
At this newsagent in the small town of Southern France, Mr Bignalet, the owner, typically only sells one copy of the weekly magazine. “Out of the three copies I receive every week from the publishers, I usually have to send two copies back.”
This morning, however, the 24 copies dispatched to Mr Bignalet’s store were sold out within a couple of minutes, and the owner expects copies to be restocked in the next few days.
“There was a rush and people were jostling to get in the newsagent,” Mrs Larroche explains. “One man even jumped the queue to take a copy. That wasn’t very civil.”
Growing skepticism over lasting support
While the newsagents were overwhelmed by the numbers of customers requesting a copy of the €3 magazine, featuring a weeping Prophet Mohammed holding the iconic “Je Suis Charlie” sign, Mrs Larroche raised the question of longevity of this popular enthusiasm for the publication.
“It’s great to have this support,” she explains. “But the problem is about not only supporting them today, but in the weeks and months to come. The next issue will come out in two weeks, and I hope this upsurge of solidarity and unanimity will continue.”
While surviving staff members, at an emotional news conference, described their choice of cover as a show of forgiveness, most Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous.
Speaking to the press, French cartoonist Renald Luzier, also known as Luz, said: “The only idea left was to draw Mohammed, I am Charlie. Then I looked at him, he was crying. Then above, I wrote [a tagline]: ‘All is forgiven’, and then cried. We had the front page, we had finally found this bloody front page. This was our front page,” Luz said.
“This is not the front page that the terrorists want us to draw, as there are no terrorists in it, just a man who cries: it’s Mohammed. I am sorry that we drew him again, but the Mohammed we drew is a Mohammed who is crying above all.”
So what did readers think about the survivors’ edition’s cover when they finally put their hands on it?
“It is a bit exaggerated to say that ‘All is forgiven’. An act like that cannot be forgiven,” Mrs Larroche says. “Charlie Hebdo may have forgiven everything, but I don’t think it will calm passions on this issue. Yet, I would imagine Luz used this tagline to signal to the Muslim community that the majority of French people don’t do the amalgam between them and Islamist extremists.”
When it comes to the caricature of the Prophet, however, Mrs Larroche does not believe it is “very daring”, but acknowledges religious sensitivities might be hurt. She adds: “The caricature could offend Muslims, again”.
Meanwhile, the magazine’s decision to publish another cartoon of the Prophet has already generated threats from militant Islamist websites and criticism from the Islamic world.
A top al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, Nasr al-Ansi, this morning appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack and warning the West of more “tragedies and terror”.
The group “chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation”, which was conducted in “vengeance for the Prophet”, the video message said.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State (IS) militant group said on its radio station that the publication of the cartoon was “an extremely stupid act”.