Charlie Hebdo: Cartoonist explains why he drew cover of latest issue

A cartoonist from French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has explained his reasons for drawing the Prophet Muhammad on the cover of the latest issue of the magazine that hit the newsstands on Wednesday.

"This was not the front page the world wanted us to draw, it was our front page," Renald Luzier said.

In a packed press conference held at the offices of French publication Liberation, where the surviving members of Charlie Hebdo have been relocated since last Friday, Mr Luzier, also known as Luz, held back tears as he spoke about his drawing.

"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 Muhammad. I am sorry that we drew him again, but the Muhammad we drew is a Muhammad who is crying above all," he said on Tuesday.

Twelve people, include four of Charlie Hebdo's top cartoonists, were killed by gunmen who barged into the Paris offices of the magazine on Jan 7.

Mr Luzier, who escaped the massacre because he had overslept, described crying after he drew the caricature.

"We are cartoonists and we like drawing little characters, just as we were as children.

"The terrorists, they were kids, they drew just like we did, just like all children do," he said.

"At one point, they lost their sense of humour. At one point, they lost the soul of their child which allowed them to look at the world with a certain distance," he added.

Also present at the press conference was Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief Gerard Biard, who held a copy of the controversial issue, which featured the Prophet holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign under the words: "All is forgiven".

Mr Biard said the edition had been made "with joy as well as pain".

Mr Biard also shared that when Luz first showed the editorial team the cover art, everyone "jumped up for joy."

"We are happy to have done it, happy to have managed to do it," Mr Biard said. "It was difficult because it had to be something of us, something of the events which we have been confronted with. This edition - the whole of Charlie Hebdo is in it. This edition is Charlie Hebdo."

Explaining what went through his mind as he drew the caricature, Mr Luzier said: "I drew it and wrote, 'I am Charlie'. It was an idea I had in mind, but it wasn't enough for a front page. I just had this energy, just the idea of drawing Muhammad. I am Charlie. And I looked at him (the character), he was crying. Then I wrote above it, 'All is forgiven.' Then I cried. That was the front cover."

The latest edition, which will be made available in 25 countries in 16 languages, was an emotional undertaking. The weekly had lost its editor, Stephane Charbonnier, along with nine key cartoonists, contributors and subeditors.

The remaining staff, including Mr Luzier, worked in a conference room in Liberation's offices. According to The Guardian, the room was guarded by five police officers, with more standing in the street below.

Speaking about the process he went through, Mr Luzier said: "I was in a corner, I summoned the talent of all those who weren't there and all those who were. I said to myself, we must do a drawing that above all makes us laugh, and not one on the emotional charge we are victims of."

The cover has drawn ire from some Muslims.

In a report by The Guardian, Omer el-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: "My reaction to the cartoon is disgust, but tending more to annoyance as well because I feel that what's happening here is not that different from what we witnessed back in 2005 with the Danish cartoons when media outlets went into a cycle of just publishing the cartoons just to show defiance. And what that caused is more offence."

He said causing offence "just for the purpose of offending" was not freedom of speech.

Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb El Rhazoui, one of the survivors of the attack, told the BBC that the new issue cover was a call to forgive the terrorists who murdered her colleagues.

She said Muslims could ignore the magazine if they took offence.

"I would tell them it is a drawing and they are not obliged to buy this edition of Charlie Hebdo if they don't appreciate our work. We are only doing our job, we don't violate the law."

In a report by The Guardian, Ms Rhazoui said, "Our friends died because of small drawings, because of a joke, but what happen to us was not a joke. Muslims must understand that we in Charlie Hebdo just consider Islam as a normal religion just like any other religion in France. Islam must accept to be treated like all the other religions in this country. And they must accept humour also."

melheng@sph.com.sg