Just a year after caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a French satirical weekly sparked violent protests and arson at the company's offices, that same magazine was preparing to ruffle feathers again with a comic-book biography of Islam's founding prophet.
Employees at Charlie Hebdo were seeking to nip any sort of outcry in the bud, saying the new publication was neither satirical nor provocative. According to editors at Charlie Hebdo, the new comic book was duly researched and was conceived as an educational piece imagining the life of Muhammad.
"We're talking about a biography that was approved by Islam, which was worded by Muslims," said Stephan Charbonnier, an editor at Charlie Hebdo known under the pen name "Charb."
"We merely translated the text into illustrations," he said.
Charbonnier displayed the book cover at a press conference and addressed the title of the book — "The Life of Muhammad” — by saying he came up with the idea for the comic the same year Charlie Hebdo's offices were besieged.
"Before we laugh at the character we should come to know him," Charb said. "We know much about Jesus, but we don't know anything about Muhammad."
Tensions between the French Muslim community and Charlie Hebdo were ignited in 2006 after the weekly chose to publish a section of the controversial Danish cartoon that shocked the Muslim world, sparking outcry, protests, and even boycotts of Danish goods throughout the Middle East. Arsonists set the Charlie Hebdo offices on fire after the weekly decided to print a special newsletter featuring comics "starring" Muhammad. The editor-in-chief consequently received death threats, some of which were left by hackers that cracked into the publication's website.
Since the incident, French police have provided Charbonnier with an extra watch when he is in public.
Charb said that those people threatening his life were "stupid and ignorant of Islam." Criticism over the publication came from various Muslim nations, a factor that obligated the French government to provide protection for the popular magazine's staff.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that while it was important to maintain the right of freedom of expression, it was forbidden to forget what was occurring throughout the Muslim world.
"Is it sensitive, or wise, to add oil to the fire?" Laurent asked.