ANALYSIS: Once again, Charlie Hebdo Takes Aim at Violent Islamists, This Time in Spain

Here we go again.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a cartoon on its cover page devoted to the August 17, 2017, terror attack in Barcelona that left 13 dead and 130 injured.

Le Figaro, El Pais, and the other European outlets that have picked up the story so far have largely re-published the offending cartoon as has the Qatar based Al-Jazeera.

Newsweek and a handful of American mainstream news outlets have picked up the story, too, but unlike their European counterparts have not reprinted the cartoon. The American press has been down this road before -- engaging in self-censorship so as not to offend radical Islam. And it also revolved around Charlie Hebdo.

The left-wing, satirical magazine entered the conscience of the Anglophone world on January 7, 2015, when two gunmen forced their way into the magazine’s offices and killed twelve of its staff. Brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, Muslims of Algerian descent, carried out the attack in revenge for a cartoon published by the magazine that lambasted the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

In the weeks after the attack, free speech advocates adopted the cry “Je suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie), to show their solidarity with the magazine and the right to free expression. However, support for free speech and Charlie Hebdo’s right to offend was not universal. And this support has further dimmed in recent years.

When Charlie Hebdo reopened its doors and published its first issue after the terror attack, the American and English press divided over how to cover the event. CNN, NBC, BBC, NPR, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the New York Times reported on the new Charlie Hebdo cover, but did not show it.

Not all mainstream outlets took the pusillanimous path. CBS, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, USA Today, the LA Times, Fox News, and the Washington Post reported on the story and did show the cover.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told the Huffington Post in 2015 the Gray Lady declined to publish due to the sensitivity of its readers. “Out of respect to our readers we have avoided those we felt were offensive.

“Many Muslims consider publishing images of their prophet innately offensive and we have refrained from doing so,” Baquet said.

However, the decision did not go unchallenged. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan argued the newspaper should have published.

“The cartoon itself, while it may disturb the sensibilities of a small percentage of Times readers, is neither shocking nor gratuitously offensive,” she wrote. “And it has, undoubtedly, significant news value.”

Will this latest Charlie Hebdo story be deemed newsworthy by the New York Times? Who will claim to "be Charlie" now? The next few days will tell. However, the media hive does not seem as quick this time to defend Charlie Hebdo’s freedom to offend.

AFP, the French wire service, has distributed a story to its subscribers, framing the article against the magazine:

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published Wednesday a provocative front-page cartoon about Islam and the recent terror attacks in Spain, leading to criticism that it risked fanning Islamophobia.

The latest edition of the magazine, which was targeted by Islamist gunmen in 2015, shows two people lying in a pool of blood having been run over by a van next to the words "Islam, eternal religion of peace."

The liberal Madrid daily El Pais also criticized Charlie Hebdo for providing ammunition to right-wing extremists.

The [2015] attack sparked a wave of solidarity and popularization of the slogan Je suis Charlie, “I am Charlie”. However each potentially offensive cover has led some to rethink the slogan. … The ritual is repeated once more. Charlie Hebdo publishes its cover and ignites a controversy. It has been celebrated by politicians of the National Front in France and American alt-right figures. And he has been condemned, among others, by the ex-minister socialist Stéphane Le Foll, who in a radio interview said: "Mixes are very dangerous. To say that Islam is a religion of peace implying that it is in fact a religion of death is extremely dangerous."

The AFP story quotes the editor of Charlie Hebdo saying the decision to be outrageous was prompted by the silence and obsequiousness of European governments in the face of radical Islam.

Charlie Hebdo editor Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau explained the choice in an editorial, saying that experts and policy-makers were avoiding hard questions out of concern for moderate law-abiding Muslims.

"The debates and questions about the role of religion, and in particular the role of Islam, in these attacks have completely disappeared," he wrote.  

Is this criticism fair? Have governments and media downplayed the role of Islam in these terror attacks? Yes. The New York Times, and many other media outlets, have performed poorly these past few years. Perhaps their reporting, if indeed they report, on this story might change things. Or are we now in an era of all the news that is safe to print?