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Arts

Titanic editor: 'Whoever kills a satirist makes their work more relevant'

After the attacks on "Charlie Hebdo," the chief editor of German satirical magazine "Titanic" Tim Wolff said we needed more satire than ever. A year later, DW checked in with him to see if that still holds true.

DW: How did the attacks on "Charlie Hebdo" affect your own life and work as the chief editor of a satirical magazine?

Tim Wolff: The attacks have definitely had a very strong impact on my life: I have spent the last year giving interviews on the subject. That made me famous. I have to thank the terrorists a bit for that. That was the main effect.

Have you introduced any special safety measures in your newsroom, such as reinforced doors or police protection?

The police are watching us a bit more tightly, but we have not established any extra security measures. We are very thankful to have so many representatives of the press gathered around here throughout the last year. They create a natural protective wall, so by the time someone shoots their way through, we'll already be long gone.

You're being sarcastic.

Yes.

In an interview with DW shortly after the attacks, you declared: "Following such attacks, there should be more satire." How have you implemented this statement?

We've kept on filling a magazine every month, and we've dealt more often with Islam and terror. Even though I believe terrorism actually has little to do with Islam, I have personally put effort into reading the Koran: I've probably read more of it than those terrorists - two pages already.

Did you weave your new knowledge into the content of your magazine?

No. A joke won't work as well if it contains too much information or knowledge. Satirists work with clichés and have to know their audience - and none of our readers has read the Koran.

A year ago, you also said that the attacks make satire more relevant.

Whoever kills a satirist makes their work more relevant. We can all see that. Otherwise we wouldn't be talking about "Charlie Hebdo." They wouldn't be selling millions of copies without the attacks. If the goal was to destroy "Charlie Hebdo," then the terrorists have achieved the exact opposite. That's actually a positive aspect in this tragedy.

How do you deal with Islam and terror in your newsroom?

Terrorism is obviously a permanent issue. I'd like to use the opportunity, as DW is read internationally, to tell the "Islamic State": You could slowly stop now… We've done so many jokes on terrorism in the last year that we're getting bored. We'd like to focus on other topics, too, like Angela Merkel for example, to calm us down. That would be nice.

It doesn't look like they will stop just for your sake…

I know. Although this is an urgent plea, I'm afraid it will fall on deaf ears. We've actually reached a point where people should theoretically be afraid of going to a concert or a café. It doesn't matter anymore what you do or say, you can get shot anywhere.

How do Muslims in Germany deal with satire?

Based on the reactions we get, they are better at ignoring stuff than, for example, Christians. Of course, we do not have such a huge Muslim readership, even though we deal with their spheres of interest…

To which extent does "Titanic" satirize Islam?

In 2008, we had planned a Muhammad lookalike contest, but we had to cancel it for security reasons. There were comments of disappointment, but it was okay. In 2012, we had a cover called "Bettina Wulff shoots a Muhammad film" and there was of course a depiction of Muhammad. The media got all excited about it, one TV report by RTL even implied that Frankfurt [Eds.: the city where the offices of "Titanic" are located] could be the terrorists' next target, but the Muslims themselves mostly reacted in a friendly way. We even had an Islamic center that offered to showcase our lookalike competition. I'm sorry to disappoint all prejudiced people. We did not get any death threats or anything similar. We get them more often from disappointed dart fans, but not from Muslims. So far, we haven't had any big problems with this issue.

Would you still have depicted Muhammad in such a provocative way this year after the attacks?

In reaction to the attacks, we had this search-and-find picture called "Where is Muhammad?" - but the Prophet was nowhere to be found in it. We started providing pieces of a puzzle for a giant poster of Muhammad, but unfortunately that won't be completed until 2040. So please wait until then to shoot us.

Of course, it is always present, because when people kill in the Prophet's name, it's a current issue that's relevant for satire. But we are not competent enough to offer profound criticism of this religion. This should be done by people who are directly affected by Islam. Some proficiency in the subject is needed to do that. The people who can satirize Christians the best come from very Christian families and households. To criticize Islam you need to be way more competent than a white, atheist man like me.

Have you gotten more support from your readers? Have sales increased; are there more subscribers?

After the attacks, we gained over a thousand subscribers within a few days. It is obviously sad that it happened in that context, but it's a sign of solidarity. I suspect that if a butcher were to be shot, people would buy more steaks as a symbolic gesture. That's what happened to us.

Is the first anniversary of the attacks covered in your January 2016 issue or is "Charlie Hebdo" no longer on satirists' minds?

The problem is that if you try to talk about satire as a satirist - as we had to after the attacks and as I am doing now - you're obliged to become serious, although I prefer to tell jokes. Jokes about jokes create a meta-level that is difficult to follow. That's why we decided to further deal with "Charlie Hebdo" privately and not within our own pages. We still follow what our colleagues are doing.

So altogether the attacks haven't changed your work that much…

It definitely influenced the content of our magazine, but we did not become more cautious or develop a different approach. It's hard to answer in absolute terms because the attacks in Paris are still affecting our thoughts. But I believe not much has changed in our work as a consequence.

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