In the wake of protests and riots as well as a terror attack against the US consulate in Libya that resulted in dozens of casualties and the death of US Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans ostensibly over a video denigrating Islam and the prophet Mohammed, a French satire magazine is publishing a series of cartoons in its latest edition that is likely to result in new protests and riots.
The French government warned the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, to not publish the cartoons for fear of causing a new wave of protests, riots, and attacks. The magazine is going ahead with publication, as is its right under the freedom of press and free exercise of speech.
The magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Mohammed in an issue that hit newsstands Wednesday.
Magazine director Stephane Charbonnier said his staff is “not really fueling the fire,” but rather using its freedom of expression “to comment (on) the news in a satirical way.”
“It happens that the news this week is Mohammed and this lousy film, so we are drawing cartoons about this subject,” Charbonnier told CNN affiliate BFM-TV on Wednesday. “It’s more turning in derision this grotesque film than to make fun of Mohammed.”
The “lousy film” he’s referring to is “Innocence of Muslims,” an amateurish, 14-minute video that mocks the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer. The video drew international attention last week and spawned heated protests in more than a dozen countries.
France will be closing embassies and schools in many countries with large Muslim populations this Friday, and is boosting security at those facilities. That the French government has made such moves shows that they understand that there are those who will use the Friday prayers to incite others to violence, using the cartoons as a cudgel against the French, and the West in general. Militant Islamists consider any vision to be blasphemous, and these cartoons violate that precept.
It’s the clash of freedom of speech and the religious views that blasphemy warrants a death sentence. Something has to give, and it has to be the religious views - but as we all know, that’s not going to happen so long as Islamists whip their followers into a frenzy.
Those in the West who think that Islam is the enemy of all that is good and right in the world will use these riots and deaths as proof that they’re right when they pursue an anti-Islam agenda. Those in the Islamic world use these same acts as a means to further inflame passions and as a call to violence.
They are flip sides of the same coin. Both do not wish for accommodation or tolerance, but rather a clash of civilizations and war.
Freedom of speech has to win out over violence and the calls to violence. Protests against offensive speech should not resort to violence, and those who make the calls to violence need to be held accountable for their actions. Criminalizing free speech isn’t the way to go either.
At the same time, there are those who are purposefully engaging in hate speech so as to bring about conflict. These agent provocateurs are behind the offensive film that few have actually seen, and know even less about. The purpose of that film was designed to create conflict - and an entire nation was blamed for the act (the US) when it was an individual/group that took advantage of our nation’s right to free speech to inflame passions and led to protests and riots.
While the French government pressed the magazine to refrain from publishing the cartoons, the French Prime Minister indicated that freedom of expression is a fundamental principle of the French republic:
A press release issued by the French embassy in Beirut said that French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault recalled that freedom of expression constitutes one of the fundamental principles of his Republic.
‘This freedom is exercised within the framework of law and under the control of the courts when referred there,’ the statement quoted Ayrault saying.
The French PM also said that the principle of secularism is at the core of the French republican pact, along with the values of tolerance and respect for religious beliefs.
‘That is why, in light of recent development, the Prime Minister is keen on stating his disapproval of exaggerated reactions, and calls on everyone to act in a responsible way,’ the statement said.
Hizbullah’s Nasrallah has called for nationwide protests across Lebanon on this coming Monday, so it will be interesting to see what develops next week.