It would seem that some see the reactions to the trailer on Youtube, 'Innocence of Muslims'- a video portraying the Prophet Mohammed as a murderous child molester - as an invitation to prove a point about free speech.
Such has happened in the past with the re-publication in several outlets of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed originally published in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, in a show of solidarity for the principle of free speech. And today the Independent, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express all cover the controversy that has been sparked by the publication of crude caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
From the Daily Telegraph:
“Issues of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine hit news stands with a front cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair with several caricatures of the Prophet on its inside pages, including some of him naked.
“The front page cartoon had the wheelchair-bound figure saying "You must not mock" under the headline "Untouchable 2", a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralysed rich white man and his black assistant.
“France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault defended Charlie Hebdo's right to publish, but openly asked whether it had been acting responsibly.
“"I have spoken of the the [sic] firmness of the French government. We are in a state that has a rule of law. We have a free press that can express itself right up to the point of caricature. But there is also a question of responsibility. And as far as public order is concerned, all the precautions will be taken with the interior ministry for order to be maintained," he told a news conference.
“The head of the Paris Mosque slammed the magazine which he said acted with cowardice by choosing a particularly sensitive moment to publish the drawings.”
At Charlie Hebdo's offices, where police had been on guard since the early hours of the morning, the editor defended the publication saying he regularly lampooned all forms of extremism. The editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, responding to the controversy, said, "One gets the impression it's okay for Charlie Hebdo to criticise the Catholic extreme right. But one isn't allowed to poke fun at Muslim fundamentalists. It's clearly a new rule that we will have to take note of. But we won't respect it.”
The idea of Hebdo poking fun at religions in general and not just Islam is critiqued by Professor Philippe Marliere writing in the Guardian’s Comment is Free, who argues that under the new director, Hebdo has become “more anti-Islamic than anti-clerical”.
It's not the first time Hebdo has courted controversy. Last year it published an edition 'guest edited by Prophet Muhammad' in response to the electoral victory of An Nahda in the Tunisian elections. Commenting at the time of the publication and the subsequent firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s offices, Bruce Crumley, Paris bureau chief for Time Magazine questioned the ‘free speech’ argument stating that “that right no longer needs to be proved, [and] it’s unclear what the objectives of the caricatures were other than to offend Muslims—and provoke hysteria among extremists.
“Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile.”
It's almost a year on since Pastor Terry Jones decided to host a 'Burn a Koran' day at the Dove Outreach Center in Florida. His provocation was met with pleas for tolerance from the US President, Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus. Similar pleas are now being issued by the French Muslim Council for Muslims to resist the antics of Charlie Hebdo and to not 'pour oil on the fire'.
As we said of Pastor Jones's irreverent intent, "It is sad to see extreme groups come to dominate our political and cultural agendas through their provocative antics. Sad too that the peace-loving, law-abiding majority should have their faith and identity besmirched by the ignorant. But if the lesson learned from the Rushdie affair of twenty-one years ago is that offence by agents provocateurs and their desire for notoriety is best matched by patient efforts at educating people about Islam, let Muslims reflect on the verses of Surah al Furqan:
"And the servants of ((Allah)) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" (Al-Furqan: 63).
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