After film,Prophet cartoons in French weekly inflame tension

France to close consulates,cultural centres and schools across 20 countries

Written by New York Times | Paris | Published:September 20, 2012 12:55 am

Security stepped up across embassies; leaders slam publication,urge calm

A French satirical magazine on Wednesday published a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed,setting off a new wave of outrage among Muslims and condemnation from French leaders amid widening unrest over an amateur video that has provoked violence throughout the Islamic world.

The illustrations,some of which depicted Mohammed naked and in pornographic poses,hit newsstands across the country on Wednesday and were met with a swift rebuke from the government of François Hollande,which had earlier urged the magazine,Charlie Hebdo,not to publish the cartoons,particularly in the current tense environment.

“In France,there is a principle of freedom of expression,which should not be undermined,” Laurent Fabius,the foreign minister,said in a French radio interview. “In the present context,given this absurd video that has been aired…Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

In the interview,Fabius announced that,as a precaution,France planned to close its embassies in 20 countries on Friday,the Muslim day of prayer,which has become an occasion for many to express their anger although “no threats have been made against any institutions”. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the closings would affect French consulates,cultural centres and schools as well.

Charlie Hebdo’s website was not functioning on Wednesday,the result of a computer attack,according to the editorial director,Stéphane Charbonnier.

Charbonnier however stayed defiant and unapologetic. “Mohammed isn’t sacred to me,’’ he said in an interview at his office on the northeast edge of Paris. “I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law; I don’t live under Quranic law.”

He had no regrets and felt no responsibility for any violence. “I’m not the one going into the streets with stones and Kalashnikovs,” he said. “We’ve had 1,000 issues and only three problems – all after front pages about radical Islam.”

In Egypt,representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the cartoons as blasphemous and hurtful,and called upon the French judiciary to condemn the magazine.

Mahmoud Ghozlan,a spokesman for the group,noted that French law prohibits Holocaust denial and suggested that similar provisions might be made for comments deemed blasphemous under Islam.

“If anyone doubts the Holocaust happened,they are imprisoned,” Ghozlan told Reuters. “It is not fair or logical that the same not be the case for insults to Islam,” he said.

Religious and political leaders in other majority Muslim nations also denounced the cartoons but called for calm. Tunisia’s governing Islamist party,Ennahda,warned believers against falling into a trap set by “suspicious parties to derail the Arab Spring and turn it into a conflict with the West,” Reuters reported.

On Wednesday,police officers were dispatched to guard the offices of Charlie Hebdo in eastern Paris. Security was also beefed up at the French consulates across the Muslim nations.

The magazine’s headquarters,not far from its present offices,were gutted by a firebomb in November after it published a spoof issue “guest edited” by Mohammed to salute the victory of an Islamist party in Tunisian elections. Charbonnier has been under police protection since.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the government would prohibit a series of protests that had been planned in several French cities for Saturday.

In a statement,the main body representing Muslims in France,the French Muslim Council,expressed its “deep concern” over the cartoons and warned that their publication risked “exacerbating tensions and provoking reactions.” The council urged French Muslims to express their grievances “via legal means.”

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