Naked Mohammed cartoons: French PM calls for calm
But Jean-Marc Ayrault reminds world that French press has a right to free expression
FRENCH embassies are on alert after the Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons today mocking a naked Prophet Mohammed. The satirical weekly has been widely condemned in France over its latest edition, which comes out amid continuing violent protests around the world over the controversial film, Innocence of Muslims.
Both France's political and religious leaders called for restraint and riot police were deployed outside the magazine's Paris headquarters, The Guardian reports.
The magazine's cover shows a caricature of an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair who is saying "You mustn't mock". The headline 'Untouchable 2' refers to a hugely popular French film about a poor black man who looks after a wealthy, aristocratic quadriplegic. Several other cartoons of the Prophet feature on the inside pages while the back page shows a naked Mohammed exposing his posterior to a film director.
It is not the first time Charlie Hebdo has provoked the ire of Muslims. Last November its offices were firebombed after it produced an issue called Charia Hebdo, supposedly guest-edited by the Prophet.
In the past week more than 30 people have died after the appearance on YouTube of a trailer for Innocence of Muslims sparked a wave of retaliatory attacks on US and other embassies around the world. The US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in a rocket attack on the Benghazi consulate.
Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council for Jewish Institutions, slammed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, particularly given the current atmosphere. "To publish caricatures of the prophet Mohammad in these times, in the name of freedom, is an irresponsible kind of panache."
The president of the Observatory of Islamophobia, Abdallah Zekri, told Le Monde that Charlie Hebdo "would have done better not to publish the insulting cartoons in an already tense situation".
But senior French politicians were careful to remember the magazine's right to freedom of expression. Former Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux called the nude Mohammed “an unnecessary provocation." But he added: "I prefer the excess of caricatures to the excesses of censorship."
Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a statement saying: "In the current climate, the prime minister wishes to stress his disapproval of all excesses and calls on everyone to behave responsibly."
However, questioned on RTL radio, Ayrault added: "We are in a country where the freedom of expression is guaranteed, along with the freedom to caricature. If people really feel their beliefs are offended and think the law has been broken – and we are in a state where the law must be totally respected — they can go to the courts."
This morning Charlie Hebdo's website was down, reportedly crashing after being bombarded with comments that ranged from hatred to approval.
Editor Stephane Charbonnier was unrepentant, saying the images would "shock those who will want to be shocked". He said the magazine "does caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, but when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation".
As a precaution, French embassies and schools in 20 countries will be temporarily closed tomorrow, in case of Muslim protests after prayers, the French foreign ministry announced. ·