What’s more controversial than publishing a cartoon that depicts the Muslim prophet Muhammad? Publishing several cartoons — which is exactly what the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo did in its most recent issue, published Wednesday. As Reuters writes, the magazine’s cover depicts an Orthodox Jew pushing a turban-wearing figure seated in a wheelchair; the image is a reference to The Intouchables, a popular French film about a white man and his black caretaker. The word “Mahomet” is prominently displayed near the illustration.
Inside, Charlie Hebdo includes a number of other caricatures of Muhammad. In some of them, he is naked. This is not the publication’s first brush with controversy; in 2006, it was criticized for reprinting Muhammad-depicting cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has denounced the magazine for its latest inflammatory images. “In France, there is a principle of freedom of expression, which should not be undermined,” he said in a French radio interview. “In the present context, given this absurd video that has been aired, strong emotions have been awakened in many Muslim countries. Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”
Fabius was referring to Innocence of Muslims, a low-budget film that has been blamed for inspiring violence in Arab countries, including Libya.
France has responded to the cartoons by increasing security at some of its embassies and by sending riot police to protect Charlie Hebdo‘s offices. The magazine’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnie, does not seem to be perturbed by these actions — he has said in a statement that the images “would shock only those who wanted to be shocked,” adding, “The freedom of the press, is that a provocation? I’m not asking strict Muslims to read Charlie Hebdo, just like I wouldn’t go to a mosque to listen to speeches that go against everything I believe.”
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