On September 19, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has once again fixed its sights directly at Muslim sentiments by publishing cartoons the are bound to offend Muslims. One cartoon depicts Mohammed naked. Last year, the magazine's offices in Paris were firebombed during a week characterized by enraged Muslim mob violence in Islamic countries. Fears over blowback have prompted the French government to close its embassies and schools throughout the Mideast. According to Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, the cartoons will “shock those who will want to be shocked.”
According to Reuters, the magazine hit newsstands with a cover depicting an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair, as well as several caricatures of the Mohammed on its inside pages, including some of him naked. The cover cartoon depicts the figure in the wheelchair saying “You mustn’t mock“ under the headline ”Untouchable 2″, a reference to the hugely popular French movie about the friendship of a paralyzed rich white man and his black African caregiver.
French authorities deployed police to protect the magazine’s offices, while they have stepped up security at French diplomatic missions in the Mideast. France will also temporarily close its embassies and schools in 20 Muslim through this Friday (the Muslim sabbath) to minimize the death and destruction wrought over the last week by Muslims amok in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and Libya.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Info radio, “Is it relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no…I’m very worried… and when I saw this I immediately issued instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it could be a problem.” FRANCE 24 reported that Fabius said that while he respects freedom of speech, he sees “no point in such a provocation.” Fabius called for “reason to prevail.” For his part, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a statement on September 18, saying: “In the current climate, the prime minister wishes to stress his disapproval of all excess and calls on everyone to behave responsibly.”
Charlie Hebdo editor Charbonnier told French news channel iTele that the magazine “does caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, but when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.” He added that if the magazine stopped printing satirical work because of pressure, it would be reduced to selling 16 blank pages every week.
For many Muslims, the visual depiction of Mohammed is considered blasphemous, even though there are examples in history of illustrated Islamic texts depicting Islam's founder. Depicting Mohammed nude would likely be offensive even to the less devout. Muslim community leaders in France are appealing for calm.
No stranger to controversy, Charlie Hebdo depicted a Muslim man in an issue last year engaged in a kiss with one of the magazine's own cartoonists. It is unknown whether the Muslim man depicted was intended as Mohammed. The cover was printed at a remote location, since only one week before the magazine's offices were firebombed.