PARIS: A French magazine added fuel to the fire on Wednesday by publishing sacrilegious cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as France stepped up security at its embassies and banned demonstrations on its own soil.
The French government, which had urged the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, not to print the cartoons, said it was shutting embassies and schools in 20 countries as a precaution on Friday, fearing protests after Friday prayers.
However, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said anyone offended by the cartoons could take the matter to the courts but made it clear there would be no action against the weekly. “We are in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed, including the freedom to caricature,” he said.
Leaders of the Muslim community in France – the largest in western Europe – said an appeal for calm would be read out in mosques across the country on Friday but also condemned the magazine for publishing ‘insulting’ images.
The Vatican’s official daily Osservatore Romano said that the images could throw ‘fuel on the fire’.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called the caricatures outrageous but said those who were offended by them should “use peaceful means to express their firm rejection.” Similarly, Tunisia’s ruling religious party, Ennahda, condemned what it called an act of “aggression” against the Prophet (PBUH) but urged Muslims not to fall into a trap intended to “derail the Arab Spring and turn it into a conflict with the West”.
Charlie Hebdo’s defence
On the other hand, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticised the publication of the cartoons as a provocation.
“We saw what happened last week in Libya and in other countries such as Afghanistan,” Fabius told a regular news conference. “We have to call on all to behave responsibly.”
But Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier rejected the criticism. “We have the impression that it’s officially allowed for Charlie Hebdo to attack the Catholic far-right but we cannot poke fun at fundamental Islamists,” he said.
“It shows the climate. Everyone is driven by fear, and that is exactly what this small handful of extremists who do not represent anyone want: to make everyone afraid, to shut us all in a cave,” he told Reuters.
YouTube extends film curb to Saudi Arabia
Meanwhile, YouTube said on Wednesday it extended its restrictions on a video sparking unrest in the Islamic world to Saudi Arabia, saying it is among countries where the film is considered illegal.
YouTube parent Google said in a statement that the “Innocence of Muslims” film would be restricted “in countries where it is considered illegal by local authorities; that is, to date, India, Indonesia. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.”
YouTube last week restricted access to the film in Egypt and Libya after unrest in those countries, and has been adding countries to the list. Some others, including Pakistan and Sudan, have blocked access themselves.
Wednesday’s announcement came a day after Saudi Arabia threatened to block YouTube in the kingdom if Google did not respond to a request to deny access to the video.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2012.
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