Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Offices of French satirical magazine firebombed following publication of issue "guest edited by Muhammad"

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Charlie Hebdo's "Sharia Hebdo" edition.
The caption reads "100 lashes if you
don't die of laughter".
The Paris offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were firebombed overnight, just hours before the latest issue of the magazine, which is "guest edited" by the Prophet Muhammad, went on sale on news stands.

The publishers revealed the theme for this week's issue yesterday, announcing that "Muhammad" would edit the publication – which would be temporarily renamed Sharia Hebdo – to mark the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in last week's Tunisian elections:
"To fittingly celebrate the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia, Charlie Hebdo has asked Muhammad to be the special editor-in-chief of its next issue. The prophet of Islam didn't have to be asked twice and we thank him for it."
The cover of the issue, which was circulating online yesterday, features a character, who is supposedly the Prophet Muhammad, telling readers "100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter". On the back of the magazine is another cartoon of Muhammad, this time wearing a red nose, with the caption “Yes, Islam is compatible with humour”. Charlie Hebdo was previously the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit by two French Muslim organisations over its publication of the controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad in 2005.

Speaking to the news agency Agence France-Presse the magazine's editor-in-chief and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, who is known as Charb, said:
"We don't feel like causing further provocation. We simply feel like doing our job as usual. The only difference this week is that Muhammad is on the cover and it's pretty rare to put him on the cover."
Inside the issue, an editorial explains that the "Muhammad" theme is intended to make a serious point about the success of Islamism in the wake of the Arab Spring:
“No religion is compatible with democracy from the moment a political party representing it wants to take power in the name of God What would be the point of a religious party taking power if it didn’t apply its ideas. 'Hello, we are the Bolshevik party and if you vote for us we promise never to speak of Communism' …Come on.”
The firebombing coincided with the magazine's website being hacked with a message in English and Turkish that read:
"You keep abusing Islam's almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech. Be God's curse upon you!"
Responding to the incidents, Charb said:
"We no longer have a newspaper. All our equipment has been destroyed or has melted. We cannot, today, put together a paper. But we will do everything possible to do one next week. Whatever happens, we’ll do it. There is no question of giving in.
The arsonists haven't read this paper, nobody knows what's in the paper except those who buy it this morning. People are reacting violently to a paper without knowing anything of its contents, that's what's most abhorrent and stupid."
Meanwhile, French politicians have spoken out in defence of Charlie Hebdo. Christophe Girard, a deputy mayor of Paris, tweeted to say that the city would assist the publication with finding new premises, describing it as "the duty of the republic" to assist the free press, while Jean-François Copé, head of the ruling UMP party, said the attack "serves as a reminder of what kind of acts can be committed by fundamentalists who manipulate religion for political ends".

One of the strongest condemnations came from Jean-Luc Melenchon of the left wing Front de Gauche, who urged the French people to distinguish between "a handful of imbeciles, numbskulls who will severely punished, I hope" and "the vast majority of our Muslim compatriots who practice their faith perfectly calmly".  

The president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, also said he "firmly condemned" the attack. The CFCM was one of the organisations that sued Charlie Hebdo over the 2005 cartoons but, while pointing out that "the very fact of caricaturing the Prophet is considered an offence to Muslims", Moussaoui said that the contents of this week's issue are "not on the same level".
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