Satire And The Prophet: Supporting French Magazine’s Right To Spoof Mohammed

Editorial: after its latest edition poked fun at the Muslim prophet, the offices of French satirical weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was firebombed and its website hacked. Like ongoing fundamentalist Christian attacks on a local theater troop, the incident is a th

Luz, a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, with Mohammed cover, outside magazine's firebombed offices (Rue89)
Luz, a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, with Mohammed cover, outside magazine's firebombed offices (Rue89)

PARIS - Six years have passed since the publication of caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and the subsequent storm that erupted in Muslim communities throughout the world. But a new storm has arrived after a French satirical weekly's cartoon portrayal of the prophet Mohammed. Early Wednesday morning, an act of arson partially destroyed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine. At the same time, the publication's web site was hacked, making it inaccessible to visitors.

Under the title "Charia Hebdo" (Sharia Weekly), the weekly magazine dedicated the edition that went on sale Wednesday morning to the rise of Islamists in Tunisia and Libya. "Mohammed" was listed as the guest "editor in chief." A supplement, called "Sharia Madame," was promised, as well as a cooking section called "Halal Aperitifs." To make sure no one missed the satirical nature of the publication, a caricature of Mohammed on the cover threatened, "100 lashes if you aren't dying of laughter."

A police inquiry has been opened, but so far has not been able to establish either the identity or motives of the arsonists, who threw Molotov cocktails at the building. Just as every week, the cover of the magazine is circulated in press releases before it goes to the newsstand. And this cover quickly generated plenty of hostile, even threatening, reactions on social networks.

Prohibitions and protections

Islam prohibits all representation of the prophet Mohammed. Like the Danish newspaper and the other publications that followed it in solidarity, Charlie Hebdo chose to ignore that rule. Of course, this rule is neither part of French law nor recognized under any jurisprudence in a secular country such as France.

There is, however, a rule of law in force in France and throughout Europe that is dedicated to the protection of the free press. Whatever one thinks of Charlie Hebdo's editorial choices, the aesthetics of its covers or the sensitivity of its style, the weekly clearly advertises its satirical nature.

There is nothing that could justify attacking an institution of the press, neither with Molotov cocktails nor Internet hacking, as a way to demonstrate unhappiness with the contents of the publication. And while the law does provide for some limits on freedom of the press, there are courts to force the media to respect existing laws. Charlie Hebdo was sued by Muslim organizations in Paris for republishing the Danish cartoons, though a Paris court of appeals acquitted the paper in 2008 of accusations of inciting racial hatred.

The physical attacks against Charlie Hebdo are no more acceptable than the actions of groups of fundamentalist Christians who have protested the Parisian staging of the Italian play "On the Concept of the Son of God's Face." Since October 20, these protesters have interrupted performances and threatened theater-goers. Freedom of expression and artistic creation are essential values of our democracies. It is basic point worth reminding to anyone who, under cover of fighting Islamophobia or Christianophobia, are actually promoting intolerance.

Read the original article in French

photo - Rue89

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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