Inside Story
Are Muslims being provoked?
As a French magazine publishes cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, we ask if this is freedom of expression or provocation.
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2012 12:41

A French satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo has published cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad - a decision that could anger Muslims already furious about a recent anti-Islam video trailer.

The weekly magazine printed the images or caricatures on Wednesday. Muslims consider any representation of Prophet Muhammad offensive.

"It's an expression of hate speech which is not grounded in any argument, in any knowledge, in any humour. It's a phenomenon that is exposing itself in Europe for the past decade … and this is going to further increase because it's very easy to provoke Muslims."

- Naveed Ahmad, an investigative journalist

Stephane Charbonnier, the magazine's editor, says the decision was well within the law, and that that is what really matters.

"We're in a country of the rule of law. We respect French law. Our only limit is French law. It's that which we have to obey. We haven't infringed French law. We have the right to use our freedom as we understand it," he said.

Despite concerns over a possible backlash, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French prime minister, has defended France's tradition of free speech.

"If people's convictions have really been offended that laws have been breached, we are in a lawful state, laws must be totally respected, then they can go to the court. That has already happened with this weekly. Then there is the issue of respect, whether the directors of this weekly decide to it or not," he said.

But some have criticised the decision to publish the cartoons.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, seemed to contradict Ayrault by saying the publication of the images is a provocation and that people should exercise responsibility.

"There's no such thing as blasphemy in our penal code. All sorts of jokes, caricatures have been made by this weekly of every other faith. I cannot count the times in which they pictured the current pope in Nazi uniform. It is part of a very old, French satirical tradition of cartoons."

- Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a columnist and political commentator

"Is it pertinent and intelligent in this context ... to pour more oil on the fire? The answer is 'no'. But we don't want to say to these people 'we're infringing on your right to free expression'. So there's a balance that has to be struck," he said.

Last year, when Charlie Hebdo did something similar, its offices were firebombed.

This latest incident follows violent protests across the Muslim world over an anti-Islam video trailer made in the US.

On this episode, Inside Story asks: Are these cartoons meant to provoke Muslims? Is this freedom of expression or provocation?

Joining presenter Shakuntala Santhiran for the discussion are guests: Houmi Mikidache, a journalist and political analyst; Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a columnist and political commentator; and Naveed Ahmad, an investigative journalist.

"We have to re-define the identity of people everywhere in the world because there is a crisis of identity .... We also have to re-define secularism. It's actually a huge problem because there are many aspects that are not explained."

Houmi Mikidache, a journalist and political analyst


  • In 2005, a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. It resulted in the deaths of about 50 people in several countries and Danish embassies were attacked.
  • In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an edition called Sharia Hebdo, naming Prophet Muhammad as "guest editor".
  • Last week, an anti-Islam video trailer on Prophet Muhammad made in the US triggered protests in more than 20 countries. Among those killed in related violence was Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya.


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