France’s Hardening Defense of Cartoons of Muhammad Could Lead to ‘A Trap’


NICE, France — When the satirical journal Charlie Hebdo republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in early September, it triggered a sequence of occasions that included two stabbings, protests in Muslim nations, the boycott of French items and criticism from allies. Tensions rose increased when one young Islamist extremist beheaded a instructor close to Paris this month, and one other slit the throats of two people and fatally stabbed one other inside a church within the southern metropolis of Nice this week.

But French officers haven’t solely defended the fitting to republish the cartoons, some have gone additional — together with regional leaders who announced {that a} booklet together with these pictures can be handed out to highschool college students as a dedication “to defend the values of the Republic.”

In the tortured 14-year historical past of the cartoons in France, the response to the pictures there has undergone a profound transformation. Once denounced by the top of state for scary and disrespecting Muslims, and later held at a cautious distance by different officers, the identical drawings are at present totally embraced throughout the political institution — usually conflated with France’s dedication to freedom of expression.

The caricatures have put France at a harmful deadlock, widening its divide with Muslim nations and leaving many French Muslims feeling alienated. To Muslims exterior France, and a few inside, the cartoons are merely provocative and gratuitous insults leveled at their religion. One drawing depicts the Prophet Muhammad carrying a bomb in his turban.

The hardening of France’s protection of the pictures has additionally set it aside even from the United States and different Western democracies that, confronted with more and more various societies, have grow to be extra cautious about speech that might be thought of offensive, particularly to racial, ethnic, spiritual or different minorities. Many French regard these attitudes as a kind of American political correctness that threatens French tradition.

On Friday, a day after a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant killed three individuals on the most important basilica in Nice, police announced they had arrested a second suspect. About 50 individuals gathered in entrance of the church to pay tribute to the useless. What began as a second of solidarity was interrupted by a pair of native residents who blamed Islam for the assault — to the protest of bystanders. A veiled lady referred to as on individuals not to conflate Muslims with terrorists.

The mayor of Nice mentioned the Constitution ought to be modified in order that France might correctly “wage war” towards Islamist extremists. France’s hard-line inside minister, Gérald Darmanin, set the tone by declaring, “We’re at war, against an enemy who is both inside and outside.”

The martial language displays an total hardening of the French view of radical Islam. The fierce protection of the caricatures has put the French able with little room for maneuver, the place any compromise might be seen as undercutting a core worth — France’s strict secularism, referred to as laïcité.

Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, a thinker and knowledgeable on laïcité on the Sorbonne University, mentioned that the battle over the caricatures has led France into “a trap.”

“In fact, they have become symbols and that turns the situation into a conflict,’’ he said. “But it’s a conflict that in my opinion is inevitable: if French laïcité gives up on this point, it will have to give up on all the others.”

He added, “If we abandon caricatures, for a French person, we’re abandoning freedom of expression, the possibility of criticizing religions.”

In 2015, the assault on Charlie Hebdo and the killing of a dozen individuals — together with cartoonists and columnists — led to mass mobilization in Paris beneath the banner of “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.”

Representatives from Muslim international locations like Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and Qatar joined that march towards terrorism and for freedom of speech. But all of these international locations have in current days criticized the republication of the caricatures, arguing that they offended Muslims.

The editors at Charlie Hebdo republished the identical cartoons to mark the beginning of a long-awaited trial of alleged accomplices within the 2015 assault, saying they have been affirming France’s democracy.

The republication was shortly adopted by a high-profile speech by President Emmanuel Macron detailing his plans to fight Islamism, and the federal government’s widespread crackdown on what it described as Islamist people and organizations — strikes that contributed to the change in perspective overseas.

“The publication and the republication are not the same thing,” mentioned Anne Giudicelli, a French knowledgeable on the Arab world who has labored for the French international ministry. “The republication by Charlie Hebdo is seen as an obstinate will to continue humiliating. That’s what is different from 2015. Now there is the sense that France has a problem with Islam whereas, in 2015, France was the victim of terrorists.”

Angered by the republication, a Pakistani asylum-seeker stabbed two individuals exterior the previous places of work of the journal, and a refugee of Chechen descent beheaded a middle-school instructor who confirmed at school two Muhammad caricatures, together with one depicting him bare on all fours.

Freedom of speech — or the liberty to say blasphemous issues about faith — is taken into account a tenet of French democracy, which was established by eradicating the ability of the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church, and has steadily grow to be a pillar of France’s secularism, or laïcité.

Rooted in a regulation established in 1905 — when France lacked a major Muslim neighborhood — French secularism separated church and state — and was primarily based on the concept religion is a personal matter and should due to this fact be restricted to the personal sphere, Mr. Tavoillot, the thinker, mentioned.

Jean Baubérot, a number one historian of French secularism, mentioned that the thought was to give priority to the state. “Modern France considers that it established itself against religion,” he mentioned.

France’s strict secularism has additionally been not directly strengthened by the rising secularization of French society. Only 8 % of French individuals usually follow their religion at present, in accordance to a 2016 report by the Paris-based Institut Montaigne.

But how laïcité is lived and enforced has hardened in response to the rising quantity of Muslims in France, Mr. Baubérot mentioned. Today about 10 % of France’s inhabitants is Muslim, and they’re much extra spiritual than their Christian or Jewish counterparts. The report discovered that 31 % of Muslims go to a mosque or prayer corridor as soon as per week.

French secularism holds pricey the fitting to criticize all religions — although not believers. The line is commonly troublesome to draw, and has left many Muslims feeling personally insulted with the publication of caricatures of Muhammad.

Complicating issues is that France does curb some freedom of expression — banning, for instance, assaults on individuals for his or her faith or pores and skin shade, and forbidding Holocaust denial.

The instructor who was beheaded had used two caricatures of Muhammad from the pages of Charlie Hebdo in a category on freedom of expression, angering many Muslim college students and oldsters. The authorities regarded his killing as an assault on the state since public schoolteachers have performed a key function in educating about secularism.

A couple of days after the killing, the leaders of France’s 13 areas introduced that they might publish a booklet for highschool college students that includes the Muhammad caricatures.

“The art of caricature is an old tradition that is part of our democracy,” mentioned Iannis Roder, a center faculty historical past instructor and a member of the Council of the Wise, created by the federal government in 2018 to reinforce laïcité in public faculties.

He added that he confronted rising difficulties educating freedom of expression and the fitting to caricature as a result of of “a greater penetration of religiosity among many students who call themselves Muslims.”

But Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the French Council of Muslim Faith, mentioned that there ought to be limits to offensive satire when it comes to spiritual beliefs. Limiting the publication of cartoons of Muhammad avoids fueling extremism, he mentioned.

“I don’t think this is the right way to explain freedom of expression to children,” Mr. Moussaoui mentioned of the caricatures in an interview with France Info. “The duty of brotherhood imposes on all to renounce some rights.”

In a subsequent statement, Mr. Moussaoui mentioned that his suggestion to “renounce some rights” had been clumsy. But he added: “If freedom of expression gives the right to be satirical or humorous, we can understand that cartoons putting a prophet who is fundamental to millions of believers in suggestive and degrading postures cannot fall within this right.”

As the caricatures have acquired a robust symbolic significance for the reason that 2015 assaults, it has grow to be politically troublesome to increase questions on them.

Clémentine Autain, a far-left lawmaker from the get together France Unbowed, mentioned that the talk over terrorism and secularism “is dominated by emotion and is no longer rational.”

Some politicians are utilizing laïcité as a manner to “ostracize all Muslims,” she mentioned. “My concern is that, by doing this, a number of Muslims are being sent back into the arms of radicals.”

Antonella Francini contributed analysis from Paris.



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