The World from Berlin: 'Most Muslims Want Freedom Rather than Slogans'
The decision by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish Muhammad caricatures on Wednesday threatens to inflame the already tense atmosphere in the Muslim world. But German commentators argue that the Arab Spring proved that Muslims would rather have freedom than increased radicalism.
Protestors in Afghanistan on Thursday march against the anti-Muslim film "Innocence of Muslims." Their signs read: "Our Leader Muhammad."
With the release of the anti-Islam video in the US earlier this month, the atmosphere among the world's 1 billion Muslims was tense enough already. Seeing the fire, however, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo decided on Wednesday to pour oil on it instead of water.
Following a well-worn method for ensuring a few days in the international spotlight, the magazine published several uncomplimentary caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Some of the images depict the prophet naked or in semi-pornographic poses, a sure-fire way to become a target of Muslim fury. Indeed, the French government quickly moved to denounce the magazine's decision to go to press and also ordered embassies and other French facilities in 20 Muslim countries to remain closed on Friday.
The US too expressed concern over the potential Muslim response to the caricatures, coming as they do on the heels of the inflammatory amateur film "Innocence of Muslims." Protests against the film have at times veered into violence, resulting in 30 deaths in protests around the world, including four Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. "But we've spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our constitution. In other words, we don't question the right of something like this to be published, we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it."
'A Drawing Has Never Killed Anyone'
The French government too attempted to walk the same razor-thin line on Wednesday, all the more difficult given recent attempts to improve relations with the country's significant Muslim population. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius emphasized that the freedom of expression was inviolable, but added: "Is it pertinent, intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire? The answer is no."
Stéphane Charbonnier, editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, insists that provocation was not his intention. "The accusation that we are pouring oil on the flames in the current situation really gets on my nerves," says Charbonnier. "After the publication of this absurd and grotesque film about Muhammad in the US, other newspapers have responded to the protests with cover stories. We are doing the same thing, but with drawings. And a drawing has never killed anyone."
It isn't the first time Charlie Hebdo has become a target for caricaturizing Muhammad. Last year, just as an issue containing a Muhammad cartoon was hitting the newsstands, the magazine's editorial offices were targeted by an arson attack. No one was injured in the resulting fire, but the publication's offices were destroyed.
The French magazine isn't the only satirical magazine which has its sights set on radical Islam this month. The German satirical magazine Titanic announced Wednesday that it too intends to publish an "Islam issue" later this month. The magazine most recently landed in the headlines due to a recent cover which depicted Pope Benedict XVI soiling himself front and back under the headline "Vatican Leak Found!" The Vatican sued to block sales of the issue but ultimately backed down.
Fearing a renewed outbreak of violent protests in the Islamic world on Friday, the Muslim holy day, German editorialists address the Charlie Hebdo caricatures on Thursday.
Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The emotional nature of the discussion obscures the view of what is actually happening in the Muslim world. The outrage in the late 1980s over the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel 'The Satanic Verses' or even the publication in Denmark of the Muhammad caricatures in 2005 was incomparably larger and more intense than the fury seen today. Certainly, most Muslims disapprove of the unspeakable video, but they also disapprove of the violence that has taken place in some cities. More than anything, however, it should be noted that the recent protests are tiny compared to the millions who took to the streets during the peak of the Arab Spring for a new political order and respect for human rights."
"Those who have taken to the streets against the Muhammad film belong to the losers. The general secretary of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, for example, called for protests only after the pope had already left his country. He didn't want a conflict over religion, he was more interested in politics. As a supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, he has lost his aura of 'resistance fighter' and now is trying to attract support with anti-American slogans. In other countries, it is the same story . It isn't surprising that there were no meaningful protests in Turkey. After all, the Turkish economy is in good shape."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"One can long speculate over the motivations that drive evangelical Christians and French satirical magazines to use Islam as a target for their malice and scorn. One could simply ignore them, but for the fanatics who demonstrate in front of Western embassies from Khartoum to Karachi and do their critics the favor of conforming to the cliché painted of them. But the protests are not representative of Muslims as a whole."
"Militant jihadists, radical Islamists and Islamist regimes in Iran and Sudan seek to use the rage over the insults of Islam in Western countries for their own purposes and to further marginalize moderate Muslim powers. But the Arab world has changed since the Arab Spring. Most people there want freedom, bread and work rather than radical slogans."
The Financial Times Deutschland on Thursday writes:
"With the publication of the Muhammad caricatures, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo did what a satirical magazine is supposed to do: satire. The magazine's mission is to explore the limits of politics, taste and society and, when necessary, to transgress those limits . Such limits are very much present when it comes to addressing Islam. The fact that this transgression comes from the center-left of the political spectrum instead of, as usual, from the right-wing populists, makes it all the more important."
"Since Islam has become starkly polarized -- spurred on by Iran and Saudi Arabia -- the fear of religious fundamentalists has grown in the West. It is the fanatics that perpetrate violent acts, not mere caricatures. As such, people in the West have become fearful of saying, drawing or, in the case of the controversial Muhammad film, making available the wrong thing."
"In any case, very few people have actually seen the film -- only the trailer is widely available. And in some Muslim countries, Internet access to the trailer has been blocked. Nevertheless, fanatics who are fighting for power and followers -- or are eager to distract attention from their own misdeeds -- took to the streets. And had it not been because of some obscure film or caricatures, some other excuse would have been found. The film and caricatures merely provide an opportunity for violence, but they are not its cause."
-- Charles Hawley
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