The third media scandal to hit the news in the last few weeks after debate surrounding whether or not photos of Prince Harry photographed naked during a game of strip-poker in Las Vegas and pictures of Kate Middleton topless on a beach in the South of France should be published, French satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, once again publishes caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The weekly newspaper's editorial choice has sparked new hostility among extremist Muslims in France, adding to the violent outbreaks following the release of an anti-Muslim amateur film on the internet. This leads to further debate surrounding freedom of the individual, the freedom of the press and also underlines democratic countries' failure where the integration of certain cultures is concerned.
Following the 13-minute amateur anti-Islam film, 'The Innocence of Muslims', which was released on the video uploading site , YouTube, two months ago and a more recent version dubbed in Arabic, has led to numerous demonstrations of anger from extremist Muslims all over the world. The most severe of incidents resulted in the death of four Americans at the United States Embassy in Libya, including that of the Ambassador, Chris Stevens. In France, this was followed by a protest of 250 Muslims outside the U.S. embassy in Paris last weekend, with larger protests worldwide planned for Friday 21 September despite government warnings that another protest in France will be considered as illegal.
Last Wednesday, several caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammed were published in the popular French paper, Charlie Hebdo, the very same paper whose offices were set on fire following the publication of caricatures of the Prophet, originally published in the Dutch paper, Jyllands-Posten, in 2005. These caricatures have not been taken lightly by the extremist Muslim population in France, with locals reporting mass destruction of the paper by Muslim radicals at newspaper kiosks.
The caricatures have indeed added to an already roaring anger following the release of the amateur anti-Islam film. Extremist Muslims argue that plastering the caricatures on the front page of Charlie Hebdo, after the profound disrespect that had been felt by the Muslim community in 2005, may not have been entirely reasonable, especially amidst current events. However, the French government defends the freedom of the press. According to article 11 of the Human and Citizens' Rights Act in France, every resident is free to speak, write and print what he or she sees fit as long as it is not deemed an infringement of that right in a court of law. A paradox when it comes to extremist Muslims' protest in favour of the censorship of these cartoons and another paradox when one hears French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, put a veto over any sort of protest from the Muslim community in France.
Muslims who live in France must abide by French laws and must accept that as much as it is their right to protest, it is the press' right to publish what it likes, no matter how inflammatory or defamatory. French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has urged citizens offended by the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, not to take the law into their own hands and to use the processes in place within the framework of the French legal system.
However, instead of addressing the issues at the heart of the problem, the French government has decided to play by extremist rules in the name of safety and order. Fabius has confirmed that French embassies, consulates and schools would observe precautionary closures in twenty countries on Friday, which is when the extremist Muslim community is said to be planning a mass protest worldwide. In support of this decision, "The Republic of France will not let itself be beaten", said the French Prime Minister on RTL radio station yesterday.
The French government claims to be fighting for the freedom of the press, backing Charie Hebdo journalist, Antonio Fischetti's statement, "Our right to blasphemy is essential to democracy". As true as this statement rings when considering freedom laws in France, we must question whether this isn't all too easy for the government - as a member of the public, I advance my personal doubts on the media's publishing of uncensored content. A number of documentaries, specifically 'Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land' by Kenyon King, which exposes the impact of powerful U.S. lobbies on the freedom of international broadcasting groups such as the BBC in the United Kingdom when reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict provides an example as to why the French government's battle in favour of the freedom of the press is not only ideological, but hypocritical. And this means that because isn't truly free, the cartoons could have been censored, leading part of the Muslim community to feel let down by the government for condoning this sort of defamatory press, according to angry members of the Parisian local Muslim community.
Despite the bad publicity received, Muslims urge the world to believe that the entire Muslim community does not adhere to extremist values, or agree with these groups' behaviour, as several members of the minority community asserted last Wednesday in Paris. However, the peaceful Muslim community expresses fears about extremist groups being unstoppable. The young Muslim joining these groups are proving to be the fiercest in their convictions, according to several Muslim ladies originally from Morocco living in Belleville. And the fraction of these young people seems to be growing, they said. Sociologists, like Farhad Khosrokavar, infer that extremist behaviour arises largely from a lack of identity, a general lack of belonging for young Muslim people who are seen by the authorities to profit from potentially violent situations to vent their frustrations.
One must thus ask why France, and other Western countries, have failed such a large proportion of young Muslims. This sort of extremist behaviour in a generally free and democratic country is unacceptable, and while it is the norm to have various groups of differing political stances, even of an extremist nature, why is a growing number of Muslims so ready to be provoked into a violent reaction by editorial content used in such a transparent manner?
Richard Millet, French controversial author of convicted murderer, Norwegian extremist Sanders Breivik's 'Literary Eulogy' ('Eloge littéraire d'Anders Breivik' published by Gallimard, August 2012), said "Brevik's actions should be seen as a warning of the consequences concerning a society that has failed at intercultural integration". He remains convinced that Breivik is a product of a failed society, and that we should not be surprised to see more incidents of this nature take place, especially in France and the United Kingdom. Millet does have a point and looming protest is further proof of the failed integration of Muslims in France, for a great fraction remain adamant that the publication of these cartoons portraying the Prophet is unjust - even under French law.
With more twists and turns than in a soap opera, the situation only seems to be escalating as the world watches and waits for extremist Muslims to set a foot wrong - and no doubt they will. They are extremists, being reasonable isn't what they are about and they certainly do not represent the majority of the world's Muslim community, in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan isn't representative of all citizens of the United States. As several outraged bystanders in Belleville affirmed yesterday, attacking embassies isn't the right thing to do and this relentless sentiment for vengeance isn't a Muslim value. Speaking of the satirical newspaper as the source of the current debate, "Charlie is really stupid, but so is organising mass protests", said a Muslim local who concluded that most Muslims are peaceful and just seek to get on with their lives without conflict. Unfortunately, the heavily stigmatised religion hasn't been helped by extremist behaviour by a dangerous minority, but as per French law, peaceful protest is their right, and the local government must not forget that their laws apply to all citizens, even French extremist Muslims.