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Hard French defending Muhammad’s cartoon could lead to ‘a trap’

NICE, France – When satire magazine Charlie Hebdo reposted caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in early September, it sparked a chain of events that included two strikes, protests in the nations. Muslim family boycotted French goods and criticized allies. Tensions heightened when a young Muslim extremist beheaded a teacher near Paris this month, and another slashed their necks and stabbed another inside a church south of the city. Nice this week.

But French officials not only defended the right to re-publish the cartoon, some went even further – including regional leaders who announced that a pamphlet containing those images would be given to high school students as a pledge to “defend the values ​​of the Republic. “

During the 14-year torture history of cartoons in France, the response to the images there has undergone a profound change. Once denounced by the head of state for inciting and disrespecting Muslims, and then kept at a careful distance by other officials, similar drawings are now fully applied throughout the body. political office – often attached to France’s commitment to freedom of expression.

The caricatures have put France in a dangerous stalemate, increasing divisions with the Muslim nations and leaving many Muslim Frenchmen feeling alienated. For Muslims outside of France and some inside, the cartoon was simply provocative and unreasonably insulting at the level of their beliefs. A drawing depicts the Prophet Muhammad carrying a bomb in his turban.

France’s stubborn defense of its image has set it apart even from the United States and other Western democracies, facing increasingly diverse societies, becoming more cautious towards The statement could be considered offensive, especially against race, ethnicity, religion or other minorities. Many French see such attitudes as a correct American form of politics that threatens French culture.

On Friday, a day after a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant killed three people at the main church in Nice, police announced they had arrested a second suspect. About 50 people gathered in front of the church to pay homage to the dead. What started off was a moment of solidarity interrupted by a few local residents blaming Islam for the attack – in the face of objections from bystanders. A woman with a hidden face urges people not to have sexual intercourse with Muslims.

Nice’s mayor said the Constitution should be amended so that France could reasonably “wage war” against radical Islam. The tough French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, put the tone by saying, “We are at war, against our internal and external enemies.”

The language of martial arts firmly reflects the overall French view of radical Islam. The drastic protection of the caricatures has put the French in a position where there is not much room to maneuver, where any compromise can be seen as cutting down a core value – master. France’s strict secular meaning is called laïcité.

Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, a philosopher and expert on laïcité at the Sorbonne University, says the conflict over caricatures left France “a trap”.

“In fact, they have become symbols and that turned 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 has to give up everything else.”

He added, “If we give up caricatures, for a French we are giving up freedom of expression, the ability to criticize religions.”

In 2015, the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the killing of dozens of people – including animators and columnists – led to a mass movement in Paris under the banner “Je suis Charlie,” or ” I’m Charlie ”.

Representatives from Muslim countries such as Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and Qatar participated in the march against terrorism and freedom of expression. But all of these countries in recent days have criticized the republic of the caricatures, claiming that they have offended Muslims.

The editors at Charlie Hebdo re-published similar caricatures to mark the beginning of the long-awaited trial of alleged accomplices in the 2015 attack, saying they were affirming the democracy of France.

The republic was quickly followed by a high-level speech by President Emmanuel Macron detailing its plan to combat Islamism and the government’s extensive crackdown on what they depicted. are Muslim individuals and organizations – moves that have contributed to changing attitudes abroad.

“Publishing and republic are not the same,” said Anne Giudicelli, a French expert on the Arab world who used to work for the French Foreign Ministry. “Charlie Hebdo’s republic is seen as a stubborn will to continue humiliating. That’s different from 2015. Now there is a feeling that France has a problem with Islam while in 2015, France is the victim of terrorists ”.

Angry at the republic, a Pakistani refugee stabbed two people to death outside the magazine’s old office, and a Chechen-born refugee beheaded a middle school teacher who showed in class two pictures of Muhammad’s caricatures, which included a painting of him naked on all fours.

Freedom of speech – or freedom to say blasphemy about religion – is regarded as the principle of French democracy, established by undermining the power of the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church. , and has gradually become the mainstay of French secularism, or laïcité.

Derived from a law established in 1905 – when France lacked a substantial Muslim community – French secularism separated church and state – and was based on the idea that faith was a problem. Subjects are private and therefore must be limited to the private sphere, said Tavoillot, the philosopher.

Jean Baubérot, a leading French historian of secularism, said that the idea was a priority for the state. “Modern France thinks it is against religion,” he said.

France’s strict secularism was also indirectly strengthened by the increasing secularization of French society. According to a 2016 report by the Paris-based Montaigne Institute, only 8% of French people regularly exercise their faith.

But the way Laïcité is lived and executed has become more difficult in the face of the rising number of Muslims in France, Mr Baubérot said. Today, about 10% of the French population is Muslim, and they are much more devout than Christians or Jews. The report shows that 31% of Muslims go to a mosque or prayer room once a week.

French secularism holds the right to criticize all religions – even though not believers. The line is often difficult to draw and leaves many Muslims personally outraged when they publish caricatures of Muhammad.

Complicating matters is that France restricts certain freedom of expression – such as banning people from attacking people because of their religion or skin color, and prohibiting denying the Holocaust.

The beheaded teacher used two of Muhammad’s caricatures from Charlie Hebdo’s pages in a class on freedom of expression, angering many Muslim students and parents. The government saw his killing as an attack on the state because public school teachers played an important role in teaching secularism.

A few days after the murder, leaders of 13 French regions announced that they would publish a booklet for high school students with Muhammad caricatures.

Iannis Roder, a middle school history teacher and member of the Theosophical Council, established by the government in 2018: “The art of caricature is a long-standing tradition that is part of our democracy.

He added that he faces increasing difficulties in teaching freedom of speech and the right to cartoonize because of “more penetration of faith among many students who call themselves human beings. Islamic.”

But Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Islamic Faith Council, says there should be limits on derogatory satire when it comes to religious beliefs. Limiting the cartoon publication about Muhammad will avoid promoting extremism, he said.

“I don’t think this is the right way to explain freedom of expression to children,” Moussaoui said of the caricature in an interview with France Info. “The obligation of brotherhood requires all to give up some rights.”

In a later statement, Mr. Moussaoui said that his proposal to “give up some rights” was clumsy. But he added: “If freedom of expression provides the right to be sarcastic or humorous, we can understand that animation puts a basic prophet for millions of believers into erotic poses. and humility cannot be in this right.

Since the caricatures have had a strong symbolic significance since the 2015 attacks, questioning them becomes politically difficult.

Clémentine Autain, a left-wing lawmaker from the France Unbowed party, says the debate over terrorism and secularism “is dominated by emotions and is no longer rational.”

Some politicians are using laïcité as a way to “boycott all Muslims,” ​​she said. “My concern is, by doing this, some Muslims are being pushed back into the arms of extremists.”

Antonella Francini has contributed research from Paris.

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