PARIS — A public high school philosophy teacher and writer who attacked the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in a newspaper commentary has gone into hiding under police protection after receiving a series of death threats, including one diffused on a radical Islamist online forum.
Robert Redeker, 52, wrote in the newspaper Le Figaro 10 days ago that Muhammad was “a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass-murderer of Jews and a polygamist.” He also called the Koran “a book of incredible violence.”
“Jesus is a master of love; Muhammad is a master of hatred,” Redeker wrote, adding: “Whereas Judaism and Christianity are religions whose rites forsake violence and remove its legitimacy, Islam is a religion that, in its very sacred text, as much as in some of its everyday rites, exalts violence and hatred. Hatred and violence dwell in the very book that educates any Muslim, the Koran.”
Immediately afterward, Redeker, who teaches in a high school near Toulouse and is the author of several books on philosophy, began to receive death threats by telephone, e-mail and in the Internet forum. The forum published photos of him, what it said was his home address, directions to his home and his cellphone number.
That day’s issue of Le Figaro was banned in Egypt and Tunisia and Redeker was denounced by a commentator on Al Jazeera television.
“I can’t work, I can’t come and go, and am obliged to hide,” Redeker said in an interview Friday with Europe 1 radio from an undisclosed location. “So in some way, the Islamists have succeeded in punishing me on the territory of the republic as if I were guilty of a crime of opinion.”
He said that his wife and their children had also been threatened with death. Asked to describe the sort of threats he had received, Redeker said: “You will never feel secure on this earth. One billion, 300,000 Muslims are ready to kill you.” Among the threats was one by a contributor to Al Hesbah, an Internet forum that is said to be a conduit for messages from Al Qaeda and other jihad organizations.
“It is impossible that this day pass without the lions of France punishing him,” the Hesbah contributor wrote. The contributor called on Muslims in France to follow the lead of Muhammad Bouyeri, who murdered the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh after he made a film denouncing the plight of abused Muslim women.
“May God send some lion to cut his head,” the contributor said of Redeker, who was described as a “pig.”
Redeker’s plight echoes that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch politician who collaborated with van Gogh on the film and has been relentless in her criticism of some Islamic practices. The subject of numerous death threats from radical Islamists, she was put under the protection of bodyguards in the Netherlands in 2002, and now has protection in Washington, where she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Redeker case is the latest manifestation in Europe of an ideological battle that pits those who believe that Islam and the Prophet Muhammad can be criticized in the name of free speech versus a swath of the Muslim community that believes that no criticism can be tolerated.
In the newspaper commentary, Redeker also wrote, “Islam tries to dictate its rules to Europe: opening swimming pools at certain hours exclusively for women, forbidding the caricature of this religion, demanding a special diet for Muslim children in school cafeterias, fighting for wearing the veil in school, accusing free-thinkers of Islamophobia.”
At first, Redeker did not speak out. In an e-mail message to The New York Times last Tuesday, he said it was not the right time to talk about his plight.
Then, in an interview with his local newspaper, La Dépêche du Midi published Thursday, Redeker described the death threats, adding, “What is happening to me corresponds fully to what I denounce in my writing: The West is under ideological surveillance by Islam.”
That interview sparked a public defense of Redeker in the name of free speech and condemnations of those who threaten him, which snowballed Friday after his radio interview on Europe 1.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called the threats “unacceptable” Friday, adding: “We are in a democracy. Everyone has the right to express his views freely, while respecting others, of course.” An official investigation has been opened.
But on Thursday, Education Minister Gilles de Robien was less forceful. He expressed “solidarity” with Redeker, but cautioned that a “state employee must show prudence and moderation in all circumstances.”
Le Figaro, in an unusual front-page open letter on Friday signed by the editor and the publisher, said: “We condemn with the greatest conviction the grave attacks on freedom of thought and freedom of expression which this affair has provoked.”
Two large teachers’ unions, in separate statements Friday, also threw their support behind Redeker’s right to speak freely, but one of them made clear, “We do not share his convictions.” Philippe de Villiers, a far-right politician, wrote President Jacques Chirac a letter Friday asking that Redeker be given “shelter – as a symbol – at the E’lyse’e Palace rather than let him wander,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Redeker, meanwhile, said that he had no second thoughts about what he wrote. “No regrets,” he said in the Friday radio interview. “I have given a lot of thought in writing this text, in which each word is measured. I researched a lot. I read.”