Under the headline “We have the right to caricature God,” a French newspaper today reprinted the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have ignited extraordinary anti-Danish protests, death threats and boycotts across the Muslim world.
France Soir published the drawings, first printed by Jyllands-Posten, a right-of-centre Danish broadsheet last September, across pages four and five of this morning’s edition with an editorial that defended the freedom of the press.
“The publication of 12 cartoons in the Danish press has shocked the Muslim world for whom the representation of Allah and his prophet is banned,” the newspaper said. “But because no religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society, France Soir publishes the incriminated cartoons.”
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For its front page, the newspaper even commissioned its own image, showing a peeved Muhammad sitting on a cloud with Buddha, a Jewish God and a Christian God, who says: “Don’t complain Muhammad, we’ve all been caricatured here.”
In an accompanying commentary, the editor of France Soir, which is in financial difficulties and has a readership of around 60,000, said he would never apologise for the decision to publish. Serge Faubert wrote: “Enough lessons from these reactionary bigots!
“There is nothing in these incriminated cartoons that intends to be racist or denigrate any community as such. Some are funny, others less so. That’s it. That is why we have decided to publish them,” he added. “No, we will never apologise for being free to speak, to think and to believe.”
There was no immediate reaction to the cartoons from the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), a body set up to represent France’s 5 million Muslims. With its strict separation of church and state, France has been the setting for vituperative religious controversies in the past. The Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is closely associated with a 2004 law that prohibited the wearing of Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and prominent Christian crosses in secular state schools.
Jyllands-Posten, Page 3 of culture section, Sept., 2005.
The cartoons can be viewed here.
The images, which were the result of an offer to Danish cartoonists to depict Muhammad as they imagined him, have drawn thousands of Muslims out into the streets of the Middle East. This week, crowds in Gaza City burned Danish flags and images of the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and fired guns into the air.
Similar protests took place today in Baghdad and in Yemen, where the Danish Red Cross has already withdrawn aid workers because of threats against its staff. Threats have been made to harm Danish citizens in Muslim countries.
Saudi Arabia has removed its ambassador in Copenhagen because of the cartoons. Libya has closed its embassy altogether. The governments of Qatar and Iran have lodged protests.
Islam forbids portrayals of Muhammad because they are considered idolatrous. One of the offending drawings shows Muhammad’s turban as bomb with a lit fuse. In another he turns suicide bombers away from heaven because “We have run out of virgins”.
The decision of France Soir to republish the images comes as Danish Muslim groups, some of which were responsible for publicising the cartoons in the first place, have tried to calm the furore.
Although neither Jyllands-Posten and Mr Rasmussen have apologised for printing the images, prominent imams in Copenhagen said yesterday they were shocked by the extent of the protests, which have let to widespread boycotts of Danish goods across the Middle East.
Arla Foods, Europe’s largest dairy group which is headquartered in Denmark, said today it was losing 10 million kroner ( £916,000) a day because of the boycott. The world’s biggest maker of insulin, Novo Nordisk, has also been hit after pharmacies and hospitals in Saudi Arabia refused to offer its products.