Feature

France: Mocking Islam is not courageous

How does it serve the cause of press freedom to publish yet another round of Mohammed cartoons?

Pascal Boniface
Le Nouvel Observateur 

How does it serve the cause of press freedom to publish yet another round of Mohammed cartoons? asked Pascal Boniface. The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has chosen this moment, when the Muslim world is aflame with protests against the U.S.-made hate film Innocence of Muslims, to print new cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed. It’s a smart move for the bottom line, of course, as the weekly gets free publicity and an uptick in sales. But the “gratuitous provocation” will make our diplomats’ work more difficult, and may even put them in danger. Charlie Hebdo claims that it is striking a blow for freedom, as it did back in the 1970s when it shocked France by making fun of the death of Charles de Gaulle. But the two scenarios are entirely different. Back then, France was firmly Gaullist, the opposition was weak, and the press was cowed. The daring joke about de Gaulle was a strike at power. Muslims in France, by contrast, are stigmatized and scapegoated and have little support in the press. To mock them is “not an act of courage” but an act of bullying. What a sad comedown for a newsweekly that was once proudly libertarian. It now appeals only to “rubes and racists.”

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