It’s hard to know what exactly Charlie Hebdo, the popular French satire magazine, was thinking. On the front cover of Wednesday’s issue, the magazine depicted an ultra-orthodox Jew pushing the prophet Mohammed in a wheelchair, with the heading “do not mock.” Inside the issue were other inflammatory cartoons, including several of Mohammed naked.
Some consider this a brave expression of free speech. Others say it was a careless act of stupidity and insensitivity.
To many Muslims, it was a highly offensive gesture tantamount to an act of war.
Consider the timing too. North Africa and the Middle East are still reeling from a wave of violent anti-American, anti-Western protests. Western officials throughout the region have fled. A handful have been killed. Embassies have been ransacked and destroyed. The protests were in response to a low-budget, poorly made film created mainly by non-Americans that mocked and ridiculed Islam and the prophet Mohammed.
The White House responded to last week’s uprisings by apologizing profusely and throwing up the white flag.
Contrast that with Charlie Hebdo, a small, relatively obscure French magazine.
There’s no doubt this decision was provocative, and it’s easy to argue that it was reckless and entirely unnecessary. But there’s another way to look at this, as Stephane Charbonnier, the magazine’s editor, explained: “We have the impression that it’s officially allowed for Charlie Hebdo to attack the Catholic far right but we cannot poke fun at fundamental Islamists. It shows the climate—everyone is driven by fear, and that is exactly what this small handful of extremists who do not represent anyone want—to make everyone afraid, to shut us all in a cave.”
Charbonnier is spot on in his assessment that much of the world lives in fear of radical Islam. The official response in France and throughout Europe to Charlie Hebdo’s provocative cartoons has been disgust and condemnation. In reality, however, there’s no doubt that many Europeans, both on the street and within governments, are fed up with being bullied by radical Islam.
Why didn’t the French government stop these cartoons? Yes, it’s true that laws protecting freedom of speech technically prevented authorities from stopping Charlie Hebdo running the cartoons. But everyone knows that a national government has the leverage to prevent such things. Yet it didn’t. Why? Not surprisingly, yesterday’s issue sold out within hours.
“French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said anyone offended by cartoons could take the matter to the courts, expressing his ‘disapproval of all excesses.’ But he emphasized France’s tradition of free speech. ‘We are in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed, including the freedom to caricature,’ Mr. Ayrault said on rtl radio. He said a request to hold a demonstration in Paris against the controversial film would be refused” (Australian, September 20). This makes any protests against the cartoons illegal.
Germany, too, refuses to be bullied. After the German Embassy in Sudan was attacked last week, Berlin didn’t apologize. In fact, one far-right German political party said Germany should screen the Innocence of Muslims in front of Berlin mosques. The German satirical magazine Titanic is following the footsteps of Charlie Hebdo. Its cover will show the wife of the former president, Bettina Wulff, held by a crazy-looking Muslim holding a dagger. The headline reads: “West rises up: Bettina Wulff makes film about Mohammed.”
Its editor in chief, Leo Fischer, insists that it is “on the side of the protesters,” and that the cover is a protest against someone like Bettina Wulff making a controversial film about Islam. But that’s not how the cover is being interpreted. As Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stated, this basically “pours oil on the fire.” Germany joined France in closing its embassies in some Muslim countries on Friday.
The majority in Germany still oppose antagonizing Islam. Seventy-two percent said they did not want the film to be shown in public while only 21 percent were in favor. Problem is, Germany’s view of the film doesn’t change radical Islam’s view of Germany. Radical Islam hates America, Germany and the West. As events over the past couple of weeks have shown, apologizing and being nice will not curb that rage.
Keep watching Europe. As the cartoon riots indicate, the real clash with Islam will come from Europe, not America. ▪