In its most recent issue, Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, has chosen to publish obscene cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed and making light of the video which prompted condemnatory violence across the Muslim world last week. This is in a long line of blasphemous humor from the magazine: In 2008, they published a satirical “Pope Issue,” and in 2011, a “Mohammed issue.” Predictably, the former resulted in an unsuccessful court action for inciting hatred, while the latter prompted a fire-bombing of the magazine’s offices.
But after last week’s unrest, the French government is taking precautions. The BBC:
Security is being increased at France’s interests abroad after a French satirical magazine published obscene cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
French embassies, consulates, cultural centres and international French schools in some 20 countries will be closed on Friday as a precaution.
Government ministers voiced concern at the Charlie Hebdo cartoons but defended the freedom of the press.
Riot police have been deployed around the magazine’s offices in Paris. The magazine has confirmed that its website has been attacked. It was not accessible as of Wednesday morning. . . .
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was “concerned” at the cartoons and had ordered “special security measures… in all the countries where this [publication] could pose a problem”. . . .
No list of countries affected was immediately available. However, the following measures have been put in place:
Security was being enhanced noticeably at the embassy in the Egyptian capital Cairo, as French schools and cultural centres in the country were set to close on Thursday
The embassy in the Indonesian capital Jakarta announced on its website it would close on Friday
French schools in Tunisia were due to close from Wednesday afternoon until Monday morning, and the embassy in Tunis will be closed on Friday
As the rest of the Western world, and to some extent, American liberals, are happy to concede the principle of free speech in the face of intimidation, it is heartening to see the French government, at least in this case, use its resources to defend freedom of expression rather than blame its practitioners. The French government’s statement on the matter unfortunately still insists on registering disapproval of the cartoons, but at least defends the principle of free speech before apologizing for its consequences, as the U.S. government has done repeatedly. Emphasis in original:
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reaffirms that the freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles of our Republic. This freedom is exercised within the framework of the law and under the supervision of the courts when a case is referred to them.
He also reaffirms the principle of laicité [secularism] which, along with the values of tolerance and respect for religious convictions, is at the heart of our Republican Pact.
And this is why, in the current context, the prime minister would like to express his disapproval of any excesses. He urges everyone to demonstrate a spirit of responsibility.