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Experts: France Attack Part of Cultural Disconnect

  • Al Pessin

The attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday was not the first such clash between the European media and militant Islamists.

As thousands in France and other countries gathered to mourn the people killed on Wednesday, they engaged in a little ‘freedom of expression’ of their own.

Some carried a cartoon reading “Love is Stronger than Hate,” while others held up homemade signs saying, among other things, “Freedom of the Press is Priceless.”

But not everyone agrees with that.

This was the second attack on the Paris satirical newspaper. A Danish newspaper’s cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad caused protests in many countries, and several violent incidents in 2005.

And a Dutch filmmaker was killed in 2004 after producing a documentary about the treatment of Muslim women.

Experts say the violence is part of a clash of values between the Western view of press freedom and traditional Islamic views placing more emphasis on respect for authority, and particularly religious figures, and barring use of the human form in art.

“When that is pushed to the limit, provocatively in satirical media, it’s almost a God-sent excuse for radicals to jump on these kind of matters,” said Carool Kersten, a senior lecturer on Islam at London’s King’s College.

But he is quick to add that the views of the militants do not reflect the thinking of most Muslims.

“You could see it also today in the social media that a lot of Muslims admitted they felt offended for any satire that involved the Prophet, but they would never, ever see that as condoning killing those who made those pictures,” he said.

Indeed, officials and religious leaders in several Muslim countries, including Libya, condemned the Paris attack.

The murdered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and their colleagues engaged in a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred form of satire. They tweeted this caricature of the leader of the Islamic State militant group shortly before the attack.

Gavin Evans, a journalist and senior lecturer at the London School of Journalism, sees this as a “part of journalism." He says the cartoon "is part of the tradition of journalism, going back hundreds of years."

“People who believe they are beyond having fun poked at them deserve to have fun poked at them," he said. "And I think that’s part of this kind of cartooning."

Evans points out that Charlie Hebdo also made fun of other religions, and even lampooned the pope. Now, he’s concerned that journalists will be more timid.

“Any editor who has a cartoonist who is likely to depict anything relating to fundamentalist Islam is now more likely to be cautious because of this kind of reaction,” he said.

Some newspaper editors decided not to print the Charlie Hebdo cartoons about Islam. But for now, there is no such timidity at London’s Independent newspaper, which had a front-page cartoon of its own with a message for terrorists so strong it cannot be broadcast.

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