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French Tribunal  Exonerates Writer Accused of Anti-Muslim Remarks

A Paris court has acquitted famous French writer Michel Houellebecq for allegedly provoking racial hatred with anti-Muslim remarks he made last year.

The Paris Correctional Tribunal ruled that Mr. Houellebecq had not incited racial hatred, discrimination or violence when he told the French magazine Lire that Islam was, "the stupidest religion," and that he was "shocked" when he read the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

The acquittal marks a blow for the plaintiffs, who include two French mosques and the Saudi-based World Islamic League. The lawyer for one of the French plaintiffs, Jean-Marc Varaut, told the French news agency (AFP) his client will appeal the decision.

During the trial, 44-year-old Mr. Houellebecq defended his right of free speech, and said he did not scorn Muslims, only their religion.

Mr. Houellebecq, who lives in Ireland, was not present in the Paris courtroom for the verdict. His lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, spoke in his place. He told France-Info radio that Mr. Houellebecq attacked Islam as he would attack any religion, and said he will continue to do so.

It is not clear how the Houellebecq ruling may affect another high-profile French case involving anti-Islamic slurs made by a writer. Celebrated Italian author Oriana Fallaci and her French publishers are also being pursued in court for disparaging remarks against Muslims in her book, Rage and Pride.

Mouloud Aounit, head of the anti-racist group MRAP, and a plaintiff in the Fallaci case, believes the two cases have little in common. He said Mrs. Fallaci's slurs against Islam were far harsher than those made by Mr. Houellebecq. Besides, Mr. Aounit says, Mrs. Fallaci's work is journalistic and should aim to portray reality, while Mr. Houellebecq writes fiction.

A French court is expected to deliver its verdict in the Fallaci trial next month.