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Hollande Vows to Protect All Faiths; Muslims Protest Hebdo Reprinting

People hold signs as they chant slogans during a protest against satirical French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 15, 2015.
People hold signs as they chant slogans during a protest against satirical French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 15, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande promises his country will protect all religions, and says Muslims are the main victims of fanaticism. But as copies of the controversial satirical magazine fly off the shelves in France and elsewhere in Europe, Muslim leaders around the world say the magazine’s reprinting and widespread circulation are offensive to Muslims worldwide.

Hollande said Islam and democracy are compatible. Speaking Thursday at the Arab World Institute in Paris, he thanked Arabs for their solidarity over the terrorism attacks last week in Paris.

His comments come as the widespread circulation of Charlie Hebdo causes fresh controversy, however, drawing criticism from many in the Muslim world and from global religious leaders.

Pope Francis said Thursday there should be limits to freedom of speech, and that it’s wrong to insult people’s faith. In Egypt, the president has issued a decree allowing the prime minister to ban any foreign publications that are “offensive to religion.” And in Turkey, a court banned some web pages featuring the Charlie Hebdo cover.

Global protests

The cover shows a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad carrying a sign that reads “Je Suis Charlie” below the headline “All is forgiven.”

On Wednesday, Muslims in countries around the world held protests against the cover.

One demonstration was outside the Turkish newspaper that has published Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

One protester said the paper has insulted Muslims. The infidels working at this newspaper, he said, will pay for what they did.

Nihad Awad, founder of CAIR -- or the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- said Muslims largely reject any image, whether it be positive or negative, of the Prophet Muhammad.

“Many voices in the Muslim world expressed the feeling that they have been offended by the republishing of that mag -- that is a healthy and rightful position to take,” he said.

Fresh divisions

Awad said no one is calling for harmful action against the magazine, however, and that only a tiny minority has taken that position.

Charlie Hebdo’s distribution company said about 1 million copies were released on Thursday and another 1 million will be printed for Friday. In total 5 million copies are expected to be published.

Carool Kersten, a scholar of Islam and the Muslim World at King’s College London, said the magazine’s reprinting is offensive to many Muslims, and is causing fresh divisions in Europe and elsewhere.

“Muslims probably have a tendency to interpret the very fact of running such a large print roll as a collective act of defiance, if you can view it in that way. That, to a large extent, is an explanation for why we saw demonstrations in the Muslim world,” said Kersten.

He said a real debate is needed on where to draw the line when it comes to free speech. He said this is an unresolved issue that remains at play, but one for which it is still too early to be fully addressed.