Accessibility links

Breaking News

Inflammatory Depictions of Prophet Muhammad Spark Repeated Violence

FILE - Stephane Charbonnier, right, editor-in-chief of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, was interviewed in 2012 by VOA's Arzu Çakır. Charbonnier was killed in an attack that left at least 12 people dead, in Paris, France, Jan. 7, 2015.

Wednesday's deadly attack in Paris on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is the latest in a series of assaults aimed at Western publications that have provocatively depicted the Prophet Muhammad in inflammatory cartoons.

The controversy has flared for a decade, ever since the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten first published 12 editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad that were reprinted in publications around the world. Months later, as awareness of the cartoons spread in Muslim countries, violent protests erupted that resulted in more than 200 deaths.

The Parisian weekly, and its editor Stephane Charbonnier, who was shot dead in the latest violence, were at the forefront of publications testing the boundaries of the right of freedom of expression that is common in Western countries. But many Muslims have angrily objected to cartooned caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and satirical commentary lampooning Islam.

Charlie Hebdo republished the Danish cartoons and later renamed one of its editions "Sharia Hebdo" and listed Muhammad as the editor of that issue. But the publication has also aimed barbs at the Roman Catholic Church for its child sex abuse scandals and an array of politicians.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama strongly condemned Wednesday's attack. In 2012, however, the White House offered a nuanced view of the publication of images depicting a naked Muhammad. Then White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. did not question the right to publish the cartoons, but questioned the judgment behind the decision to publish them.

After the newspaper's "Sharia Hebdo" issue in 2011, Muslim groups accused the publication of racism and the newspaper's offices were firebombed. But the newspaper successfully defended itself against racism allegations, saying that under French law it was exercising freedom of speech and, with the guarantee of the separation of church and state, the right to criticize religion.

Charbonnier told an interviewer three years ago that no one cared when the newspaper ridiculed Catholic traditionalists, but it was attacked when it satirized Muslims. "It's the new rule...but we will not obey it," he said. Even on the day Charbonnier was killed, Charlie Hebdo published a satirical cartoon on social media depicting Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a new year well-wisher.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was the target of an alleged international murder plot for his 2007 depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as a dog and was attacked by protesters in 2010 when he showed an Iranian film depicting the prophet as entering a gay bar. Vilks says that in an effort to thwart would-be attackers, he has booby-trapped his own house and sleeps with an axe beside his bed.

As the magnitude of the Paris attack became known Wednesday, Jyllands-Posten told its staff it had increased security around its offices in Copenhagen and another Danish city.

Your opinion

Show comments