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France’s enhanced defense against Mohammed’s comics may lead to “traps”

NICE, France-When the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished the prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in early September, it triggered a series of incidents, including two stabbings, protests from Muslim countries, and boycotts of French goods and criticism from allies. When a young Islamic extremist decapitated a teacher near Paris this month, tensions intensified, and another cut the throats of two people this week and stabbed another to death in a church in the southern city of Nice. one person.

But French officials not only defended the right to republish the comics, they also went further, including the announcement of regional leaders to distribute pamphlets containing these images to high school students as a “commitment to defend the values ​​of the Republic.”

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In the 14-year history of tortured cartoons in France, the reaction to French images has undergone profound changes. Once condemned by the head of state for provocative and disrespectful Muslims, and later kept at a cautious distance by other officials, the same paintings are now used throughout the political system, which is often confused with France’s commitment to freedom of speech.

The caricatures put France in a dangerous deadlock, widened its distance from Muslim countries, and alienated many French Muslims. For Muslims outside France and some Muslims inside, these cartoons are simply provocative and disrespectful insults. This is their belief. A painting depicts the Prophet Muhammad carrying a bomb in a turban.

The strengthening of France’s defense of images has also distinguished it from the United States and other Western democracies. In the face of an increasingly diverse society, the United States is more cautious about remarks that may be viewed as offensive, especially against race and ethnicity. Religious or religious speech. Other ethnic minorities. Many French people view these attitudes as a form of American political correctness that threatens French culture.

On Friday, the day after a 21-year-old Tunisian immigrant killed three people in the Cathedral of Nice, the police announced the arrest of a second suspect. About 50 people gathered in front of the church to pay tribute to the dead. The first moment of unity was interrupted by several local residents who blamed the attack on Islam-protest bystanders. A veiled woman called on people not to confuse Muslims with terrorists.

The mayor of Nice said that the constitution should be amended so that France can properly “launch war” against Islamic extremists. France’s tough interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, announced the following tone: “We are fighting both internal and external enemies.”

The language of martial arts reflects the overall strengthening of the French view of radical Islam. The fierce defense of the caricature puts the French in a position where there is no room for maneuver. In this case, any compromise can be seen as weakening the core value-French strict secularism, called laïcité.

Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, a philosopher and laïcité expert at the Sorbonne University, said that the conflict between comics has trapped France.

He said: “In fact, they have become symbols, turning the situation into a conflict.” “But I think this is an inevitable conflict: if French laïcité abandons this, it will have to give up all other views.”

He added: “If we give up caricatures, then for the French, we give up freedom of speech, that is, the possibility of criticizing religion.”

In 2015, the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the killing of dozens of people, including cartoonists and columnists, led to a massive mobilization in Paris under the banner of “Jay Suez Charlie” or “I am Charlie.”

Representatives from Muslim countries such as Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and Qatar participated in the march against terrorism and freedom of speech. But recently all these countries have criticized the republishing of cartoons, believing that they offend Muslims.

The editors of Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons to mark the beginning of the long-awaited trial of the suspected associates in the 2015 attack, and they said they affirmed French democracy.

After the republic, President Emmanuel Macron gave a high-profile speech, detailing his plan to fight Islamism and the government’s widespread repression of so-called Islamic individuals and organizations. Changes in foreign views.

“Publishing and republishing are not the same thing,” said Anne Giudicelli, a French Arab world expert who worked for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Charlie Hebdo’s re-publishing is seen as a stubborn desire to continue humiliation. That is different from 2015. There is now a feeling that France has a problem with Islam, and in 2015, France Is a victim of terrorists.”

Pakistan was angry at asylum seekers. Two people were stabbed outside the magazine’s former office. A refugee of Chechen origin beheaded the head of a middle school teacher who showed two Mohammed cartoons in the classroom. Including cartoons depicting his naked limbs.

Freedom of speech or desecration of religion is considered the purpose of French democracy. It was established by eliminating the power of the monarchy and Roman Catholicism, and has steadily become the pillar of French secularism or laïcité. .

Mr. Tavoillot (Tavoillot) was founded in a law in 1905, when France lacked an important Muslim community, French secularism separated the church from the country, based on the belief that belief is a private matter, so it must be restricted In the private sphere. Said the philosopher.

The main historian of French secularism, Jean Baubérot, said that the idea was to put the country first. He said: “Modern France believes that it has established a stand against religion.”

The strict secularism of France is also indirectly strengthened by the increasing secularization of French society. According to a 2016 report by the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, today only 8% of French people regularly follow their faith.

Bob Roth said, however, with the increase in the number of Muslims in France, people have already lived how to live and perform etiquette. Today, about 10% of the French population is Muslim, and they have much more religious beliefs than Christians or Jews. The report found that 31% of Muslims visit mosques or prayer halls every week.

French secularism has the precious right to criticize all religions, even if they are not believers. This line is often difficult to draw and makes many Muslims personally insulted by the publication of Muhammad’s cartoons.

To complicate matters, France does restrict certain freedoms of speech-for example, it prohibits attacks on people out of religious belief or color, and denies the Holocaust.

The beheaded teacher used two Mohammed cartoons by Charlie Hebdo in a course on freedom of expression, which angered many Muslim students and parents. Because public school teachers played a key role in teaching secularism, the government regarded his killing as an attack on the country.

A few days after the murder, the leaders of 13 regions in France announced that they would publish a handbook for high school students featuring Mohammed cartoons.

“The art of satire is an ancient tradition and part of our democracy,” said Iannis Roder, a middle school history teacher and one of the members of the Wise Committee, which was created by the government in 2018 to strengthen The legal effect of public schools.

He added that as “many students who claim to be Muslims are increasingly infiltrating religion,” he is facing increasing difficulties in teaching freedom of expression and comic rights.

However, Mohammed Moussaoui, chairman of the French Muslim Faith Committee, said that when it comes to religious beliefs, offensive satire should be limited. He said that restricting the publication of Mohammed’s cartoons can avoid extremism.

Moussavi said of the caricature in an interview with “French News”: “I don’t think this is the right way to explain freedom of expression to children.” “The Brotherhood’s obligation imposes everyone to waive certain rights.

Mr. Mousavi said in a subsequent statement that his suggestion to “give up certain rights” was clumsy. But he added: “If freedom of speech gives the right to satire or humor, we can understand that cartoons make prophets important to thousands of believers, and their hints and derogatory gestures cannot belong to this right.

Since the 2015 attack, comics have had a strong symbolic meaning, so it has become difficult to raise questions about them politically.

Clémentine Autain, the left-most member of the French Unbowed Party, said that the debate on terrorism and secularism is “dominated by emotions and is no longer rational”.

She said that some politicians are using religious beliefs to “exclude all Muslims.” “What I worry about is that doing so will cause many Muslims to be returned to the arms of radicals.”

Antonella Francini contributed research results from Paris.

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