While surviving staff members, at an emotional news conference, described their choice of cover as a show of forgiveness, most Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous. Moreover, interpretations quickly swirled around the Internet that the cartoon also contained disguised crudity.
One of Egypt’s highest Islamic authorities warned that the cartoon would exacerbate tensions between the secular West and observant Muslims, while death threats circulated online against staff members.
A preacher, Anjem Choudary, the former leader of a radical group that was banned in Britain, was quoted by a British newspaper, The Independent, as saying that the image was “an act of war” that would be punishable by death if judged in a Shariah court.
Bravo to Charlie Hebdo for holding up free speech in the face of religious barbarism. Here’s the author of the cartoon speaking about his work:
With this cover, we wanted to show that at any given moment, we have the right to do anything, to redo anything, and to use our characters the way we want to. Mohammed has become a character, in spite of himself, a character in the news, because there are people who speak on his behalf. This is a cover aimed at intelligent people, who are much more numerous than you think, whether they’re atheists, Catholics, Muslims. …
Phrases like “an act of war” applied to a cartoon recalls for me old Christopher Hitchens articles about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. For example:
Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against “all those involved in its publication,” which led to the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient.