Controversial Muhammad Cartoons Reprinted in France

Protests sparked by cartoons lampooning the Islamic prophet Muhammad have raised concerns about relations between European and Muslim nations. Now a French satirical weekly has reprinted those controversial cartoons. Madeleine Brand speaks with Sebastian Rotella, Paris bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times, about what that decision might mean for a nation already torn by dissent.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, an interview with a political consultant to Hamas about how the charter for that organization still calls for the killing of Jews.

BRAND: But first, President Bush is calling for an end to the violence triggered by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We reject violence as a way to express discontent of what may be printed in the free press. I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence.

BRAND: One European magazine, the French satirical weekly, Charlie-Hebdo, today further angered Muslim groups by reprinting the offending cartoons, and adding another one.

Here with us to discuss this decision is Sebastian Rotella. He's the Paris bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. And welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. SEBASTIAN ROTELLA (Paris bureau chief, Los Angeles Times): Thanks very much.

BRAND: So, tell us about this magazine, Charlie-Hebdo. What is it?

Mr. ROTELLAA: It's a satirical magazine with a very political focus, and very irreverent and often outrageous, and that sort of specializes going after authority figures, politicians, particularly right wing politicians. It has also, certainly, in the past, satirized religions as well.

BRAND: And, why did it decide to republish these cartoons?

Mr. ROTELLA: Well, this has become, and it's happening all around Europe, one publication after another is making a stand for democracy, or for freedom of the press. And those were the reasons that the editors of Charlie-Hebdo gave. And I think they also sort of specialize in kind of edgy, irreverent, confrontational topics. And so this is sort of, I think they saw this as a challenge that they had to step up and take.

BRAND: I guess, and more than a challenge, it actually added another cartoon that could be inflammatory. It has a caricature with a headline, Muhammad overwhelmed by the fundamentalists, and it shows the Prophet with his head in his hands remarking, it's hard to be loved by idiots.

Mr. ROTELLA: That's right, that certainly, I assume, will further anger people who were already angry.

BRAND: Well, has it so far? A few months ago, there was the rioting in France by mostly Arab youth. Have they responded at all? Has anyone responded to the publication of these cartoons and this extra one?

Mr. ROTELLA: That's a very interesting questioning, particularly in reference to the riot, and how things sometimes go against expectations. Certainly, the Muslim Associations in France aren't happy about the caricatures, and they in fact went to court to try and stop the publication of Charlie-Hebdo, but the court ruled against them.

But, on the other hand, the street has been very quiet. From what you can see, and I've been talking a lot also to police and intelligence officials in the aftermath of the riots, and somebody was telling me just yesterday that they find it interesting that there just isn't that much chatter, or even talk in Mosques here in France about this issue. Not as much as you'd expect, given the intensity and the violence of the reaction of places like the Middle East.

BRAND: Sebastian Rotella is Paris bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. ROTELLA: My pleasure.

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