Paris Paper Publishes New Muhammad Cartoon

French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo publishes a new cartoon of Muhammad and reprints those from a Danish newspaper, further angering Muslim groups. Sources at Charlie Hebdo say some of the staff have been placed under police protection.

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To France now, where a satirical magazine has reprinted the Danish cartoons and added one of its own on its front page. The move has further angered the French Muslim community, the largest in Europe. It has also brought condemnation from President Jacques Chirac. Eleanor Beardsley has the story from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

The front cover of the latest edition of the magazine Charlie Hebdo depicts a distraught Muhammad burying his face in his hands and saying, it's hard to be loved by idiots. The inside pages show the 12 Danish cartoons, together with several of the newspaper's own irreverent depictions of Jesus, the Pope and Jewish rabbis. Two policemen were posted outside the newspaper's Paris headquarters today in response to a number of threatening telephone calls.

Today's issue has attracted a lot of attention, selling out in a matter of hours. French President Jacques Chirac called reprinting the incendiary cartoons a provocation. But Charlie Hebdo's director, Philippe Val, says restricting the criticism of religion threatens the separation of church and state and democracy itself.

Mr. PHILIPPE VAL (Director, Charlie Hebdo): (Through Translator) If we start to say that the criticism of religion is a provocation, democracy is washed up. We can't give in to that. In the end, concessions feed terrorism, fear and extremism. The principles and laws of democracies have to be firmly applied and adhered to.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

BEARDSLEY: Demonstrators from Afghanistan to Lebanon attacked embassies and European Union offices, and several people have now died in the violence. Muslims also held more peaceful demonstrations in European capitals like Paris, Brussels, and London. Many Muslims charge that hate speech laws are implemented unfairly in Europe, and that the rules governing free space, tolerance and the boundaries of public expression are often inconsistent. Leaders of the French Muslim community took Charlie Hebdo to court in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the publication of this week's edition. They said it was an attack on people's religious sensitivities.

(Soundbite of radio music)

BEARDSLEY: Ahmed El Keïy is the director of Beur FM, a radio station aimed at French youth of North African descent. He says it's not about choosing between freedom of speech and religion, but applying French laws fairly.

Mr. AHMED EL KEÏY (Director, Beur FM): (Through Translator) Our listeners absolutely support freedom of expression, but as French Muslims they feel there's a double standard when it comes to protecting religious beliefs. When other religious groups are under attack, it seems that French laws are enacted, and there is appropriate condemnation from politicians. And that's what many Muslims feel is missing from this cartoon affair.

BEARDSLEY: Keïy says an Arabic news station, al-Manar, was taken off the air in France last year when its content was deemed anti-Semitic. The Catholic Church has also recently won a court injunction to ban a fashion ad depicting the Last Supper. Keïy says newspapers like Charlie Hebdo are able to print the inflammatory cartoons only because they are aimed at Muslims.

But Charlie Hebdo's editor says his magazine makes no distinctions. Philippe Val says the publication has been sued no fewer than 15 times, mostly by what he calls Christian extremist groups.

Mr. EL KEÏY: (Through Translator) It's simple where to draw the line, it's all defined by French law. Defamation and citing anti-Semitism, or racial hatred. All that is defined by the law, and we accept and even support those laws.

BEARDSLEY: Some French politicians and community leaders have said reprinting the cartoons amounts to throwing oil on the fire. Others say not printing them compromises free speech and smacks of appeasement. Hervé Mariton is a member of the French parliament.

Mr. HERVÉ MARITON (Member, French parliament): If I were a journalist, I would not publish these caricatures, but I do understand the right of the paper to publish them. And if people feel this should not have been published, they can go to court, they can win, they can lose. It is the simple question of freedom of press.

BEARDSLEY: The cartoon debate is now dominating public discussion in France and shows no signs of abating.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, in Paris.

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