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But so far French officials are coming to the magazine’s defense: “Freedom of expression is an inalienable right in our democracy and all attacks on the freedom of the press must be condemned with the greatest firmness,” Prime Minister François Fillon said in a statement.Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon called the attack “repulsive” and insisted that “Blasphemy doesn’t exist as a crime. This is the French Republic. That’s the law.” Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Minister of Economy, noted correctly that “Those who did this designate themselves as enemies of democracy… You don’t negotiate the freedom of the press with bombs,” she continued, and then added rather comically that “If you are not happy with what’s in a newspaper, you take it to court.”
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) did just that in 2007, taking Charlie Hebdo to court over the Danish cartoons, but lost. As for the magazine’s most recent offense against Islam, CFCM head Mohammed Moussaoui asserted that his organization deplores “the very mocking tone of the paper toward Islam and its prophet but reaffirms with force its total opposition to all acts and all forms of violence.”
The Paris firebombing comes in the wake of a similar assault just last month on a Tunisian television station for airing the “blasphemous” film Persepolis, which sent hundreds of offended Tunisians on a rampage. The station received death threats and the owner’s home was attacked at night by around a hundred people hurling firebombs.
The Charlie Hebdo firebombing also echoes another Islamic attack on free speech from 2008. Random House, one of the largest publishing houses in the world, rescinded an offer to publish The Jewel of Medina, an erotic novel about Mohammed and his child bride Aisha, after being warned by a scholarly consultant that many Muslims would almost certainly react violently. The consultant called it correctly: eventually, when a small British press daringly picked up the novel, the publisher’s house was firebombed.
And of course there is the South Park controversy in which the Comedy Central show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were targeted by a not-so-subtle threat from Zachary “Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee” Chesser, the leader of a small New York-based group of fanatics at RevolutionMuslim.com. Chesser found the fearless satirists guilty of an insulting depiction of Mohammed as someone who – wait for it – cannot be depicted without incurring death threats. “As Muslims,” Chesser said, “we do not define speech which has no place in a moral society as ‘free speech.’” Indeed, he said, free speech “is not a value that the Muslims share with America as a whole.”
And lest we forget, as the media have: Molly Norris, the Seattle artist who responded to the South Park incident by proposing an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” was pronounced the target of a death fatwa by recently obliterated Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. She is currently living in hiding.
There is no question of giving in… If we can poke fun at everything in France, if we can talk about anything in France apart from Islam or the consequences of Islamism, that is annoying.
It’s worse than annoying – it’s the beginning of the end of free speech.
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