Charlie Hebdo’s upcoming publication on Prophet to draw ire from Muslims

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1. 1. 2012 – / AYDIN ALBAYRAK/ Zaman – Yet another decision by notorious French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo to publish a comic book biography of Islam Prophet Muhammed’s life has already led to a torrent of criticism from Muslims, with government officials in Turkey calling the move a provocation.

“No matter what the Charlie Hebdo people say, this is a provocation. My advice to Muslims: Ignore it. Don’t give them what they want,” İbrahim Kalın, deputy undersecretary of the Prime Ministry’s Office, wrote on his twitter account on Monday.

The editor-in-chief of the magazine, Stephan Charbonnier, confirmed at a press conference on Sunday, that they have no intention of provoking Muslims and that the cartoons won’t be offensive. But Kalın said he is not convinced by Charbonnier’s statement. “Turning the Prophet of Islam into a cartoon character is wrong in itself,” he commented.

A senior government official told Today’s Zaman that they have received information indicating that the magazine’s decision was designed to provoke protests and anger in the Muslim world. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the government will make its opinion public once the issue comes out on newsstands. “We believe this is a clear and deliberate provocation,” he said.

Though admitting that they wouldn’t expect everybody to be pleased with the cartoon, Charbonnier stressed the work would by no means be in the same category as the cartoons they published in 2001, 2002, and in September 2012. “We have just told the story of the Prophet as it is indicated in the Islamic texts,” she said.

Charbonnier made it clear, at the press conference, that he doesn’t think representing the Prophet in picture form should be taken as a provocation in itself. “The ban on the portrayal of the Prophet is just a result of tradition; it’s absolutely not written in the Quran. If people want to be shocked, they may. But we didn’t produce this work to shock people,” he said in an answer to a question.

For Ali Bulaç, who is a prominent Islamic scholar, it is improper to publish the biography of the Prophet Muhammed in cartoons. Bulaç said that the Islamic tradition finds it disrespectful for the Prophet to be pictured, noting that in the movie “The Message,” the Prophet was not pictured out of respect for Islamic beliefs.“Such a thing would garner negative reaction from the Islamic world,” he told Today’s Zaman.

But the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo is convinced the cartoons would serve to help the public in Europe understand the Prophet. “Since the cartoon crisis in Denmark in 2006, everybody, media and politicians in the first place, have been talking about Muhammad. However, nobody knows this person. In this work, we are relating the life of this person whom nobody in France unfortunately knows anything about,” Charbonnier said.

Speaking about the publication of Charlie Hebdo to be issued on Wednesday, Samy Debah, the president of the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), accused the weekly of continuing its provocative activities. In an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman, Debah claimed that the weekly is trying to gain publicity by producing such publications.

Debah, who is doubtful of the motives of the initiative by Charlie Hebdo, said the job to introduce Muhammed to people falls upon Islamic theologists and religious people, and not the weekly. “We do not need their published cartoons to understand the Prophet Muhammed,” said Debah, also adding that the most serious penalty for the weekly would be just to ignore the publication, which in turn would prevent them from receiving the publicity they are after.

Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. Its Paris offices were firebombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Muhammad and Charbonnier has been under police guard ever since.

Charbonnier also rejected criticisms about a controversial anti-Muslim film made in the US last September, which sparked large scale protests in Muslim countries, deeming the film a “freedom of expression.” Ridicule by a French magazine of the Prophet Muhammad by portraying him in cartoons in the same month fueled the anger of Muslims around the world who were already incensed by a US-made video that mocked the Prophet.

It sparked days of deadly anti-American violence in many Muslim countries, including an assault on the US consulate in Benghazi in Libya in which the US ambassador was killed on the anniversary of September 11. Also, 15 people were killed in protests in Pakistan in the days following the Libya protests. As the protests continued, a Spanish political satire magazine named El Jueves also published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover.

The large-scale protests last September were not the first ones sparked after a Western-based publication targeted the Prophet Muhammad. In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet also sparked a wave of protests across the Muslim world in which at least 50 people died.

French Embassy officials in Ankara were not available for comment on this story.