Hot on the heels of an anti-Islamic video that set off a firestorm of emotions among the Muslims across the world, a French magazine Wednesday added insult to the injury by portraying Prophet Mohamed naked.
The drawings in Charlie Hebdo, a Paris-based satirical French newspaper whose offices were firebombed last year, were part of an attempt to poke fun at the outrage over the video, according to its publishers. One caricature, titled "Mohammad: a star is born,” shows a bearded man crouching over to display his buttocks and genitals. The Muslims object to depiction of their prophet in any way.
The French government, which had urged the publishers to refrain from publishing the lewd drawings, ordered to shut down its embassies and schools in 20 countries as a precautionary measure, Reuters has reported.
Speaking on France Inter radio, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the principle of freedom of expression should not be infringed, the Associated Press reported. However, he maintained that it was an unintelligent move to publish the drawings in the current political climate.
“Is it pertinent, intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire? The answer is no,” he said.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called the drawings outrageous but said those who were offended by them should "use peaceful means to express their firm rejection,” Reuters reported.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the Obama administration believed the French magazine images "will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory," the Associated Press reported.
"We don't question the right of something like this to be published," he said, referring to the U.S. Constitution's protections of freedom of expression. "We just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it."
A French Muslim group has reportedly filed a legal complaint against the weekly but there were no reports of any reaction on the streets of France. The magazine said its website had been hacked. Riot police are guarding the magazine's offices as the copies hit the newsstands Wednesday.
Violent protests against a movie, “Innocence of Muslims," a low-budget U.S. production that portrays Prophet Mohamed as a fraudster, womanizer and a child molester, have been raging across North Africa, Middle East and several parts of Asia for the past several days.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that ensued following the protests against the film. The U.S. Embassies in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia also witnessed violent scenes outside the buildings, including forced entry and vandalism.
The reaction to the cartoon was mixed with some lauding the publishers for their courage while others rebuking the cartoons that could potentially lead to more violence and damage.
Philip J. Crowley, media commentator, said on Twitter: “The upcoming reaction to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons will tell us whether protests are driven by religious concern or anti-Americanism.”
Speaking to Reuters, Essam Erian, acting head of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, condemned the cartoon: “We reject and condemn the French cartoons that dishonor the Prophet and we condemn any action that defames the sacred according to people’s beliefs.”
The publication, known for its fiercely anti-clerical stance, was destroyed by a petrol bomb in November last year, a day after it showed Prophet Mohammad as its “editor-in-chief” for that week’s issue.
The cover of that week’s issue showed Mohammed saying: "100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.”
In a serious note, that week’s editorial said: “No religion is compatible with democracy from the moment a political party representing it wants to take power in the name of God.”
“What would be the point of a religious party taking power if it didn’t apply its ideas,” it goes on. “Hello, we are the Bolchevik party and if you vote for us we promise never to speak of Communism…Come on.”
Charlie Hebdo's website was also hacked following the incident with a message in English and Turkish cursing the magazine.
The message said: "You keep abusing Islam's almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech. Be God's curse upon you!"