France is on high alert after a satirical Paris-based weekly decided to join in the latest round of insulting the Muslim world to make a point about free speech, an act reminiscent of the 2005 publication of similarly insulting images by a Danish newspaper that lead to months of worldwide protests, about 100 reported deaths and attacks on Danish embassies in Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
The French Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that French people in Muslim countries should exercise caution, to avoid congregating in groups in public places and to avoid “sensitive buildings.”
The travel warning comes a day after Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed “disapproval of any excesses” and urged “everyone to demonstrate a spirit of responsibility,” according to a ministry statement.
The controversial edition of Charlie Hebdo hit the streets of Paris with images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that editor Stephane Charbonnier said at a press conference would “shock those who will want to be shocked,” according to France 24. Charbonnier, who is known for his unflattering, mocking depictions of French politicians, posed on Wednesday morning for an AFP photo with his fist raised in defiance, holding up a copy of his magazine. He also told the newspaper Le Monde that the magazine's site had been hacked. The magazine’s website was inaccessible from the U.S. Wednesday morning, suggesting a denial-of-service attack.
In November the magazine published an edition that had a mocking cartoon of the prophet on the cover; the magazine’s offices in Paris’ 20th arrondissement were fire-bombed and its website was hacked.
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Paris Mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur and Ahmed Jaballah, president of the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF), appealed for calm at a press conference in Paris on Wednesday.
“We are not like animals of Pavlov to react at each insult,” Boubakeur was quoted by the BBC as saying.
One of the images described by Reuters shows a picture of a bearded man bent over to show his genitals and perineum, with a star covering his anus under the caption “Muhammad: a star is born,” a reference to the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims” that sparked worldwide protests that have claimed at least 28 lives, according to a count by the AP.
The deaths include U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans that were killed in an attack suspected of having been committed by militants using a demonstration as cover for a rocket attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
The cartoons are reminiscent of cartoons published in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Kurt Westergaard, the 77-year-old illustrator of the most controversial of the images –- depicting a bearded man wearing a bomb in his turban with the Islamic shahada inscribed on it –- lives under high security to this day. Two attempts on his life were exposed, including a 2010 forced entry of Westergaard’s home by an ax-wielding Somali immgrant who was wounded in a shoot-out with police. The artist survived by hiding in a panic room (a bathroom with a re-enforced door) built at the urging of local authorities.
The backlash over the publishing of the Danish cartoons lasted for months and led to protests in at least 50 countries and over 100 deaths, according to numerous media account at the time.