Sunday, March 11, 2007
France's 'Charlie Hebdo' and the fight for Freedom of the Press
On February 9, 2006, Charlie Hebdo, a french satirical (mostly left-wing) political weekly, had the guts to re-publish the Danish Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons, along with several of their own, in response to the violent, over-reaction of the Islamic world to their initial publication, and the ensuing arguments about what might or might not constitute freedom of expression. Splashed on the front page was a cartoon of Mohammed with the caption "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons" (It's hard to be loved by idiots), and entitled "Mahomet débordé par les intégristes" (Mohammed is overwhelmed by fundamentalists). And although the point of republishing the cartoons was to express solidarity with the ideals of 'freedom of speech', and to illustrate how Islam has been hijacked by extremists, the Muslim world, as a whole, chose to view it as a personal and religious affront.
The conservative Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) have since sued Charlie Hebdo, claiming racism and "publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion.'' The trial commenced February, 2007 with the verdict, originally set for March 15, moved to March 22. Philippe Val, C-Hs editor and publisher, faces 6 months in jail and a fine of up to 28,500, if convicted. Val argues that "It is racist to imagine that they can't understand a joke."
The good news is that the case might actually be dismissed! Although the great President Jacques Chirac, condemned Charlie Hebdo for publishing the Moha-toons, many have rallied in favour of Val, including other journalists, politicians and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (who would make a great next French Prez!). Even the State Prosecutor, Anne de Fontette, has called for dismissal, saying "It is not faith in Islam that was stigmatized by these caricatures. It is not an attack on religious convictions as such........ but the terrorists who pretend to be acting in (Islam's) name or in the name of the prophet.''
Looks like France might be doing something courageous, for a change. But we shall see, on March 22, if Freedom of Speech truly does prevail.
Vive la liberté de la presse!