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Condemnation swift in Muslim nations over new Charlie Hebdo cover

(RNS) "You're putting the lives of others at risk when you're taunting bloodthirsty and mad terrorists," said one Kuwaiti doctor.

Screenshot of Charlie Hebdo cover illustration.

ISTANBUL (RNS) Condemnation of the new edition of Charlie Hebdo was swift and often fierce Wednesday (Jan. 14) in many majority-Muslim nations after the cover featured a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad with a tear in his eye.

“You’re putting the lives of others at risk when you’re taunting bloodthirsty and mad terrorists,” said Hamad Alfarhan, 29, a Kuwaiti doctor. “I hope this doesn’t trigger more attacks. The world is already mourning the losses of many lives under the name of religion.”

Wednesday’s 16-page issue of the satirical publication featured a cartoon on its cover depicting the prophet holding a sign that says, “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) — the slogan adopted in support of the weekly after last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The headline above the prophet’s head reads, “All is forgiven.”

Under Islam, depictions of the prophet are forbidden.

In Turkey, a court banned websites showing the Charlie Hebdo cover after a lawyer filed a petition claiming the depictions were a danger to “public order,” the state-run Anadolu News Agency reported.

The court’s action came just hours after Turkish police searched trucks carrying the entire print run of the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper to make sure none of the papers reprinted cartoons from Charlie Hebdo of the prophet.

In Europe, home to millions of Muslims, radical Muslim cleric Anjem Choudhury of the United Kingdom called the newspaper’s cover “an act of war,” according to the Press Association.

The French Muslim community, meanwhile, warned against “overreaction” to the new issue and “to keep calm and avoid emotional reactions,” said Dalil Boubakeur, president of the Muslim Institute of the Mosque of Paris.

The Islamic Republic in Iran minced no words and condemned the “provocative” publication of a caricature of Muhammad, calling it an insult against Islam. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said publication of the cartoon “provokes the sentiments of Muslims the world over.”

Both the Turkish and Iranian governments condemned the Paris terrorist attacks last week.

Charlie Hebdo’s latest edition of 3 million copies sold out at newsstands across France shortly after going on sale Wednesday. The weekly — which usually prints 60,000 copies — has been translated into six languages, including Arabic and Turkish, and is being distributed internationally for the first time.

In Turkey, the presence of armed police inspecting a newspaper for insulting religious sensibilities alarmed media watchdogs.

“When the police proceed to check in advance the copies without a clear decision of the court, I think it is an alarming procedure reflecting perfectly disproportional interference in press freedom in Turkey,” said Erol Onderoglu, a representative for Reporters Without Borders.

Turkey’s three leading satirical cartoon magazines also printed covers that said “Je Suis Charlie” without depicting the prophet and rearranged their printing schedule so the trio of rival magazines would hit the street on the same day. But many copies of the satirical Penguen magazine never reached newsstands, illustrator M.K. Perker said.

“We’re getting calls and emails from people who are saying they cannot find it at any newsstands in big cities,” Perker said.

On social media, conservative religious users and secular users were trading barbs over the reach of Islamic values in public life to a degree never seen before, said Erkan Saka, a professor of communications at Bilgi University in Istanbul.

“This is polarizing the situation, but the freedom of speech side is also becoming more bolder in challenging religious values,” Saka said. “I have never seen in my life such direct criticism of Islamic arguments or values.”

The Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon said the depiction was “a provocation of the feelings of more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world … and directly contributes to supporting terrorism, fanaticism and extremists.”

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan said it would stage a protest after Friday prayers in Amman in response to the newspaper’s Muhammad cartoon. Spokesman Murad Adaileh said the organization strongly condemned both the killings and the “offensive” against the prophet.

Cartoonists in Morocco and Tunisia have been paying tribute to those killed at Charlie Hebdo even as social media users expressed outrage over the new cover.

“The moral terrorism that is Charlie Hebdo is more dangerous than the bloody terrorism that has nothing to do with Islam,” tweeted Zakaria Mbarki, a Moroccan student.

The Muslim world’s biggest Islamic institution in Egypt, Al-Azhar University, attributed the publishing of the cartoons to a “sick mindset” and told Muslims to ignore “this deplorable nonsense” and to stand against anything threatening “international peace.”

“The status of the prophet of mercy and humanity is higher and greater than being insulted by cartoons that are free from all ethical restrictions and civilized measures,” officials said in a statement.

For Mohamed Abdel Salam, 28, of Cairo, Charlie Hebdo is not drawing the prophet. “They are drawing us,” he said.

“They are drawing the stereotype of the backward Muslims today. It is their superficial look at us because for them we are the representation of the prophet,” Salam said. “Politically, they want to make Muslims in Europe to be part of a bigger clash, by creating a new type of polarization in Europe. They are simply afraid of the widespread Islamic culture.”

Still, some Muslims disagreed with the outrage.

“I want this to continue till (Muslims) get used to it so that they are no longer offended,” said Mohammed Adam, 28, of Cairo about the cartoons. “We need to get rid of this nonsense.”

(Mai Shams El-Din reported from Cairo. Contributing: Maya Vidon and Aida Alami in Paris, Saba Abu Farha in Amman, Jordan; The Associated Press.)

Video courtesy of Wall Street Journal via YouTube