PARIS: French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo drew ire on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) with a new cover image of the Prophet Mohammed on the eve of its return to newsstands after the murder of its core staff by Islamist gunmen.
In defiance of the militants who killed 12 people in an attack on its Paris office, the new edition bears a cartoon of a tearful Mohammed bearing the slogan “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”).
He is shown under the ambiguous title “All is forgiven.” Cartoonist Renald “Luz” Luzier said he cried after drawing it.
Last week’s murderous attack drew global condemnation, including from several Islamic bodies, but the new cover quickly inspired concerns that it would stir hatred between communities.
Al-Azhar in Cairo, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious center of learning, warned that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons “stir up hatred” and “do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples.”
Some feel any depiction of the prophet is sacrilege, and Egypt’s state-backed Islamic authority Dar al-Ifta denounced “an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims.”
Tabnak, a conservative online outlet in Iran, an Islamic republic notorious for throwing journalists in jail, stormed: “Charlie Hebdo has again insulted the Prophet.”
And British radical preacher Anjem Choudary, who is under investigation for alleged links to armed militancy, branded the new publication an “act of war” and a “blatant provocation.”
Nevertheless, many international newspapers, broadcasters and websites carried images of the cover — some explicitly as a gesture of support for press freedom, others to illustrate the controversy.
Even in Muslim-majority Turkey, the secular newspaper Cumhuriyet was in negotiations to reprint some or all of the French edition of Charlie Hebdo for its readers.
Western governments broadly defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish, even if some were concerned about a possible backlash from their own Muslim minorities or from groups in the Islamic world.
Violent riots broke out in Egypt and other Muslim countries in early 2006 over Mohammed caricatures by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which were republished by Charlie Hebdo.
“Regardless of what anyone’s personal opinion is, and I know there are very heated personal opinions about this, we absolutely support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish things like this,” said US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Charlie Hebdo is to print up to three million copies of its “survivors’ issue,” due out Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) — far more than the usual 60,000 before last week’s attack and a historic record for a French publication.
Money from sales will go to the victims’ families.
French and Italian versions will be printed, while translations in three other languages — English, Spanish and Arabic — will be offered in electronic form, editor-in-chief Gerard Biard said.
“Turkey is in a difficult period and secularism there is under attack,” Biard told Agence France-Presse, explaining why the talks to produce a possible Turkish version were “the most important.”
An advance copy obtained by AFP contained cartoons mocking the two Islamist gunmen who carried out the attack. One has them arriving in paradise and asking: “Where are the 70 virgins?”
“With the Charlie team, losers,” comes the reply.