The offices of a French satirical newspaper were firebombed Wednesday and its website hacked after satirizing the Islamic prophet Mohammed in a special issue dedicated to the Arab Spring. The attack is the latest example of Islamist violence against Western media sources and writers who dare to mock or even discuss Islam and its prophets.
French paper Charlie Hebdo published its special edition Wednesday, marking the Arab spring and the victory of Islamist political party al-Nahda in Tunisian elections. The issue mockingly renamed itself Charia (Sharia) Hebdo, featured Mohammed as a "guest editor," and published a front-page cartoon of the prophet saying, "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter." In particular, editors acknowledged that the full-page depictions of Mohammed on the cover and back page were "quite rare," and had already provoked numerous threats online.
French officials strongly condemned the attack. "Freedom of the press is a sacred freedom in our country and everything must be done to preserve it," Interior Minister Claude Gueant told AFP. "This is why, whether we like Charlie Hebdo or not, every French person must this morning feel solidarity with a newspaper that, through its existence and the way it operates, expresses freedom of the press." Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was "disgusted" at the bombing and termed it "an act of violence against freedom of expression."
Western media sources have been under heavy pressure to limit speech deemed offensive by Muslim nations. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the representative body of the world's Muslim countries, called the Charlie Hebdo issue "an outrageous act of incitement and hatred and abuse of freedom of expression."
Islamists have also responded with violence to silence Western media. When Danish paper Jyllands Posten published a series of Mohammed cartoons in 2005, it prompted worldwide protests, the burning of Danish embassies in Muslim countries, and attempted terror attacks on the paper and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. In 2008, three Islamists in Britain were sentenced to four years in prison for the firebombing the home of a British publisher in response to plans for a book on the prophet's youngest wife. This came after Random House withdrew from plans to publish The Jewel of Medina, citing safety fears. In 2010, two American Islamists threatened the producers of the popular TV show "South Park," after they portrayed the Islamic prophet wearing a bear suit. One of suspects was later convicted, while another is set to face charges.