Prophet Muhammad claims he is Charlie on front page

Charlie Hebdo will publish a front page showing a caricature of the Islamic prophet Muhammad holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie”, in its first edition since Islamist gunmen attacked the satirical newspaper.

With demand surging for the edition due on Wednesday, the weekly planned to print up to three-million copies, dwarfing its usual run of 60 000, after newsagents reported a rush of orders. International editions will be translated into 16 languages.

France has drafted in thousands of extra police and soldiers to provide security after 17 people were killed in three days of violence that began when two Islamist gunmen burst into Charlie Hebdo‘s offices, opening fire in revenge for the paper’s publication of satirical images of Muhammad in the past.

The paper said the front page of its January 14 edition would display a tearful Muhammad with a sign saying “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) below the headline: “Tout est pardonné” (All is forgiven).

The new edition of Charlie Hebdo, known for its satirical attacks on Islam and other religions, will include other cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad and also making fun of politicians and other religions, its lawyer said.

“We will not back down, otherwise none of this has any meaning,” Richard Malka told a French radio station. “If you hold the banner ‘I am Charlie’, that means you have the right to blaspheme, you have the right to criticise my religion.”

One Paris newspaper vendor said he had received 200 advance orders for Charlie Hebdo, and was stopping there as he could no longer cope.

There was no official reaction from the government on the new edition.

Inciting hatred
Egypt’s Grand Mufti warned Charlie Hebdo against publishing a new Muhammad caricature, saying it was a racist act that would incite hatred and upset Muslims around the world.

French Muslim leaders urged their community to keep calm and respect the right to freedom of expression.

“What is uncomfortable for us is the representation of the prophet,” Abdelbaki Attaf told Reuters at the funeral in the northern Paris suburb of Bobigny of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman shot trying to defend the Hebdo cartoonists.

“Any responsible Muslim will find it hard to accept that. But we shouldn’t ban it,” said Attaf, himself an administrator at the mosque in nearby Gennevilliers occasionally visited by Cherif Kouachi, one of the Hebdo killers.

A separate funeral was held in Jerusalem for four Jewish victims of a hostage-taking in a kosher deli in Paris.

Gun battle
On Sunday, at least 3.7-million people throughout France took part in marches of support for Charlie Hebdo and freedom of expression. World leaders linked arms to lead more than one million people through Paris in an unprecedented homage to the victims.

Three days of violence ended on Friday with a siege at a Jewish deli in Paris where four hostages and a gunman were killed. Shortly before that, police killed the Hebdo attackers in a gun battle at a print works northwest of the city.

In the wake of the violence, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 10 000 troops were being deployed at sensitive sites including synagogues, mosques and airports.

President Francois Hollande’s government has avoided referring to the Maghreb and African roots of the three killers. It has also sought to discredit their claim to be acting in the name of Islam, calling them “fanatics”.

However, France’s Islamic council called on the government to step up protection of mosques, saying that at least 50 anti-Islamic acts had been reported since the attack.

Abdallah Zekri, head of the National Observatory against Islamophobia, said Muslim sites such as Paris’s main mosque were not getting the same protection as Jewish synagogues or schools.

“There are websites out there calling for the murder of Muslim leaders and the torching of Muslim religious sites,” he told France Info. “Let’s stop the double standards.”

Fear of anti-immigrant sentiment
European leaders fear the events in France will add to rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.

On Monday, a record 25 000 anti-Islamist protesters marched through the German city of Dresden, many holding banners with anti-immigrant slogans.

In light of the threat, Le Drian said the government would need to review some of its military capabilities.

He also raised the prospect of reconsidering the severely strained military budget when its long-term spending plan comes up for review later this year in Parliament.

The government was due to seek Parliament’s approval for France’s continued participation in air raids against Islamic State in Iraq. One of last week’s killers cited France’s military strikes against Muslims as a motivation for his acts.

“The response is inside and outside France. Islamic State is a terrorist army with fighters from everywhere … it is an international army that has to be wiped out and that is why we are part of the coalition,” Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. – Reuters

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Leigh Thomas
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