France will close diplomatic missions and French schools in 20 countries on Friday after a Paris-based satirical magazine published a number of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad in its Wednesday issue.
Charlie Hebdo’s front cover bears a cartoon depicting an Orthodox Jewish man pushing a bearded and turbaned figure on a wheelchair under the title “Intouchables 2” in reference to a popular French film about a poor black man aiding a quadriplegic aristocrat. The pages inside contain additional cartoons of Mohamed, including ones of him naked.
The website for the French publication crashed on Wednesday following high traffic prompted by the cartoons. French police were stationed around Charlie Hedbo’s offices to provide security.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was in Egypt this week, criticised the decision to publish the cartoons on France info radio, according to Reuters. “Is is relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no,” he said.
“I’m very worried… and when I saw this I immediately issued instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it could be a problem.”
In a government statement, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault disapproved of the newspaper’s actions but reaffirmed the freedom of expression as a fundamental principle in France.
He stood by the country’s secularism but pointed out that secularism comes with “the values of tolerance and respect for religious convictions.”
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), an umbrella organisation that represents France’s 5-6 million Muslims to the government, issued a statement on Tuesday urging calm in the face of the insulting cartoons.
“The CFCM, deeply committed to freedom of expression, considers that nothing can justify the insult and incitement to hatred,” the statement read. “CFCM urges Muslims in France not to yield to provocation and urges them to express their outrage in serenity through lawful means.”
This is not the first time Charlie Hebdo published provocative images of Islam’s prophet. In November the publication’s offices were firebombed after it published a special edition called “Charia Hebdo” in which it listed Mohamed as editor-in-chief and featured a cartoon of him on the cover.
The CFCM at the time condemned the mocking tone towards Islam that the paper repeatedly exhibited but expressed its outright rejection of any form of violence in retaliation.