Fear Mohamed cartoons will spark Muslim fury


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The Independent Online

France was braced last night for an eruption of anti-French fury in the Muslim world after a satirical magazine published provocative cartoons of a naked Prophet Mohamed in sexually-suggestive positions.

Paris ordered all of its embassies and schools in Muslim countries to close tomorrow in expectation of violent demonstrations after Friday prayers. French travellers were advised to avoid Muslim destinations.

The magazine Charlie Hebdo – angrily condemned by some French politicians and defended by others – said that the four pages of cartoons were a satire on the Islam-baiting American film Innocence of Muslims and not an attack on Islam.

But the intense vulgarity of some of the drawings, and Charlie Hebdo's record of publishing anti-Islamic cartoons, seems certain to provoke an extreme response in Muslim countries and among radical Muslims in France.

The magazine's offices were fire-bombed after it published an edition dominated by cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed last November. Riot police were deployed to guard the rebuilt offices yesterday.

Charlie Hebdo's drawings instantly deepened the anti-Western outrage in the Muslim world provoked by the film Innocence of Muslims, a crude anti-Islamic tirade made in America and posted online earlier this month.

At least 30 people, including Chris Stephens, the US ambassador to Libya, have died in the past nine days during violent demonstrations and attacks on Western embassies and commercial interests.

French politicians and media commentators found themselves torn yesterday between fury at Charlie Hebdo's decision to – in newspaper Le Monde's words – "throw oil on the flames" and a desire to defend the magazine's right to free speech.

The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called for a "sense of responsibility" and condemned the magazine's "excesses" but recalled that "liberty of expression is one of the fundamental principles of our republic".

Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Mosque, described the drawings as a "disgraceful and hateful, useless and stupid provocation" but he urged the faithful not to react "like animals of Pavlov to… each insult".