France is closing its schools, consulates, cultural centers and embassies in 20 countries tomorrow amid fears of a new wave of violence in the Middle East over satirical depictions of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad. This time it’s not a video but a cartoon, published in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, that authorities are concerned could incite unrest.
Benjamin Abtan, president for the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement, describes how the issue is unfolding in Paris.
"It's not a surprise, because they do it every week," Abtan says of the magazine. But Abtan stands by the magazine, saying that, in a democratic country, everything can be discussed, debated, criticized, and even caricatured.
"It is not a call to hatred. It is a criticism of a dogma." Furthermore, says Abtan, Charlie Hebdo has always been an anti-racist publication. In addition to satirizing Islam, the magazine has also been an advocate for the religion, speaking out against racial injustices and stigmatization of Muslims in France."
"Charlie Hebdo is not at all ambiguous regarding all this kind of debate. It's very clearly an anti-racist newspaper," Abtan says.
Abtan also wants to make a clear distinction between the film that has caused so much controversy, and these cartoons. "The movie was a racist movie. The cartoons are not at all racist."
"This is free speech," he says. "This is democracy."
Nevertheless, French schools, embassies, and consulates are being closed throughout the Arab world in preparation for demonstrations in response to these cartoons.