Paris court takes up Muslim cartoon case
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Yet if anything, the two traditionally moderate Muslim groups bringing suit, the Union of Islamic Organisations of France, and the Grand Mosque, now feel hard pressed. They are pressured to fight for Muslim interests by their constituency. And they got initial support from Mr. Chirac. But they didn't count on the current media circus in France, sources say, and many feel that their high-profile protestations ironically cast them in the extremist image they want to counter. On Wednesday, the Muslim plaintiffs didn't even attend the trial.Skip to next paragraph
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"Most minority groups in France have learned how to deal with the press, the state, the courts, and the government," argues Pierre Haski, former editor of the daily Liberation. "But with the Muslims, this is a new thing."
Many Muslims see the world in only literal terms, argues Dounia Bouzar, a former board member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. "Muslims have not yet worked on subjective interpretations."
Charlie Hebdo was not the first or the only French media outlet to publish the cartoons. Two TV stations and the national daily newspaper Le Monde ran them. Charlie Hebdo's cartoons appeared after the editor of the daily France Soir was fired for publishing them – and as a protest against the "weak" response by the European Union to attacks on Danish embassies in the Muslim states.
The Danish paper Jyllands-Posten first ran cartoons of Muhammed, including one with a bomb in his turban, in September 2005. Editor Flemming Rose said it was a challenge to Europe's growing self-censorship in the wake of filmmaker Theo van Gogh's murder in 2004. But the Muslim community in Europe, and then the world, saw it as a clear example of Islamaphobia.
According to Ms. Favret-Saada, the cartoons were partly motivated by threats from Abu Laban, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who aspired to be the leader of Muslims in Denmark, that any drawings of the prophet were forbidden, including by non-Muslims.
The letter by 50 French intellectuals criticized the left in Europe for failing to stand up for fundamental rights and too easily buying into the Muslim political argument that criticism of Islam is racist. They say too many Islamists are insisting upon extreme or totalitarian positions, while at the same time claiming they are the victims of Islamaphobia in Europe.
On the day of the trial, patrons in the Grand Mosque cafe were scattered about, drinking mint tea and displaying copies of Charlie Hebdo. One writer at the cafe said, "The entire issue is ridiculous – freedom of expression shouldn't even be a question," he said, pointing to the main mosque.
Some students visiting from Toulouse, however, said that while freedom of expression was an important right it should not impinge so far that it caused pain to others.