Street reaction to Charlie Hebdo cartoons muted, so far

Aside from isolated protests in Afghanistan and Iran, the response to publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad has been mild. But tomorrow could bring a larger reaction.

Rahmat Gul/AP
Afghan university students burn a US flag in Surkhrod district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Sept 19, 2012.

A day after a French magazine posted cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, public reaction in the Muslim world has so far been relatively muted, with isolated protests taking place in Iran and Afghanistan. But French agencies remain on high alert in anticipation of larger protests tomorrow.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, several hundred people took to the street today to protest the cartoons published yesterday by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims," Agence France-Presse reports. According to AFP photographers in Kabul, a group of 300 students in a western neighborhood of the city chanted condemnations of the US and France. A second protest of hundreds gathered nearby, chanting "death to America."

Iran also saw modest protests against the cartoons. Reuters reports that about 100 students demonstrated in front of the French embassy in Tehran today shouting "Death to France, death to America," according to Iran's Fars news agency. Reuters notes that security forces remained in tight control of the event.

Many in the West worry that Charlie Hebdo's publication of the cartoons of Muhammad will only serve to stir further anger in the Muslim world, which has already seen protests against "Innocence of Muslims." The Monitor reported yesterday that the French government ordered enhanced security for its facilities abroad. France also announced that it will close its embassies, consulates, cultural centers, and schools in two dozen countries tomorrow. Friday is a day of prayer in most Muslim countries, and is when major protests tend to be held.

Muslim response to the cartoons in France has also been modest. The Jerusalem Post reports that the cartoons have been condemned by religious leaders within the country, though there have not yet been reports of violence directly connected to the cartoons.

During a news conference, Mufti Dalil Boubaqueur, rector of the Paris Mosque, described the publication of the cartoons as “dangerous” and “irresponsible.” The caricatures, he said, repeated “the same stupid things, the same calumnies, the same ignominies. It seems me to be a psychotic syndrome.”

[Richard Prasquier, president of French Jewish umbrella-group CRIF,] denounced the cartoons on his group’s website.

“To publish such a cartoon today in ‘the name of freedom’ is a form of irresponsible arrogance,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-rightwing National Front Party, defended the weekly’s right to publish the cartoons in the name of freedom of expression. She went on to say during an interview on the France 2 channel that for the government to step in would be “anti-republican.”

The Jerusalem Post does note that soon after the cartoons' publication, an explosive was thrown into a Jewish kosher grocery on the outskirts of Paris, injuring one person. But BBC News reports that French officials say it is too soon to tell whether the incident had anything to do with the cartoons.

The BBC also writes that a little-known organization, the Syrian Freedom Association, lodged a legal complaint against Charlie Hebdo, accusing the magazine of "inciting hatred."

It accuses Charlie Hebdo of "throwing oil on the fire by disseminating a cartoon against the Prophet Muhammad".

While the complaint refers to "a" cartoon, there are several in the latest issue of the magazine.

Charlie Hebdo is accused of "publicly provoking discrimination, hatred or violence of an ethnic, racial or religious kind".

The BBC adds that the association "was registered earlier this year in France but appears to be little-known among Syrian expatriates."

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