Surveillance increases, threats and anger against Muslims intensifies, as Charlie Hebdo republishes offensive depictions of Prophet Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(FinalCall.com) – When Lutz Bachmann, leader of Germany’s intensifying anti-Islam movement posted a picture of himself on Facebook styled as Adolph Hitler, it was met with scorn and derision. The public relations gaffe resulted in him being forced to resign from his position as leader of PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), an organization he co-founded in October 2014.
Up until then, Mr. Backmann had been successful at gaining widespread support amongst ordinary Germans by deliberately avoiding open associations or language that can be branded as Nazism—a definite no-no in Germany given the nations sordid history.
Despite being what writers from Der Spiegel classified as “a collection of right-wing rogues,” the group rapidly expanded their presence holding weekly marches protesting what they declared to be “the Islamization of the West,” by appealing to working middle class German citizens fearful of the influx of Muslims and other immigrants. PEGIDA’s largest march reportedly drew nearly 25,000 to Dresden, a metropolitan area serving as a cultural and political center with a population of 2.4 million.
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown support for Germany’s Muslim community during events and a large rally to promote tolerance. She has publicly rebuked the xenophobic sentiments expressed by the likes of PEGIDA.
In France, Marine Le Pen is the right-wing’s most visible and influential figure. The National Front (NF), which she leads, currently holds 24 of 74 seats in France’s European Parliament. She and her supporters claim to have been shunned by President François Hollande from the massive Paris national unity march held January 11. As a result, Le Pen held her own rally and recently wrote an OpEd appearing in the New York Times making it clear that in her view, the problem is Islam and “massive waves of immigration, both legal and clandestine.”
“Let us call things by their rightful names, since the French government seems reluctant to do so. France, land of human rights and freedoms, was attacked on its own soil by a totalitarian ideology: Islamic fundamentalism. It is only by refusing to be in denial, by looking the enemy in the eye, that one can avoid conflating issues,” Ms. Le Pen wrote.
The Charlie Hebdo incident—while throwing France into a state of fear and instability—may have in fact boosted Le Pen’s chances of becoming president when French elections are held in 2017. Pres. Hollande’s approval ratings, have jumped from historic lows in the mid to upper teens at the end of 2014, to 40 percent as of January 19, presumably as the nation came together in a show of solidarity in the aftermath of recent terror attacks. French polling data late last year actually had NF leader Le Pen beating him 54-46 percent.
Global Muslim response to provocation
Everyday life has been disrupted for many Muslims in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and other European Nations such as Belgium as anti-terrorism tactical officers round up activists. Mosques and many gathering places frequented by followers of Islam have been threatened and attacked.
The terror warning level in Belgium is now set at 3, the second highest level, following anti-terror raids in which two suspects were killed and a third wounded amid fears they allegedly planned attacks on police.
The decision by Charlie Hebdo to publish what is being called the “Survivor’s Edition” and reprinting offensive depictions of Prophet Muhammad simultaneously set off calls for restraint and another wave of anger in Muslim lands.
The Muslim Council of Britain is an umbrella organization with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools. Fifty-four imams from across the country signed an open letter encouraging Muslims to respond to attacks “with dignified nobility” as anger and threats grew.
“Muslims do believe in freedom of speech. And they do respect the right for people to say what they believe to be correct. However, freedom of speech should not be translated into a duty to offend. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that absolute freedom of speech does not exist. There are laws to protect the dignity and properties of people,” read the MCB’s statement. “Our aim is to not, inadvertently, give the cartoons more prominence through our attention. Muslims must remain calm and peaceful in their speech and actions.”
Mohammed Shafiq of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation strongly condemned the Jan. 7 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and at that time, predicted violence aimed at followers of Islam. He was also critical of Charlie Hebdo’s decision to republish copies of the cartoons in their most recent edition.
“Freedom of speech allows these cartoons to be published and we equally have the right to challenge the publications through peaceful methods,” said Mr. Shafiq.
The Iranian government called the continued publication of offensive caricatures “provocative.” Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also issued a statement of condemnation, warning that, “offensive words might lead to further bloodshed.”
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, called the republication of cartoons “a big provocation to the feelings of more than one and a half billion Muslims in the world, all of them believers in heaven’s messages and keen for dialogue and common values. Such actions directly contribute to supporting terrorism, extremism and extremists,” according to the New York Times.
Protesters demonstrated in front of the French Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, as well as in the Pakistani city of Karachi. In Egypt, the Islamist Noor Party used their Facebook page to denounce Charlie Hebdo.
In Gaza City, the capital of the Gaza Strip, graffiti praising Prophet Muhammad was painted on the walls of the French Cultural Center there. They wrote: “To hell, to a miserable destiny, French journalists.”
According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are over 4.1 million Muslims in Germany outnumbered in Europe only by France, with 4.7 million. It is estimated that by 2030, Germany will have over 5.5 billion Muslims and France, over 6.8 million. The United Kingdom has 2.8 million Muslims, projected to grow to over 5.5 billion by 2030.
In a swift public relations move, French authorities honored and granted French citizenship to 24-year-old Mali-born Muslim employee Lassana Bathily January 20. Mr. Bathily was given credit for saving lives during a hostage situation at kosher market January 9 said to be related to the Charlie Hebdo shootings. According to the Associated Press, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised Mr. Bathily saying his “act of humanity has become a symbol of an Islam of peace and tolerance.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)