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Editorial: Is republishing Prophet Muhammad cartoons OK as ‘freedom of expression’?

  • September 11, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:23 p.m.
  • English Press

Does this case cross a line that the media should observe? Every kind of speech is not allowed in the name of “freedom of expression.” It is essential to give consideration to the rights of others and different values.


A French political weekly has republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that prompted a series of terrorist attacks five years ago, sparking a discussion on the pros and cons of its move. In the terrorist attacks, the editorial department was attacked by Islamic extremists, and the editor-in-chief and cartoonists were killed.


As a reason for reprinting the cartoons, the weekly political magazine explained that it was intended to indicate a stance of not bowing to terrorism and to have readers and others deepen their understanding of the incident, as a trial for the attack began.


The cartoons included many depictions that are thought to connect Islam and terrorism, such as one placing a bomb on the head of Muhammad. In Islamic culture, in which idol worship is banned, Muhammad’s image is rarely depicted, and many followers consider cartoons blasphemous.


Of course, terrorism cannot be justified for any reason and freedom of expression must not be threatened.


However, media organizations have a responsibility to take into consideration the impact of their articles on society. Even if the cartoons were not republished, wasn’t it possible to provide in writing the food for thought that is needed for a discussion?


In a public opinion survey in France, about 60% of respondents supported the republication, while about 70% of Muslims said that it was a mistake. Fearing that the cartoons would trigger a terrorist act, the leader of a major Islamic organization called for a calm response by ignoring the cartoons.


The influx of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa has increased the number of Muslims in France. It is said that they account for 8% of the population. If anti-Islamic sentiment intensifies, the coexistence of people of different beliefs and social stability will not progress.


French President Emmanuel Macron avoided criticizing the political weekly, saying that freedom in France includes “the freedom to believe or not to believe, but this is inseparable from the freedom of expression up to the right to blasphemy.”


In French history, republican forces suppressed the influence of the Catholic Church over a long period of time and established the principle of separation of church and state. It is said that a culture that allows satire of Christianity was formed over time.


Macron’s remarks apparently reflect such a tradition. However, the question is whether his words will be able to win the understanding of Muslims at home and abroad.


In its statement on the cartoons, the human rights commission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which comprises 56 countries and a region, expressed grave concern over what it described as a horrific action and over the countries that support the so-called right to freedom of defamation and insult.


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