Almost half of those in France believe cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed – like those printed by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – should not be published, a poll said Sunday, with a similar number in favour of “limitations” on free speech.
The recent attack by Islamic extremists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people in apparent revenge for publishing cartoons of Mohammed has led to a fierce defence of France’s freedom of speech laws by politicians, media and millions of French citizens – including at a huge unity march in Paris on January 11.
But an Ifop poll published in France’s Journal du Dimanche (Sunday Journal) paints a much more divided picture of French attitudes towards what is considered a key facet of the country’s republican values.
Conducted last week in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, the poll found that 42 percent of French people oppose the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which are considered blasphemous and highly offensive by many Muslims.
Half of those questioned also said they believed there should be "limitations on free speech online and on social networks".
However, 57 percent said opposition to the cartoons from Muslims should not stop them from being published.
Hollande: Freedom of expression ‘non-negotiable’
Charlie Hebdo has published cartoons of Mohammed several times in the past and did so again on Wednesday with its “survivors issue” – the first since the January 7 attack at its Paris offices.
The first print run of the edition, which features a weeping Mohammed on the cover holding a sign that says “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) under the words “All is forgiven”, sold out within minutes at newsagents across France after going on sale Wednesday.
Publishers announced Saturday that they would once more increase the print run of the issue – to 7 million copies – having already increased it once from 3 million to 5 million. Before the attacks, the magazine had a print run of just 60,000.
Charlie Hebdo's decision to print another Mohammed cartoon has led to condemnation from Muslim groups in France as well as fierce and sometimes violent protests in several Muslim countries. At least ten people were killed in two days of unrest in Niger as protesters set fire to churches and ransacked several French-linked businesses in the capital Niamey.
French President François Hollande has condemned the violence, calling France’s commitment to freedom of expression "non-negotiable".
“There are tensions abroad where people don’t understand our attachment to freedom of speech,” Hollande said.
However, while comments and images considered blasphemous are legal under French law, the country already has numerous restrictions on freedom of speech in place. Comments inciting racial hatred are illegal, for example, as are those defending terrorist acts – a law under which controversial comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala was arrested last week.
This has led to claims of hypocrisy from some quarters, including Amnesty International.
“In a week in which world leaders and millions around the world have spoken out in defence of freedom of expression, the French authorities must be careful not to violate this right themselves,” the human rights organisation said Friday.
French back ban on returning jihadists
But while French attitudes towards freedom of expression may be split, the poll suggests the country’s citizens are largely united when it comes to taking tough action on Islamic extremists.
The vast majority – 81 percent – were in favour of stripping French nationality from dual nationals who have committed an act of terrorism on French soil.
More than two-thirds (68 percent) said French citizens should be banned from returning to the country if "they are suspected of having gone to fight in countries or regions controlled by terrorist groups", such as Syria.
The same number backed bans on those suspected of wanting to join jihadist movements abroad from leaving France.
France has long been concerned by the number of its citizens travelling abroad to fight in jihadist movements in countries such as Syria and Iraq, and the possibility that they might return to commit terrorist acts on home soil.
One of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen – Saïd Kouachi – is known to have travelled to Yemen where he trained with militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while his brother and accomplice, Chérif Kouachi, was part of a group that helped French Muslims travel to Iraq to fight alongside al Qaeda after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Date created : 2015-01-18