Volatility of Charlie Hebdo Cover on Display as Protests Erupt in Numerous Countries

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Volatility of Charlie Hebdo Cover on Display as Protests Erupt in Numerous Countries

Protests against anti-Muslim sentiment have now taken place in Niger, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, and elsewhere.

A man holds a sign during a protest against Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's attendance last week at a Paris rally in support of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad as the cover of its first edition since an attack by Islamist gunmen, in Niamey January 17, 2015. The sign reads as "I am not Charlie". (Photo: Reuters/Tagaza Djibo)

Proving that the tensions surrounding recent events in Paris remain complex and will continue to have political and cultural reverberations, protests have taken place in numerous countries in recent days which demonstrate the "Je Suis Charlie" meme clearly has it limits when it comes to unanimous sentiment and interpretation around the world.

As Associated Press reports, protests occurred in Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Though expressions of global solidarity went out to the victims and the people of France following the attack on Charlie Hebdo's offices that took place on January 7, a debate remains underway regarding the relevant lines drawn between freedom of the press, religious incitement, and the tensions that exist between what kinds of speech are protected and what, if any, limits to that speech should be enforced by governments or society. Across Europe, the rise of Islamophobic sentiment has become a worry for both the Muslim community and defenders of religious tolerance.

Following the massacre at their offices, which claimed the lives of ten staffers, Charlie Hebdo featured a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover of its very next issue, which was released in a record-printing of more than 3 million copies.

In what is widely understood as a reaction to that decision—taken as another signal by some members of the Muslim community that their sensitivities are disregarded while those of others are upheld—the protests in predominantly-Muslim nations have found fertile ground for anger and resentment in recent days.

In the latest example, several people were killed during protests in Niger on Saturday as demonstrators clashed with police for the second straight day.

Dispatches from many of the protests around the world indicated they were impassioned but relatively peaceful demonstrators. In Somalia, Muslim students marched together holding signs which read, "Je Suis Muslim" as they celebrated their religious commitment.


The was violence in Niger, however, with the most severe incidents in Niamey, the capital city of the former French colony, where Muslim citizens clashed with police and government forces. According to reports, several churches and a police station had been attacked and burned.

Reuters reports:

A day after five people were killed in the majority Muslim country in protests over the cartoons, demonstrators in Niamey attacked a police station and burned at least two police cars after authorities banned a meeting called by local Islamic leaders.

Police fired teargas at gangs of youths, who responded by throwing petrol bombs and erecting barricades of burning tires. Witnesses said several people were injured but an official toll was not immediately available.

At least six churches were burned or looted. Calm returned in the afternoon but Islamic associations have called a protest march for Sunday.

"They offended our Prophet Mohammad, that's what we didn't like," said Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, who took part in the demonstration. "This is the reason why we have asked Muslims to come, so that we can explain this to them, but the state refused. That's why we're angry today."

Regarding some of the demonstrations that have taken place elsewhere, the AP reports:

In a rare protest in the Algerian capital of Algiers, thousands of young men marched to protest the French satirical newspaper. The demonstrators threw bottles and rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas.

Protesters carried banners saying, "I am not Charlie, I am Muhammad," and chanted slogans that date back to a banned Islamist party whose election victory in 1991 precipitated a civil war.

Some broke through police barriers and surged toward the parliament building, prompting volleys of tear gas by police and running street battles. The office of the state airline was torched.

Police eventually dispersed the demonstrators by using snow plows and tear gas, according to media reports. It was not clear how many were arrested or hurt in the unrest.

The demonstration, which had a degree of official backing when authorities called for imams to dedicate Friday prayers to the life of the prophet, was unusual for Algiers, where protests have been banned since 2001.

Clashes broke out in the Jordanian capital of Amman between security forces and about 2,000 protesters organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group. Riot police used batons to disperse the people as they tried to march to the French Embassy.

The crowd chanted slogans against Charlie Hebdo and Jordanian officials for taking part in a unity march in Paris on Sunday. The Jordanian royal household denounced Charlie Hebdo's latest cover, saying publishing the cartoon was "irresponsible and far from the essence of freedom of expression." King Abdullah and Queen Rania, however, took part in the Paris march in solidarity with the victims of the terror attack.

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