Danish Caricatures on Trial in France, Cartoons 1: Muhammad 0

A French republication of the controversial Muhammad cartoons from Denmark has led to a fierce legal battle. But France’s politicians — in a year when some of them are running for president — are clearly on the side of satire. France’s satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was taken to court by Islamic groups in France for reprinting the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The trial has been an event of high theatre, drawing the attention of celebrities and politicians. Everyone posed — in unexpected ways — as defenders of this or that French tradition. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, invoked the secular principles of the French constitution while Philippe Val, editor-in-chief of the intransigent (and often anti-clerical) Charlie Hebdo, quoted John Paul II. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy — not exactly famous for being gentle with journalists — used the trial to present himself as a champion of a free press. The paper went further than other European news sources who had published the caricatures as an act of solidarity with the original Dutch publisher. Charlie Hebdo added its own cartoon on the cover, showing Muhammad in a state of exasperation. “It’s tough being loved by idiots,” he complains, face buried in hands. French Muslim preachers smelled an outbreak of Islamophobia, and felt pious believers had been equated with brutal killers. Central figures at the trial included Boubakeur, who directs the Paris Great Mosque, Francois Hollande, first secretary of the French Socialist Party (PS), Francois Bayrou, presidential candidate from the liberal UDF party, and Sarkozy, this year’s candidate for president from the conservative UMP party. Charlie Hebdo, with an average circulation of 60,000, sold 400,000 of the cartoon edition–some indication of the French public’s position on the issue.