Islam, anti-semitism and France

We all remember the caricature of the last Messenger which appeared in European newspapers, some times more than once, as an act of solidarity with the Danish publishers where the cartoon originated. The worldwide reaction of Muslims ran the entire gamut of emotions from anger to demands that the offending cartoon be retracted to calls for the resignation of the cartoonist and/or the editor of the newspaper. European publishers insisted on their rights to a free press saying they would not be intimidated by any reaction no matter how violent or incendiary. Other publications printed the offending cartoon as an act of solidarity with the Danish publications. Sometime later, newspapers again published the cartoon, in my opinion, as an act of provocation hoping to get a reaction from Muslims which would be prominently displayed across the front page of newspapers around the world, but the basic premise of freedom of the press to publish a cartoon even if billions of people found it offensive was always the reason given for the cartoon’s publication. Editors, reporters, all cited the right to a free press to publish unfettered any and everything deemed by them relevant to find its way on the printed page, no matter how many people it upset, no matter which religion was attacked.

Advance a short time later to 2008 and we find this headline.

Satirist sparks uproar with Sarkozy son Jewish jibe

and this one.

Cartoonist gets death threats over Sarkozy ‘Jew” quip

From the former headline:

A French newspaper satirist has sparked a feverish tug-of-war over free speech and anti-Semitism with a biting column on the engagement of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son to a Jewish heiress.

Published on July 2 in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the piece cost the 79-year-old Sine, a veteran cartoonist and anarchist writer whose real name is Maurice Sinet, his job after he refused to apologise.

Since then it has unleashed a torrent of op-ed articles, blog entries, petitions and counter-petitions as French writers, politicians and armchair commentators line up to vilify or defend him.

A lifelong provocateur whose previous targets have included Muslim fundamentalists and gays, Sine finally went to the police after a website published a call for him to be murdered, his lawyer said on Sunday.

Explaining what the uproar is all about, the second link writes.

L’affaire Siné, as it is known, began a month ago when the cartoonist wrote a column in Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly, about the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 21, to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain.

Sinet repeated an unfounded rumour that the son of the President planned to become Jewish and added: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

The remark caused fury amid claims that it alluded to age-old prejudices about Jews and money.

With the press speculating that Mr Sarkozy could sue Charlie Hebdo, Philippe Val, its editor, asked Sinet to apologise.

“I’d rather cut my balls off,” he replied.

He was fired and Mr Val said that his comments “could be interpreted as making a link between the conversion to Judaism and social success and that was neither acceptable nor defendable in court”.

What I find amazing is the swiftness with which some people found the material offensive and retribution for the offense demanded, and the call by people who said the press had the right to publish material offensive to Muslims supporting the firing of someone who made at best a passing remark about Jewishness. With regards to French Jews, or Judaism, the press does not have the right to offend and should be concerned with French-Jewish reaction, it’s just that someone forgot to tell Monsieur Sinet that. It’s interesting how the reaction to Sinet’s cartoon follows closely the reaction Muslims had to offending material in the past, including the call by some in the Jewish community for Monsieur Sinet’s death! Shades of Salman Rushdie perhaps?

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