The publication of a new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday has drawn criticism from several Muslim countries and Islamic bodies, but support from the U.S. and Australia.
The new issue of Charlie Hebdo follows an attack by Islamist gunmen last week at the magazine's office in Paris which killed 12 people, including five cartoonists.
In defiance of the militants who killed its staff, Charlie Hebdo's new edition has a cartoon of a tearful depiction of the Prophet on its front page holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”). Many Muslims consider any depictions of Prophet Mohammad to be blasphemous.
‘Insulting and provocative’
On Wednesday, Iran said the cover was “insulting” and “provocative.”
The magazine cover “provokes the emotions of Muslims and hurts their feelings around the world, and could fan the flame of a vicious circle of extremism,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham.
Iran had denounced the massacre the day it occurred and Afkham said Wednesday that such attacks “have no closeness or similarity to Islam” and are “in complete contradiction to Islamic teaching”.
However she indicated that the new cartoon was “abuse of freedom of speech, which is common in the West these days.”
Such publication “is not acceptable” and such “abuse should be prevented”.
“Respecting the beliefs and values of followers of divine religions is an acceptable principle,” she added.
On Tuesday, al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious center of learning, warned that new cartoons published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo will only serve to “stir up hatred”.
The drawings “do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples and hinders the integration of Muslims into European and Western societies,” the Cairo-based body's Islamic research center added in a statement.
Al-Azhar was among the first Muslim groups to condemn last Wednesday's attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
Also on Tuesday, Egypt's state-sponsored Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, denounced the new cartoons as a provocation.
“This action is an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims,” it said.
“This (magazine) edition will result in a new wave of hatred in French and Western society. What the magazine is doing does not serve coexistence and the cultural dialogue Muslims aspire to.”
A leading association of Muslim academics has criticized the newspaper's decision to publish the new cartoon, claiming it would "stir up hatred."
"It is neither reasonable, nor logical, nor wise to publish drawings and films offensive or attacking the prophet of Islam," the International Union of Muslim Scholars, based in Qatar and headed by preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, said in a lengthy statement.
Similarly, a prominent Saudi cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamedi, told AFP that publication of the latest image was a mistake.
"It's not a good way to make the people understand us. Jesus or Moses, all messengers (of God) we should respect," and should not be made fun of in pictures or words, Ghamedi said. "I believe it will make more problems."
Meanwhile, as al-Qaeda in Yemen officially claimed the attack in a video on Wednesday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group's radio described the new cartoon as an “extremely stupid” act.
“Charlie Hebdo has again published cartoons insulting the prophet and this is an extremely stupid act,” said a statement read on Al-Bayan radio, which the militant group broadcasts in areas under its control in Syria and Iraq.
U.S., Australian support
There was opposing sentiments from the United States, however, with a statement announcing the Obama administration’s “support” for the publication of the cartoons.
The State Department refused to criticize the new cartoons or say if the U.S. considered them anti-Muslim.
“Regardless of what anyone's personal opinion is, and I know there are very heated personal opinions about this, we absolutely support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish things like this,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. “That's what happens in a democracy. Period.”
Asked if the U.S. wanted publishers to take such sentiments into account, Harf said only that the U.S. “would call broadly on news organizations to take into account the factors they think are important.”
“There are a variety of factors that go into decisions to publish, whether it's journalistic freedom, whether it's sensitivity, religious sensitivity,” she said.
“We certainly understand that people, particularly Muslims, have very strong personal feelings about these kinds of depictions,” she added. “Nothing justifies violence, nothing justifies hatred and nothing should stand in the way of freedom of expression.”
Previously, the United States has criticized depictions of the Muslim prophet while defending free speech rights.
In 2006, the Bush administration described such cartoons in a Danish newspaper as “offensive,” likening them to anti-Semitic and anti-Christian imagery. In 2012, the Obama administration questioned the judgment of Charlie Hebdo for similar depictions and said they could be “inflammatory.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he “rather likes” the cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, adding that it represented a “spirit of forgiveness”.
Abbott said while he was not sure if everything published by Charlie Hebdo was to his taste, he “rather like that cartoon” on the new frontpage.
“Now, I rather like that cartoon,” the Australian leader told Fairfax radio’s 3AW.
“I’m not sure that I would have liked everything that Charlie Hebdo produced but this is a cartoon of the prophet with a tear streaming down his face saying all is forgiven.
“That spirit of forgiveness is what we need more and more in this rancorous modern world.”
Charlie Hebdo is printing five million copies of the special issue due out Wednesday.
(With AFP and AP)SHOW MORE