Another week and the French press is making the headlines again, this time because the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published some provocative cartoons of Mohammed. In itself this would probably cause trouble anyway, but coming on the heels of the video made by some Americans, also mocking Mohammed, it was guaranteed to, erm, not go down very well in Muslim countries.
To say the least.
The French goverment announced earlier this week that they would be closing embassies and international schools in certain Muslim countries today - Friday being apparently the day when protests are most likely to happen and most likely to turn nasty.
I don't know what to think about this. I like satire, and the role of satire is to provoke. Satire is often offensive to a certain group of people, so part of me wonders why, if satirists can pretty much freely make jokes about any religion they can't about Islam. So there is this part of me which just wants to say just take it on the chin like the rest of us. It is pretty appalling that a country feels the need to close embassies for fear of violence over some cartoons. Cartoons.
Freedom of the press is so important, there was no way that anyone would have done anything to prevent the magazine from printing the cartoons as they were set on doing so. This isn't topless photos of some woman enjoying a private holiday. They are cartoons. Not real. Satire. Offensive to some, but cartoons.
And then another part of me wonders why the magazine would bother. Last year after a similar stunt its offices in Paris were firebombed. So if I were them I would probably say well, it is really worth the hassle of offending so many millions of people if it's going to cause so much trouble, certain camage and possible deaths?
And I will honestly admit to wondering why cartoons and even the video cause so much fuss. But I am not a muslim. I'm not even religious. I don't actually feel there is anything I believe in strongly enough for me to react in the ways expected today. At least, not based on something in the media. Even politics wouldn't incite me to do anything more than join a peaceful protest (if I happened to be in the area) or write a ranty blog post. I can't imagine a cartoon making me want to kill or hurt someone.
Maybe that's my problem. maybe my life would be worth much more if I were able to get so angry about something. But I don't think so.
So should the magazine have published the images? Rock, hard place. They should certainly have the freedom to do so. There is no attack on a individual, and no incitement to hatred. It's provocation, a sense of humour to some (though to be honest, I don't actually get the cartoons. Maybe you have to be French. Or vastly more intelligent than me. I dunno). But as far as I can see they are just satire.
So you're caught between the rock of press freedom. The attitude that everyone else gets satirical stuff done about them, why should one group of people be excluded? And then there is the hard place of the trouble which will inevitably follow. Of course the press shouldn't be afraid of challenging people's views and beliefs. But is it really necessary to deliberately offend so many people? What is the point? And why now, at a time of worldwide religious intolerance, would you add fuel to the fire?
On balance I wouldn't have bothered commissioning and publishing the cartoons. Maybe that makes me a wuss? Too respectful? Or just lazy and unwilling to cause trouble? You can argue until the cows come home about how violent protests are a very exaggerated response, but the fact is we know that will be the response. Rightly or wrongly. I think wrongly, personally, but as I said, I don't get violent protest. To me this kind of reaction is appalling, and is doing no-one's image any good at all.
And maybe that is the point. Charlie Hebdo don't come out of this smelling of roses. I don't see them as particularly brave, or controversial. Just deliberately stirring an already boiling pot. Those who riot in response to me are over-reacting, causing trouble where there is no need for anything more than peaceful protest.