Turkish daily braves Muslim backlash to print Charlie Hebdo cartoons

14th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

A leading Turkish daily on Wednesday printed excerpts from the first issue of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo since Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on its offices, defying a growing outcry in the Islamic world.

The daily Cumhuriyet, which strongly opposes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was the sole publication in a majority Muslim country to reproduce cartoons and articles from the special Charlie Hebdo issue.

Cairo's Al-Azhar university, Sunni Islam's most prestigious centre of learning, had warned that new cartoons will only serve to "stir up hatred" while there was also an angry reaction from Iran and Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Along with a Charlie Hebdo editorial about how it would not give into the attacks, the excerpts in Cumhuriyet included cartoons satirising Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram and IS.

Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Utku Cakirozer described the printing of the four-page pull-out as a display of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, recalling that several reporters from his paper had been murdered in the past.

"We took care to show the maximum respect for religious sensibility and freedom of belief in our society, not just among Muslims, but Christians, Jews, and those who don't believe," he told a news conference in Istanbul.

- 'Acted carefully' -

The paper said police had conducted a check on the print run of the paper at the press during the night. But after the issue was referred to prosecutors, deliveries were allowed to go ahead.

In Istanbul, the road where the paper's offices are located was closed to normal traffic and special police forces and armoured vehicles were stationed outside.

An AFP correspondent in Ankara said that the main office of Cumhuriyet was being guarded by dozens of police who had installed water cannon trucks in case of violent protests.

Although a small group of Islamist students earlier protested outside the Ankara offices, there were no reports of unrest so far.

The pull-out edition did not include the controversial front cover of the new Charlie Hebdo, which shows a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

"We acted very carefully and for example we did not publish the Charlie Hebdo cover" as part of the pull-out, said Cakirozer.

However, a smaller version of that cartoon, where the prophet sheds a tear and holds a sign that says "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie"), was included twice inside the newspaper to illustrate columns by Cumhuriyet commentators Hikmet Cetinkaya and Ceyda Karan.

"If you ask me, the cartoon has nothing to do with Prophet Mohammed. It's a symbol of humanity and fairness," Cetinkaya wrote in defence of the cartoon.

Cumhuriyet, founded in 1924 at the behest of the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, considers itself to be a staunch upholder of the secular values he championed.

Turkey's three main satirical magazines -- Leman, Penguen and Uykusuz -- in a rare show of solidarity are also publishing identical black covers with the slogan "Je Suis Charlie".

- 'Insulting and provocative' -

Many Muslims consider images of the prophet, not least ones satirising him, to be blasphemous under Islam, and Turkey's Islamic-rooted leaders in the past angrily denounced such cartoons.

Charlie Hebdo had angered Muslims in the past by printing cartoons lampooning the prophet and Islam.

The new issue has already caused controversy within the Islamic world, raising fears of a repeat of the violent 2006 protests over the cartoons of Mohammed printed in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

The drawings "do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples and hinders the integration of Muslims into European and Western societies," Al-Azhar's Islamic research centre added in a statement.

The IS group's radio described the publication of the new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed as an "extremely stupid" act.

Iran foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the cartoon "provokes the emotions of Muslims and hurts their feelings around the world, and could fan the flames of a vicious circle of extremism."

A leading association of Muslim academics, the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, said the decision to publish the cartoon was "neither reasonable, nor logical, nor wise".

© 2015 AFP

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