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After getting kudos from free-speech activists for its courage, the French magazine Soir reversed itself and sacked its managing editor for publishing Danish caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. The owner fired his editor in order to placate the rage of French Muslims:
France Soir and Germany's Die Welt were among the leading papers to reprint the cartoons, which first appeared in Denmark last September.
The caricatures include drawings of Muhammad wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb, while another shows him saying that paradise was running short of virgins for suicide bombers.
France Soir originally said it had published the images in full to show "religious dogma" had no place in a secular society.
But late on Wednesday its owner, Raymond Lakah, said he had removed managing editor Jacques Lefranc "as a powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual".
Mr Lakah said: "We express our regrets to the Muslim community and all people who were shocked by the publication."
The president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), Dalil Boubakeur, had described France Soir's publication as an act of "real provocation towards the millions of Muslims living in France".
The BBC reports that other publications have stood firm on their decision to reprint the Danish cartoons that have started a firestorm of protest from Europe's Muslim community. The newspapers and magazines remain steadfast in their right to publish satire on any topic of interest -- and certainly the rise of militant Islam makes it an open target for just such treatment. These publishers, sans M. Lakah, have shown more backbone and resolve in facing down the radical Islamists than their governments have shown thus far. Perhaps their courage might finally fire their politicians into showing more backbone.
Some commentators wonder whether the satirical value of these cartoons really outweigh the insult to Muslims that it represents. The religion forbids depictions of humans in art or sculpture (as does Judaism), and even the most sympathetic rendition of the Prophet is considered sinful. A few people have already reminded backers of the cartoonists of Christian outrage over Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ", a picture of a crucifix dunked into a beaker of urine. Other artistic depictions of Christian iconography have also gathered vitriol from religious and conservative circles, such as Chris Ofili's "Holy Virgin Mary".
However, the two issues differ in one important aspect. The exhibitions of the two artists mentioned received federal funds for staging these pieces of "art", and the reaction to their poor taste came from the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. No one disputed the right of the artists to create their offensive displays, but what really rankled most was that their money went into funding their exhibitions. Although both artists offended me with their creations and I firmly believe that government should have no part of funding them, I would absolutely fight against any attempt to censor them or to stop them from painting or photographing what they consider art.
These cartoons have been privately drawn and published by privately-owned enterprises. That is the essential nature of free speech. The Danes understand that, and I find the European impulse in supporting them the most hopeful sign from the Continent in a long time, Soir's surrender notwithstanding.
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