France was swept up yesterday in the wave of anger washing over the Muslim world as protesters in Afghanistan and Iran denounced a magazine’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Chanting “Death to France! Death to America!” hundreds demonstrated in the Afghan capital, Kabul, against the cartoons and a US-made anti-Islam film that has sparked widespread outrage. In Tehran, up to 100 people protested in front of France’s embassy, chanting “Death to France!” as dozens of police deployed around the compound prevented the crowd from approaching.
France has been bracing for a backlash following Wednesday’s publication of the cartoons — two of which show the founder of Islam naked — by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
In anticipation of potential protests today, the Friday Muslim day of prayer, Paris said it would shutter its diplomatic missions, cultural centers and French schools in about 20 Muslim countries.
More than 30 people have been killed in attacks and violent protests linked to the film Innocence of Muslims, including 12 people who died in an attack by a female suicide bomber in Afghanistan and four Americans, among them the US ambassador, killed at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The crudely made film — produced by US-based extremist Christians and depicting the Prophet as a thuggish womanizer — has triggered protests in at least 20 countries since excerpts were posted online.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined condemnation of the film on Wednesday, saying freedom of expression should not be abused “to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs.”
Protests against the film took place in many countries on Wednesday, including in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called for protests all week in Lebanon and major demonstrations are expected in Pakistan today, where the government has declared a national holiday in honor of Mohammed.
Washington has also moved to boost security amid the protests, with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying the US was taking “aggressive steps” to protect diplomatic missions worldwide.
The US embassy in Jakarta said all its diplomatic missions in Indonesia would be closed today because of “the potential for significant demonstrations”.
In France, police said they had forbidden a demonstration planned for tomorrow in front of Paris’ Grand Mosque.
The interior ministry has said it will deny all requests for permits to protest the film after a demonstration last weekend near the US embassy in Paris turned violent.
Leaders of France’s Muslim community — the largest in western Europe — said an appeal for calm would be read in mosques across the country today, but also condemned Charlie Hebdo for publishing “insulting” images.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said anyone offended by the cartoons could go to court, but added that in France “freedom of expression is guaranteed, including the freedom to caricature.”