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The Unity France Showed After the 'Charlie Hebdo' Attack Is Starting to Show Cracks

While French politicians debate how to protect the country from terrorism, attacks on Muslims in France have increased and protests abroad have turned violent.
January 21, 2015, 12:57am
Photo via Flickr

Police in Paris continue to hunt for accomplices of the three gunmen responsible for the terror attacks in and around the French capital that left 17 dead earlier this month.

The Paris prosecutor's office announced Tuesday that four men, ages 22-28, face preliminary charges after being arrested last week on suspicion of helping gunman Amedy Coulibaly stage his attack on a kosher grocery store in the days that followed the Charlie Hebdo attack.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio travelled Tuesday to Paris to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks, the worst act terrorism France has suffered in decades. The mayor said in a statement that he would "stand in solidarity with our friends in Paris and across France to send the clear message that together we will fight terrorism and anti-Semitism at every turn, and that crude attempts to intimidate freedom of expression will not succeed."

But the show of solidarity with France and Charlie Hebdo that was expressed worldwide in the aftermath of the attacks — crystalized by the ubiquitous 'Je Suis Charlie,' or 'I Am Charlie rallying cry — has lost some of its fervor since the satirical magazine published its latest issue Wednesday. The cover features a weeping prophet Muhammad holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign under the words "All is forgiven."

The cover sparked violent protests across the Muslim world, even as French readers rushed to newsstands to get their hands on one of the 7 million copies of what has been dubbed "the survivors' issue." At least 10 people were killed and 45 churches burned this weekend in Niger, while demonstrators in the West Bank burned French flags and held up pictures of the three gunmen. Protesters also took to the streets in Iran, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Chechens rallied Monday in a government-backed anti-Charlie demonstration.

Churches torched in Niger as riots over 'Charlie Hebdo' cover turn deadly. Read more here.

In Pakistan, an AFP photographer was seriously injured after he was shot while covering a protest outside a French consulate. The photographer, Asif Hassan, was transferred to another hospital following surgery and is now reportedly in stable condition and expected to recover.

In a speech delivered at AFP's 70th anniversary ceremony, French President François Hollande indirectly addressed the protests, insisting that France "wasn't insulting anyone."

"France isn't lecturing any country, but France will not accept any intolerance," he said, adding that, "the French flag would always be the flag of freedom."

In a speech Tuesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that "I Am Charlie" was not France's "only message" to the world. "France advocates for freedom of expression everywhere," Valls said, adding that the country, "also stands up for other crucial values: peace, the respect of beliefs, and dialogue between religions."

Valls also mentioned France's domestic social issues and alluded to strains on the country's economy. He said France was still reeling from riots in 2005, when disenfranchised youth torched cars and wreaked havoc in the banlieues, housing projects on the outskirts of Paris. The prime minister also denounced a "geographic, social, and ethnic apartheid" that leads to discrimination based on family names, race, and gender.

France displayed a united front January 11, when more than 4 million people gathered throughout the country under the banner of freedom of expression and in solidarity with the victims of the attacks. But following the initial rallying impulse, the country has been left divided.

France has registered 116 attacks against Muslims since the Charlie Hebdo shooting, according to the National Observatory Against Islamophobia. Twenty-eight mosques have been targeted, including one in the northern town of Béthune that was vandalized with graffiti that read "Arabs out."

The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an inquiry into French journalist Philippe Tesson for "inciting racial hatred," after Tesson told French radio station Europe 1 that, "Muslims are responsible for bringing the shit to France."

France's far-right National Front party (FN) has also waded into the discussion. The New York Times published an op-ed by FN president Marine Le Pen this week in which she condemned the attacks and called for stricter restrictions on immigration. Her comments were overshadowed by those of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and honorary president of the FN, who told a Russian newspaper last week that the Charlie Hebdo shooting bore the mark of Western secret services.

French politicians have called for the government to pass various security measures to protect the country from future terror attacks. While some of them are plausible, others are unlikely to be implemented. The denationalization of jihadists who have double citizenship is one reform on which the FN and the opposition UMP party both agree. Many are asking for the return of compulsory military service, which was suspended in 1996. Some socialists have even called for the resurgence of "national unworthiness," an offense introduced in the aftermath of World War II to judge French citizens who collaborated with the Nazis.

A survey published Sunday in French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche shows that France remains divided over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. More than 40 percent of those polled said the images should be avoided, while 57 percent thought the opposite.

Governments around the world are cracking down on the latest 'Charlie Hebdo' cover. Read more here.

The publishers of Charlie Hebdo announced a 7 million print run of the magazine's latest issue to meet the overwhelming demand in France and abroad. The publishers initially announced runs of 3 million, then 5 million.

Riss, a cartoonist who was injured during the attack, is likely to replace Charlie Hebdo's late editor Charb as the head of the magazine. Speaking Tuesday to Le Monde, Riss said, "People have the right to say 'I am not Charlie'… We live in a democracy. Not everyone has to love Charlie."

The 48-years-old cartoonist, who was shot in the right shoulder during the attack and drew a cartoon with his left hand for the new issue, toldLe Monde that he continued to fear for his life in the hospital, and was terrified that the gunmen would hunt him down and kill him.

Lassana Bathily, the 24-year-old Muslim immigrant from Mali who hid hostages from the gunman during the attack on the Hypercacher supermarket, was awarded French citizenship at a ceremony Tuesday.

Follow Melodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @Meloboucho

Photo via Flickr