Raymond Lakah, the owner of the French newspaper France Soir, has sacked Jacques Lefranc, the paper’s editor. Yesterday France-Soir republished the twelve controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons (see them all here, halfway down the page). Mr Lakah declared: “We express our apologies to the Muslim community and to all the persons that were shocked by the publication of the cartoons.”
French Muslim leaders had announced their intention to sue the paper for the cartoons. They said the publication was a “provocation.” Raymond Lakah, a Franco-Egyptian businessman, is the owner of Angel Gate, a holding company that also owns the airline companies Air Horizons and Star Airlines. The only adequate response to Mr Lakah's decision is a consumer boycott of France Soir. While Mr Lakah has a right to sack Mr Lefranch, French readers have the right to boycott his paper.
Robert Ménard, the chairman of the Paris based organization Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), said yesterday that Jyllands-Posten has given the world a good lesson in what freedom of expression and democracy is all about. He said the newspaper has nothing to apologize for; if someone is offended the case can be brought to a court of law. “I understand that Muslims feel shocked because of depictions of the prophet. They have the right to, but they cannot force others to have the same opinion. It is not up to them to judge what a newspaper in a non-Muslim country should publish,” Ménard said. He added that Denmark is greater for not accepting a compromise.
Michael Konken, the chairman of the German Journalists Association DJV, agrees. He corrected his own spokesman who had previously claimed that the republishing of the cartoons by two German newspapers, Die Welt and Berliner Zeitung, violated good journalism. “Nothing can justify threats by Islamists to murder Danish journalists,” Konken said at a press meeting yesterday, arguing that freedom of expression was one of the pillars of democracy. The editor of Die Welt, Roger Köppel, said that he considered it “his duty as a journalist” to publish six of the twelve cartoons to show readers what the dispute was about.
Last month the chairman of the Norwegian Press Association, Per Edgar Kokkvold, had come out in support of the Norwegian daily Magazinet which was the first newspaper to republish the cartoons. Its editor and other staff members have received many death threats. Last week Kokkvold received a death threat, too. Asked if this affected him he said he stood firmly by his previous statement that it was the right decision for Magazinet to publish the cartoons and start a debate in Norway on Islam and freedom of expression.
After a meeting in Tunis interior ministers from 17 Arab countries have issued a statement urging the Danish government to punish the illustrators who drew the cartoons. On Monday the Egyptian parliament urged Egyptians to boycott Danish products, the Syrian government has called its ambassador in Denmark home and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Ekrima Sabri, has demanded apologies from the Danish government for the cartoons.
Yesterday, however, the leader of the Danish Muslim organizations which have been protesting the cartoons in Denmark, imam Abu Laban, was exposed as being double-tongued. To the Western media he said that he was in favour of easing tensions while to the Arab media he continued inciting hatred towards Denmark and the Danes.
Danish imams and radical Muslims are still feeding the Arab media with disinformation about the country they live in. “Every day pictures and articles are being published more horrible and serious than those published last September,” the Danish imam Raed Hlayhel said in an interview with the The Saudi Gazette on Monday. According to the paper Mr Hlayhel is preparing another tour of the Middle East to raise more support for the campaign against Jyllands-Posten and the Danish government. His spokesman in Denmark, however, says that this is not correct and that The Saudi Gazette quoted Mr Hlayhel wrongly.
Meanwhile, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is attempting to find a diplomatic solution to bring the cartoon dispute to an end. He repeated, however, that “The Danish government cannot apologize on behalf of a Danish newspaper. Independent media are not edited by the government.” Mr Rasmussen called upon his countrymen not to boycott Muslim owned stores and restaurants in Denmark or products from Muslim countries.
The offices of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and Aarhus were cleared on Tuesday after bomb threats which later turned out to be false. Asked by the BBC whether the paper would still publish the cartoons today, knowing all the consequences, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, said: “That is a hypothetical question. I would say that I do not regret having commissioned those cartoons and I think asking me that question is like asking a rape victim if she regrets wearing a short skirt Friday night at the discotheque.”