Saturday, February 3, 2007

All my trials, Lord

Over the last fortnight, I've been following with interest the trial of "Scooter" Libby, former chief-of-staff of US vice president Dick Cheney. Americans are fond of multi-layered hamburgers. The charges against Libby look like a king-size Big Mac: two counts of making false statements to FBI investigators, two counts of perjury before a grand jury, and one count of obstruction of justice. It's weird and wonderful to see dirty clothes being washed already in public while Bush and his cronies still occupy the White House.

Then there's that naughty lad named Tony Blair, who has to tell the schoolmaster all he knows about a quaint affair of peddling knighthoods for cash.

Meanwhile, a most interesting trial is about to start in France. On the edge of the Latin Quarter in Paris, there's a mosque, and the rector is a highly-respected French citizen named Dalil Boubakeur, who is also the president of the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM): the French Council of the Muslim Denomination. Well, in February 2006, the rector and many of his fellow Muslims in France were deeply offended when a French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, published irreverent caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. In proposing these drawings, Charlie Hebdo was pouring oil upon a fire that had first erupted in Denmark, in September 2005, when Jyllands-Posten had published such artwork. Arguing that these caricatures might "cast a sentiment of hatred" upon all Muslims, Boubakeur decided to attack the French weekly for racist incitation.

Click here to visit the website of Charlie Hebdo, which presents some of these drawings. To my mind, they are rather dull, and not in the least bit offensive (but I'm biased, of course, because I'm not a Muslim). Apparently, it's the drawing of the prophet with a bomb as a turban that most annoys Muslims.

In general, the laic French Republic is not very keen on censorship, particularly when the plaintiffs (those who wish to limit free expression) are inspired by religious beliefs. So, there's little chance that the satirical weekly will be condemned. And, in the case of a negative judgment, Boubakeur and his fellow Muslims would appear to have everything to lose, because humorists might interpret this as an invitation to caricature Muslims more and more offensively.

On the other hand, if Muhammad is really as powerful and offended as his followers make him out to be, Boubakeur could very well win the battle against Charlie Hebdo and its caricaturists. Or the Parisian law courts might even be smitten by a terrible divinely-ordained earthquake next week, burying the evil caricaturists along with their band of character witnesses and supporters: François Hollande (general secretary of the French Socialist Party), François Bayrou (chief of a centrist party, presidential candidate), Dominique Sopo (president of SOS Racisme), the philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, etc. In any case, like Yahveh or the Holy Spirit (or Zeus, for that matter), Muhammad can be expected to act in mysterious ways, providing us with last-minute surprises. With disgruntled divinities, one never knows.

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