French embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools in approximately 20 countries will close on Friday following a Parisian weekly’s cartoons featuring a Prophet Muhammad lookalike.
The cartoons, described as “crude,” were published by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in response to the uprising over U.S.-produced film “The Innocence of Muslims.”
Charlie Hebdo journalist Laurent Leger has stated that the cartoons don’t explicitly portray the Prophet Muhammad. Instead, he has maintained that the cartoons are open for interpretation.
"The aim is to laugh. We want to laugh at the extremists -- every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept," Leger said.
Stephane Charbonnier, magazine director, has also come forward to explain that the Charlie Hebdo staff was simply satirizing what was in the news.
The French government has said that while it understands why the cartoons can be viewed as offensive, freedom of speech should still be upheld. In an official statement, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault maintained that the “freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles of [the French] republic.”
Riot police have now been stationed outside of Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices.
Last November, one of the weekly’s offices was firebombed and burned to the ground by Molotov cocktails. The magazine staff was set to publish a front-page feature with a caricature of radical Muslims, subtitled with the words “Sharia Hebdo” in reference to the Islamic law.
The weekly has been known to publish intensely controversial cartoons in the past, including 2006 reprintings of cartoons by a Danish newspaper that caused an uproar in Europe.
France, who has the highest population of Muslims in Western Europe, has seen heightened tensions with their Muslim community. Last year, the country banned the wearing of hijabs and other religious face coverings, claiming that they were degrading to women and a security risk.