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Outrage vs. Free Speech

Aired September 19, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Shouting fire in a crowded theater or expressing free speech? That debate sparked again by a series of cartoons that have just been published in a French magazine, some of which depict the Prophet Muhammad in obscene poses. They are offensive and CNN is not showing any of them.

Many in France are angry, both Muslims and non-Muslims, and the French government is angry as well.


LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (from captions): Is it really sensible or intelligent, in this context -- we were discussing this earlier -- to pour more oil on the fire? The answer is "no." But we don't want to say to these people, "We're infringing on your right to free expression." So there's balance that has to be struck.


AMANPOUR: France has the largest Muslim population in western Europe, which makes for an often uneasy relationship. The weekly magazine in question, "Charlie Hebdo," has done this before. Its office was firebombed last year because of a cover lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoonist, Luz, has been under police protection ever since.

And considering what has just happened across the Muslim world in the wake of that offensive anti-Islamic film posted to YouTube, the French government has stationed police outside the magazine's headquarters in Paris and it's ordered the immediate closure of the French embassy in Tunisia and has made plans to close embassies and schools throughout the Arab world on Friday, which is the Muslim day of prayer.

The cartoonist from the magazine -- he's known as Luz -- joins me now. He did draw some of the cartoons in this latest issue.

So Luz, we have them here. They're on this piece of paper. I find them, frankly, offensive. Some of them are obscene. What is the point of doing this at this time?

LUZ: Ma'am, we only did the regular job we do each week. And we are -- "Charlie Hebdo" has got -- is having a very long -- I mean, shocking for people who want to be shocked past. I mean, so we only decided to, you know, we were like a regular (inaudible) not choosing a computer or camera.

And it's like a way to react about actuality news and we just let the cartoonists do a job on reacting about this new. And after we collected -- we collected the piece that we think is regularly (ph) offensive in a weekly. I mean, it's not made to be -- to be -- to be seen, not meant to be -- it's not meant to shock people --


AMANPOUR: But the thing is, it is. I mean, I hear what you're saying.

LUZ: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: I hear what you're saying, and you're basically abandoning all responsibility. But the real question is, despite your obvious freedom to express yourself -- we live in democracies -- are you not concerned that this is a very, very bad time to do this?

And the real question is are you prepared to be responsible for -- if any violence happens, if any people are injured, if any people are killed and if you yourself are aggressed?

LUZ: I mean, I mean, who -- if -- it's also true through (inaudible) who is responsible for killing, is the killer, is also people very frightened of little (inaudible) in the past of very (inaudible), very -- and in a very fanatic --

AMANPOUR: Yes, I understand what you're saying --

LUZ: (Inaudible) at all -- of all the most immense, I mean, also, it's difficult to -- it's quite unfair to say we are the -- we are the responsibility of this or the (inaudible) of the embassy. I mean, it's fear --


AMANPOUR: I mean --

LUZ: -- responsible for --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) fear --

LUZ: I mean, we --


LUZ: -- we try to put -- to put a bit of -- I mean --

AMANPOUR: Luz, Luz, the question is --

LUZ: -- (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: I can hear what you're saying. You're saying it's humorous. This is vulgar and it is offensive to those who are religious. My question is, obviously violence is inexcusable. Obviously it's an overreaction.

But you're dealing with a culture war right now. And the question is do you think you're your right to be an artist is greater than your responsibility at this particular time? And do you believe that it's worth it if there is any violence, will these cartoons have been worth it?

LUZ: I think that so far as the -- also the interpretation of this (inaudible) drawings, I mean, we don't -- we just -- we didn't mean -- we didn't mean to put this (inaudible) people who don't like us. We just -- that's just a -- that's --

AMANPOUR: But you admit that the timing is a little bit insensitive - -

LUZ: -- somewhere -- I mean -- I meant to do it with -- we're doing to (inaudible) every week on many subjects.


LUZ: So there's something very difficult to say (inaudible) this is something (inaudible) sacred. But who's got the limit of the sacred? It means if you say you don't touch this sacred and in this religion or the other religion, who says I'm -- who says I'm a -- who says (inaudible)? Is it the government? Is it -- is it the faith? Is it -- is it who --

AMANPOUR: OK. I understand what you're saying.

LUZ: Of course, it (inaudible) -- it's a particular -- it's a particular -- it's a particular moment. But it's not -- I mean, we have to talk about this particular moment. I mean, it's not -- it's not all the drawings we talk about. We -- you feel that if this --

AMANPOUR: Well, Luz --

LUZ: -- vulgar or something, they also tell something about the situation.

AMANPOUR: Right. I understand what you're saying and I hear you.

LUZ: -- that's not -- we're not in a crude (inaudible) or something.

AMANPOUR: I understand. I understand what you're saying. I hear you. But my question to you was do you think it's smart timing? You've given me your expose. I appreciate you coming in. And I want to turn now to somebody else to weigh in on this.

As I mentioned earlier, France has a significant Muslim population. It's estimated between 4 million and 5 million people. And there's concern about how these cartoons could impact the sometimes tense relations with French Muslims, not to mention the tense situations elsewhere in the Arab world, especially now.

So I want to bring in Marwan Muhammad, who's the spokesman for the Collective against Islamophobia in France.

Marwan, to Luz's point, first of all, thank you for joining me. To Luz's point, there is freedom of expression in our democracies. And we and people like Luz are allowed to do basically anything they want to do. Do you think that people like yourself need to calm reactions, need to reach out and say this is just a cartoon, don't get angry, don't get violent?

MARWAN MUHAMMAD, SPOKESMAN, COLLECTIVE AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA IN FRANCE: The first thing we need to understand about "Charlie Hebdo" is that if you look at their financial statement, we realize that they are close to bankruptcy.

So of course, every now and then, they need to publish cartoons (inaudible) Muslims. Why? Because they know that is going to sell 75,000 copies in the same day. So that's the first (inaudible).

Second, of course the freedom of expression has to be (inaudible) and respected in our country. But we cannot say that we hide behind the freedom of expression to use it as a means of insulting a whole community. So of course, we, as responsible people, we should appeal to the wider community and say we need to have a respect for this agreement (inaudible) "Charlie Hebdo," and see it for what it is --


MUHAMMAD: -- a (inaudible) of journalism.

AMANPOUR: So do you think, Marwan, expect that this, as you call it, "awful piece of journalism" will create and will spark rage and anger? Do you think there's any virtue in the fact that it's inside the magazine, that you can't see it on the cover?

MUHAMMAD: It is inside the magazine, but of course the whole communication of "Charlie Hebdo" today has been organized around these cartoons, because it's the main agenda of the magazine. Everyone is not talking about page 7 when they talk about economies (ph). Everyone is talking about specifically these cartoons against the Prophet Muhammad, the (inaudible) upon him, and the cartoons.

So clearly there is a will to use these cartoons as a means to sell magazines.

AMANPOUR: So a means to sell magazines, do you think they're also deliberately inciting Islamophobia?

MUHAMMAD: Not (inaudible) -- not deliberately. I'm not -- I don't think at all that "Charlie Hebdo" and its cartoonists are racist. I think they're just stupid. And they don't know what they're doing. This is a band of friends and they are in their basement with their pencils and paper and they don't know the consequences of what they are doing.

And that's why you've just heard Luz say that, well, we are just making cartoons and we don't expect anything bad to happen and we're journalists but at the same time we're not responsible at all. Well, this doesn't stand because whatever you take responsibility for something you say on national TV or on paper, you need to stand with the consequences of this.

And what we see, when we speak of perpetrators of hate crimes toward Muslims, is that this kind of cartoons, this kind of ideology is building their will to act and their (inaudible) them when they turn to action, to stop (inaudible) in the German court or to discriminate (inaudible). So this is (inaudible) to violence.

AMANPOUR: Marwan, is this paradoxically -- could it be a learning moment, as we like to say here in the United States? Can you be able to sort of explain to your community and the leaders of your community to say, listen, we've got to develop a thicker skin. We cannot, you know, fall into these traps that are laid for us all the time. And if we react violently, then shame on us.

MUHAMMAD: Yes. The question you raise is very interesting. You see, in any community, you will find (inaudible) a different range of reactions. You will find that some of these reactions are very moderate; some of them are neutral; some of them from a cultural or artistic perspective. And a very minor part of them are very vehement, violent and they find themselves very emotional.

So usually in any community, this is going to be really an insignificant part of the community. But when it comes to the Muslim community, we see this ultimate minority as the main scope of the community.

And we, as Muslims at large, to justify themselves for something that doesn't exist (inaudible). My question really at large is why are we as media spokespeople intellectual only interested in depicting that violent part of any community, but specifically for the Muslim community?

I'd like you to show when people demonstrate in the street, I'd like you to show the 95 percent of Muslims that are studying at the university and getting to learn more about them. I'd like you to show the thousand and million Muslim doctors who save lives every day.

But usually some media are not very much interested in this. They are more interested in violent demonstrations. So really, I understand that we have to be responsible people generally speaking. But that's really for anyone in the society.

AMANPOUR: Marwan Muhammad, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And after a break, Bernard Henri-Levy, the French writer and public intellectual, weighs in on this discussion and remember also he was one of the leading voices calling for NATO intervention in Libya to topple the dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Take a look at this picture. There he is, Bernard Henri-Levy in Benghazi. That's him on the right. And on the left, his friend, Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador who was, of course, as we remember, killed last week in all these riots. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We've been talking about those cartoons, mocking the Prophet Muhammad, which were published in the French magazine, "Charlie Hebdo," and also of course the larger issue of what's emerging from the Arab Spring.

And joining me now is the French writer, philosopher and public intellectual, Bernard Henri-Levy, or BHL as he's commonly known; I should say that in French, but nonetheless, thank you for being here.


AMANPOUR: You heard that discussion I've just had. Now I know you come down on the side of freedom of expression. So do we all. But the question is, is this a smart editorial choice at this moment? Do we have responsibilities -- you, me and those cartoonists?

HENRI-LEVY: My opinion is the following: I don't like these cartoons. I respect Koran deeply and I don't like free offense (ph) like this. But those who feel offended who must know three things. Number one, they have to appeal to law, trials. This is the way democracy.

Number two, if "Charlie Hebdo" or whatever newspaper makes a mistake, he is responsible of the mistake, not just (inaudible), not the embassies (ph), not to mix the state and the newspaper and the newspaper is the beginning and end of democracy.

And number three, the right to blasphemy, the right to blasphemy is a core, is a key point of freedom. This cover of "Charlie Hebdo" mocks a Muslim man and a rabbi -- and a rabbi. I don't like it. I don't like the blasphemy against my creed.

But I know that since Voltaire, the right of blasphemy is really the nuclear core of the freedom in general. Everybody must understand that, even if we feel offended in our heart.

AMANPOUR: I fully understand what you're saying. And I would just wonder whether -- we're in a (inaudible) state of war. There's definitely a cultural war between Islam and the West, really. There's such a rising state of Islamophobia that the question again is, is it a wise choice?

HENRI-LEVY: We are not in a war between West and Muslim world, as far as I know (inaudible) country, America, and my country, France, helped a Muslim country, which is Libya, to free itself. This is not a war. We worked hand in hand with the Libyan Muslim people. And I hope we will do the same in Syria.

So the real war today is not between the West and the rest, as stupid Huntington (ph) said. It is inside the rest, inside Islam. The real clash is between the moderates and the fanatics. If there is a civilization war, it is inside Islam between those who accept even if it hurts, the blasphemy, and those who want to revenge blasphemy by violence, burning an embassy or killing the great Ambassador Chris Stevens.

AMANPOUR: So that leads me right into the next discussion. Of course, here we have this picture again of you and Chris Stevens and another one of your friends there in Benghazi .

This war within Islam, the extremist versus those who are trying to emerge and the vast majority who want this democracy, what is the -- what have these events of the last week, the killing of Chris Stevens, and the violence around, done to the Arab Spring or the idea of a nascent Arab democracy, Muslim democracy?

HENRI-LEVY: I must say unfortunately, alas, that one of the of the collateral victim of all that might be and it breaks my heart to say that, it might be the Syrian people, the people of Syria. I know that in our chancellerie (ph) --

AMANPOUR: The halls of power --

HENRI-LEVY: -- in foreign policy, yes, there is a lot of people who are tempted to say they did not want to intervene in any way.

AMANPOUR: They're saying it already.

HENRI-LEVY: They (inaudible) push to do it. That's not what they say. Come on. Is that the result of our involvement? Is that the Arab Spring? If it is that, we stop.

AMANPOUR: What do you think?

HENRI-LEVY: And we -- no, I don't think so. I don't think so because those (inaudible) imbeciles, these crazy, stupid men who killed Ambassador Stevens are not the Libyan people. It is a (inaudible) sect of Salafis who don't -- who did not want Libya to be free. They are enemies of the freedom of the Libyan people in general.

And what they intend to do is really the enemy of the Salafis is not only America, it is not Israel, it is not the West, it is liberty, the enemy of the Salafis is freedom for the core Muslim people. So they use this crazy, imbecile film, "Innocence of Islam," as a tool, as a pretext to launch this counterrevolution in Libya.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it'll be successful?

HENRI-LEVY: I don't think so, because the people in Libya -- I don't -- I would not say that I -- that I know them, of course, not but only (inaudible). They are wise (ph). They are wise (ph).

AMANPOUR: You mean the current leadership and the --

HENRI-LEVY: The leadership is great (ph) and the people is wise (ph). And they will certainly not fall in the trap put -- set by this Salafi sect. So I don't think it is -- when I saw that, Christopher Stevens, I knew him earlier. I met him so many times in Benghazi and Libya and so on. I was really heartbroken.

But I know that it is not the end of the story. I'm sure of that. I'm sure that the appeal freedom, the wish of freedom in Libya and the -- in the Arab world is so strong that it will prevail at the end.

At least I hope. But I believe.

AMANPOUR: But you do think that this could put the brake on any idea of intervention into Syria?

HENRI-LEVY: I'm sure that we have in the West, in America and in France, so many people who anyway did not want -- I remember; I was here in front of you six months ago, eight months, and just after me, there was the Russian ambassador in the U.N. It was so clear that he was waiting for the pretext to, at the end, say, look, we are right not to block the process in the security council (ph). So now he has it.

So you have a (inaudible) alliance probably of these sectarian groups like Salafis. And these rogue states or rogue ambassadors as the Russian one or the Chinese one, who hijack the security council (ph) in order to stop an intervention. You have an alliance between the two. The aim of this alliance being no freedom for the Arab world. Status quo.

AMANPOUR: But doesn't it break your heart a little bit as well because so many have said even the West, the U.S., France, Britain, those who intervened in Libya are almost hiding behind the vetoes by the Russians and the Chinese.

HENRI-LEVY: Of course. This -- I met Francois Hollande a few weeks ago and this was my point. I -- my point was please, don't use the Russian veto as a sort of shield in order to hide our own cowardice, you know?

AMANPOUR: Cowardice.

HENRI-LEVY: Cowardice, yes. There is this tendency -- that is true. There is the Libya, the war (ph) in Libya would probably never have happened if not the courage, the boldness of Hillary Clinton and Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy. It was a very peculiar situation.


HENRI-LEVY: (Inaudible). Christopher Stevens, who was probably one of those who pushed Hillary Clinton or Bill Gates at this time to go on the side of (inaudible). So will this reproduce itself in Syria? I hope, but I'm not sure at all.

AMANPOUR: It's always a pleasure. Thank you so much for being here.

HENRI-LEVY: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

HENRI-LEVY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And when we return, a different sort of controversy and a struggle for survival at the top of the world, and a programming note: this Friday, we'll have a rare interview with a democracy activist from Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi who's in Washington today to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, one of America's highest civilian awards.

Many people know her name, but not all of her long history. So at, we posted a profile of her peaceful fight for freedom. We'll be back after a break.



AMANPOUR: And a final thought, far from the heated debate over free speech versus hate speech, another struggle is taking place in the icy waters of the Arctic Circle. Imagine a world whose economic treasures could lead to its own destruction.

Previously on this program we focused on how the frozen surface of Greenland is melting at a record pace because of global warming. But ironically, now we learn that the vanishing ice cap has made it easier for the U.S., Russia, members of the European Union, to explore for oil, gas and mineral deposits.

And China, with over a billion people to feed and energy to produce, wants a piece of that not-so-frozen pie. More exploration, of course, means more pollution and more greenhouse gases globally, all of which makes the ice melt faster, a very vicious Arctic Circle.

More research remains to be done, but one thing is clear, the Arctic ice is vanishing, and for all the riches it may yield, our world and our children's world will be poorer for it.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.