COPENHAGEN/LONDON (Reuters) - Many European newspapers republished cartoons from the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo to protest against killings by Islamist militants seen as an attack on freedom of expression and the continent’s tradition of visual satire.
But most front pages expressed solidarity with the 12 people, journalists and police, killed in Wednesday’s attack by publishing their own cartoons and editorials that veered away from Charlie Hebdo’s more provocative sketches mocking Islam.
The editorial stances highlighted differences over how publishers respond to the shootings and raised questions over whether many were already self-censoring for fear of causing offence or, worse still, triggering an Islamist backlash.
In Denmark - where Jyllands Posten published several cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad in 2005 igniting protests across the Muslim world that killed least 50 - four newspapers republished cartoons from the French newspaper.
But Jyllands Posten, whose staff have been under police protection since their cartoon controversy, decided not to publish the Charie Hebdo cartoons.
In Sweden, where artist Lars Vilks has lived under police protection since his portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad as a dog led to death threats, Expressen republished Charlie Hebdo’s last tweet mocking Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“For many it will be an obvious conclusion to keep a low profile, cover up and avoid provoking strong emotions,” said an editorial in Denmark’s Berlingske that published several of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. “But we must not duck, as we then are going to give in to an unacceptable threat to culture.”
The front page of Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten showed a cartoon which consists of a black space with ink and a fountain pen in one corner and this hand-written message:
“As a caricaturist I have been of the opinion up to now that there was no topic that cannot be drawn. I have to admit that the tragic incident which took place in Paris yesterday taught me otherwise.”
Satire, which often tests the limits of what a society will accept in the name of free speech, has roots in Western culture going back to 18th century French playwright Volataire and beyond that to ancient Greece. Freedom to criticize the Roman Catholic Church in France was seen as a major victory of the French Revolution.
But it was the booming growth of the press in the 19th century that made the political cartoon a weapon in the battle of public opinion, with magazines such as Punch in Britain and caricaturists such as Thomas Nast in the United States.
Norwegian poet Haavard Rem urged publication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons in maintaining part of an important European tradition.
“We lack a vision of history if we simply shut down a proud tradition critical of religion and ideology which also includes Chaplin’s ‘The Dictator’ and Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’,” he wrote in Aftenposten, which published three Charlie Hebdo cartoons over most of an inside page.
The “Life of Brian”, satirizing the origins and precepts of Christianity, provoked protests when it was first shown in 1975.
Charlie Hebdo courted controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders of all faiths and it published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. It also ridiculed Christian and Jewish faiths.
Jihadists online repeatedly warned the weekly would pay for its mockery. For Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous and caricatures or other characterizations have provoked protests across the Islamic world.
In France, the conservative daily Le Figaro printed its blue masthead in black over the headline “Freedom assassinated” but did not reprint any cartoons. Communist daily L’Humanite printed a picture of the last cover of Charlie Hebdo. The Paris tabloid Le Parisien’s headline also printed some cartoons.
In Britain, some newspapers carried images of previous front pages of Charlie Hebdo which featured the cartoons although not prominently, and none were re-published in their own right.
“I felt a duty to readers, I felt a duty to the dead, I felt a duty to journalism and I also felt a duty to my staff,” Amol Rajan, editor of the Independent, told BBC Radio. “And I think it would have been too much of a risk to unilaterally decide in Britain to be the only newspaper that went ahead and published.”
Germany’s national newspapers mostly printed images from the videos of the gunmen on front pages but Berlin’s regional newspapers printed Charlie Hebdo covers.
Berlin’s top-selling newspaper BZ, which has a circulation of just under 130,000, dedicated its front page to reprints of 18 Charlie Hebdo covers – with the headline “Vive la liberte”. It included the caricature of Mohammad saying “100 lashes if you don’t laugh to death”.
In Italy, leading daily Il Corriere della Sera dedicated one page to six Charlie hebdo cartoons. Spanish conservative paper La Razon reprinted Charlie’s October cover on its front page, in which Mohammad is seen on his knees at knife point, and headlined the cartoon with “We are all Charlie Hebdo”.
“If you start saying ‘well we’ve got to censor ourselves because we might upset murderers or potential murderers’ then we might as well just close down the media,” Martin Rowson, a cartoonist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, told Reuters.
(This version of the story clarifies in paragraph 18 that some UK newspapers carried images of Charlie Hebdo front pages.)
Added reporting by Alessandra Galloni in Rome, Alexandra Hudson in Berlin, , Shadia Nasralla in Vienna, Johan Ahlander in Stockholm and Alister Doyle in Oslo; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Alister Doyle and Ralph Boulton