The effects of the January 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo have spread worldwide. Protests in two cities in Niger turned violent on Friday and Saturday, as mobs attacked French buildings and burned down churches. The riots have claimed at least ten lives in the country, an African state that ranks as one of the world's poorest.
Niger's violence occurred amid demonstrations across Africa and Asia. In Pakistan, protesters in Karachi burned an effigy of French president Francois Hollande, and a photographer for Agence France Presse was shot and wounded on the scene. In Somalia, students marching in Mogadishu held up signs proclaiming "Je Suis Muslim," mimicking similar-shaped signs unfurled in France that expressed solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.
National leaders across the Islamic world have condemned the attacks in Paris while at the same time expressing outrage at Charlie Hebdo's offensive content. In France, president Francois Hollande reacted to the protests with befuddlement.
"There are tensions abroad where people don't understand our attachment to the freedom of speech," he said.
Holland's comments reveal a fundamental divide that has emerged in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Supporters have generally expressed solidarity with the newspaper not because of its content but because it symbolized the civilizational value of free speech. Opponents, meanwhile, do not couch their objections to the newspaper as a critique of the concept of free speech. Instead, they object to the cartoon's deliberate choice to provoke and mock a religious value held by a group that, both within and outside France, are often marginalized. As a result, a satirical newspaper with a pre-attack circulation of 60,000—one that mainly skewers French politicians—has unwittingly become a symbol for a global clash of cultures.
Meanwhile, the protests in Niger—a vast, dry Saharan state and one of the world's poorest countries—has now claimed nearly as many lives as the attacks that inspired them.
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