Gerard Biard, editor-in-chief of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, on Sunday denounced the Western publications that have declined to reprint his paper’s controversial cartoons in the aftermath of the Jan. 7 mass shooting at Charlie Hebdo's Paris office.
“This cartoon is not just a little figure. It’s a symbol. It’s the symbol of freedom of speech, of freedom of religion, of democracy and secularism,” Biard told NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday. “When they refuse to publish this cartoon, when they blur it out, when they decline to publish it, they blur out democracy.”
Biard said he was in London at the time of the shooting, when two masked gunmen stormed the publication’s headquarters and killed 12 people, including editor Stéphane Charbonnier and several of the paper's cartoonists and editorialists.
The attack, for which the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility this week, was an apparent response to the paper’s history of publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
In the days since the attack, several news organizations have declined to reprint the controversial drawings in full, and have also chosen not to reprint the paper’s first cover since Jan. 7, which depicts Muhammad weeping and holding a sign that reads “I am Charlie.” A headline above the drawing reads “All Is Forgiven.”
“Every time that we draw a cartoon of Muhammad, every time that we draw a cartoon of the prophet, every time that we draw a cartoon of God, we defend the freedom of religion,” Biard said Sunday. “It is also the freedom of speech. Religion should not be a political argument.”
Biard’s comments come just days after Pope Francis criticized Charlie Hebdo's decision to publish the provocative cartoons, suggesting the newspaper had gone too far in its depictions of the prophet.
“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the pope said last week.
But Biard suggested Sunday that following the pope's admonition would set a dangerous precedent.
“We do not kill anyone. We must stop conflating the murderers and the victims. We must stop declaring that those who write and draw are provocateurs, that they are throwing gas on the fire,” he said. “We must not place thinkers and artists in the same categories as murderers.”
The shooting at Charlie Hebdo's offices set off a period of chaos in France, as the gunmen, brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, fled the scene and holed up in an industrial print shop. A third suspect took hostages in a Paris grocery store. Four hostages were killed before police were able to rescue the remaining 15.
All three suspects were killed by police. A fourth suspect, a woman, has reportedly escaped to Syria through Turkey.