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Charlie Hebdo’s Campaign Against Islamic Leader Creates Global Backlash

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has launched an international competition calling for cartoonists and caricaturists from all over the world to produce the “funniest” and “meanest” caricature of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. 

Charlie Hebdo has stated the motivation behind this competition is a gesture of support for “Iranians who are fighting for their freedom” and described the Supreme Leader of Iran as the “most deplorable example” of “spiritual authority.” 

This controversial move comes after three months of unrest in Iran following the death of  22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. Instead of awaiting an investigation into the matter and evidence eventually pointing toward Amini’s natural death, the mainstream media quickly began propagating its unverified narrative claiming that Amini had been beaten to death by the police and used it to call for regime change in Iran. 

The intense Iranophobic media campaign provoked weeks of violent riots, many of them foreign-backed, as well as terrorist attacks carried out by foreign nationals in Iran. The unrest has left 200 dead, 50 of them security officials, according to the official statistics. 

While the mainstream media has used a few thousand protesters in Iran to push its narrative, it has largely ignored the voices of millions of Iranians who have rallied to show support for their country and leadership and denounce foreign meddling in their country’s affairs several times over the past few weeks. 

This similar approach has been taken by Charlie Hebdo in its most recent campaign. Ayatollah Khamenei is a marja’ or the highest religious authority for millions of Muslims around the world. Charlie Hebdo’s attack on his personality is tantamount to an attack on a figure like the Pope, provoking the feelings of millions who look up to him and respect him as their spiritual and political leader. 

The followers of Ayatollah Khamenei, angered by this competition, have called for an international solidarity campaign with the hashtag #OurLeader. The solidarity movement has resulted in over 22,000 posts on Instagram and thousands of tweets on Twitter.  

This is not the first time that Charlie Hebdo has insulted a religious figure. In 2006, it published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a personality revered by billions across the globe. This triggered widespread condemnation and protests across the Muslim world. 

However, the magazine published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) again in 2011 and 2012 displaying complete indifference toward the feelings of billions of Muslims around the world.  In 2015, two gunmen attacked Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters and killed twelve to ‘avenge the Prophet.’ The magazine’s chief described this controversial publication as ‘nothing to regret over’ in the name of freedom.

In 2020, Charlie Hebdo republished Prophet’s (pbuh) caricatures, followed by another attack on its former headquarters. The resulting events led to a call for boycott of French goods by Muslims. 

By insulting religious figures that adherents look up to and follow, Charlie Hebdo continues to trample upon the religious practices of Muslims and minorities for personal gain. 

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