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Muslim leaders see new cartoon as further insult to Islamic faith

WASHINGTON – The latest edition of Charlie Hebdo has offended the leader of a U.S. Muslim advocacy organization, just a week after Islamic extremists murdered 12 employees of the magazine because of controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke Wednesday, expressing his support of freedom of expression. But he said that offensive language should have boundaries.

“We hope that one day there becomes an agreement that there should be a limit to how far you can go to offend other religions and groups – something that would provide social harmony,” Awad said.

The latest Muhammad depiction from the Paris satirical weekly appears on the cover of Wednesday’s “survivor’s edition.” The cartoon drawing of the prophet is shedding a tear while holding a sign that translates to “I am Charlie.” The translated message, “All is Forgiven” appears just above the figure.

The original press run of 3 million was increased to 5 million. Awad said he doesn’t feel that  widespread support and sympathy for the magazine can be interpreted as a movement against Islam.

“I believe that the majority of outlets that decided to sell and republish this did it in defense of the victims of the terrorist attack,” Awad said. “They didn’t mean to offend 1.7 billion people, that’s my feeling.”

Oussama Jamaal, secretary general of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, said that, unlike other religions, Islam never depicts its religious figures.

“As Muslims, we are offended by the magazine and any depiction of the prophet,” Jamaal said. “But we would never reach the point where we condone, allow or accept violent reactions.”

While 12 people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo office, Awad said Western media is showing a an imbalance in the value of human lives. On the same day as the attack in Paris, Islamic extremists were responsible for a blast that killed 37 people in Yemen.

“Because they had different skin color, we did not pay attention to it,” Awad said. “We’re dealing with the attacks in Paris, and rightly so, but I think we are valuing less the lives of other people who are being killed every day. That’s how people in the Muslim world see the double standard.”

The “survivor’s edition” depiction of Muhammad was offensive to him, Awad said, adding that  he knows what the “all is forgiven” caption means. He told of how Muhammad was expelled from his city after being attacked and smeared. Upon his return to peacefully take back his city, he forgave all who had persecuted him.

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo office was an act of terror that the majority of Muslims cannot tolerate, Awad said. But he said the cartoons are an unnecessary jab to the heart of his religion.

“I respect their right to be free, but they have to accept our right to be offended.”

Reach reporter Joe Mussatto at [email protected] or 202-408-1493.

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Muslim leaders see new cartoon as further insult to Islamic faith