As protests rage, Muhammad satires keep coming

Pakistani Muslim demonstrators burn a US flag during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Quetta on September 20, 2012. Up to 50 people were injured on September 20 as police clashed with thousands of protesters, some carrying the banners of extremist groups, demonstrating in Islamabad against an anti-Islam film.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/GettyImages
Pakistan, protests, protesters, american flag, burning
Pakistani Muslim demonstrators burn a U.S. flag during a protest against an anti-Islam film in Quetta on September 20, 2012.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/GettyImages

(CBS News) German satire magazine "Titanic" announced intentions on Thursday to publish a cover depicting an angry Muslim about to stab former German First Lady Bettina Wulff, and the publisher wouldn't say in an interview with a leading German publication whether or not the Muslim is the prophet Mohammad.

The news comes fresh on the heels of a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, publishing new cartoons of Mohammad amid violent protests in the Muslim world against an anti-Muslim film produced in the U.S. by a Coptic Christian immigrant.

Some conservative Muslim clerics insist any depictions of their prophet - satirical or not - are so blasphemous that the person who publishes or creates them deserves to die. A small portion have acted in retribution for those perceived insults, with sometimes deadly consequences.

That can leave publishers with a weighty decision: If potentially Mohammad-mocking material could further inflame tensions with possibly violent consequences, is it fair to question their calls to publish that material?

Most Western countries consider the right to free speech as sacred as some clerics consider their prophet's image sacred. Yet there are limits.

The most famous legal case over free speech in the U.S. was the Supreme Court decision in Schenck v. United States in 1919, in which the case for using a "clear and present danger" concern by the government to shut down free speech was first established. Later, this was amended to take into account the speaker's "intentions," thus making it harder to legally limit speech.

There are no recent successful cases in the West of a legal challenge against the publication of purely satirical images. Even Pope Benedict XVI backed down from a legal challenge against Titanic when they published a cover image depicting the pope soiling himself.

Titanic publisher Leo Fischer said his intentions with the recent publication were in fact not to mock Mohammad, but instead he told the Financial Times he wanted "to warn other poorly made defamatory films" like the one currently being protested in the Muslim world.

He told Der Spiegel: "I consider the view that European Muslims are nothing more than sword-swinging crazies to be racist. I am relying on their understanding -- and on their indifference."

However one interprets the Titanic image, or the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, they are legal, so the questions becomes whether or not they're ethically correct.

In France, the reaction has largely been to defend the publication of naked Mohammad cartoons by Charlie Hebdo, but Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius likened the act of doing so to "pouring oil on the fire."

Charlie Hebdo publisher Stephane Charbonnier says the responsibility for any potential ensuing violence over the cartoons are not his fault, but are instead the fault of the people committing the violence. He claims no responsibility for their actions.

"The accusation that we are pouring oil on the flames in the current situation really gets on my nerves," Charbonnier said at a recent press gaggle, according to Der Spiegel. "After the publication of this absurd and grotesque film about Muhammad in the U.S., other newspapers have responded to the protests with cover stories. We are doing the same thing, but with drawings. And a drawing has never killed anyone."

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.