The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in an intentional effort to further incite anger in the Muslim world. This anger had already been stoked – and indeed fanned into a deadly and destructive flame that has been sweeping across the globe since the existence of a little-known and poorly produced movie depicting the prophet Mohammed was heavily publicized by people seeking to manipulate this anger for their own ends last week. These cartoons will undoubtedly serve their stated purpose, and we will see protests caused by them. While the cartoons will divert some attention from the U.S. and toward French interests, the Americans and other Westerners are not off the hook.
Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to the Mohammed cartoon controversy. They have intentionally published such cartoons in the past, and they have also paid a high price for it. The magazine's Paris office was completely destroyed by a Molotov cocktail attack in November 2011 in response to a previous edition that contained caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, but the magazine's editors have declared that they will not back down despite the past attack — or recent requests by the French government not to publish the images.
These latest cartoons can be expected to throw additional fuel on the fire that has been raging across the region for the past week, and we can anticipate a continuation and intensification of violent protests and demonstrations we have seen across the Muslim world.
The focus of some of these protests will undoubtedly now shift toward French interests following the release of the cartoons, and the French government is reportedly planning to close down embassies and schools in 20 countries this Friday — but this does not mean that U.S. and other Western interests are totally off the hook. Last week we saw the British and German embassies attacked in Sudan over the American-produced movie, and in past iterations of the Mohammed cartoon outrage, we saw a variety of western targets attacked, to include restaurants and hotels, and not just targets associated with Denmark and other countries where the cartoons were published.
Gauging from past events we can expect protests to occur across the globe, from Morocco to Indonesia and even in European capitols like Paris and London with large Muslim communities.
The most violent protests will likely occur in places where the central government is weak, or unwilling to take aggressive action to protect the targeted facilities. Security at most hotels and embassies is intended to protect them against terrorist attacks, but it can be breached by prolonged mob violence. These physical security measures provide a delay, but they are not by any means mob proof. Even good hardened doors with magnetic locks can be defeated given enough time by a crowd with sledgehammers. This means that the best security protection against a mob is to avoid it.
Westerners residing in the Muslim world should take these protests seriously. They should carefully monitor news and eyewitness reports regarding the locations and routes of such protests and avoid them if at all possible. They should also avoid visiting facilities that might be targeted by such protests. This is also a prudent time for companies and individuals to revisit their contingency and their evacuation plans.