White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday criticized the “judgment” of a French satirical magazine for publishing cartoons that are critical of the Islamist political movement, amid the routine threat of attacks by Islamists during President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“We are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the prophet Muhammad, and obviously we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this,” Carney told reporters during a midday press briefing at the White House.
“We know these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential be be inflammatory,” Carney said in a prepared statement.
The French government reacted to the expected threats by temporarily shutting down embassies and schools in 20 countries with significant Muslim populations.
The White House’s criticism of a French magazine’s editorial choices comes as a wave of Islamist attacks threatened to upset the president’s election campaign, during which has has claimed that his policies have reduced conflict with Islamic countries.
The administration’s new criticism of the famous French magazine Charlie Hebdo follows the administration’s Sept. 14 effort to persuade Google to take down a short and cheap satirical video on YouTube that also angered Islamists.
Competing leaders in the fractious Islamic political movement — which now dominates the governments of Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and nearly all Arab countries — say criticism of their claimed prophet, Muhammad, is blasphemous and deserving of the death penalty.
In the last week, numerous Islamist leaders — many of whom are also vying for support from anti-American publics — have also called for Western courts to penalize criticism of their political and religious movement. Several leaders, including Egypt’s prime minister, have indirectly threatened further attacks — perhaps prior to the November election — if Western criticism is not curtailed.
White House officials have not denounced those demands, except to say that attacks are never justified by criticism.
“There is no justification for violence,” Carney said.
However, Islamists say their violence is justified because they’re trying to get Western leaders and courts to denounce speech that is critical of Islam. That speech includes the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and the California YouTube video.
Carney, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly denounced the California video.
The video is “disgusting and reprehensible,” and has “nothing to do with” the U.S. government, Carney said Wednesday.
Amid the turmoil, the administration has defended its Islamist-outreach strategy by blaming the YouTube video for recent attacks, including the lethal Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
White House reporters are skeptical of that claim, partly because videotape recorded during the attack shows the supposed protestors carrying rocket launchers. Several Libyans — including the country’s new president — said the attack was carefully organized.
The Benghazi attack was the first in 33 years to kill a U.S ambassador, and it came as a stunning surprise while Obama and Mitt Romney race toward the November election.
Officials, including Obama, have periodically mentioned the First Amendment, which bars the government from restricting Americans’ free speech.
But they’ve usually subordinated the defense of free speech to the short-term task of preserving peace with the Islamist parties.
“We have spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution,” Carney said Wednesday.
However, he added, “in other words, we don’t question the right of something like this [cartoon] to be published, we just question the judgement behind the decision to publish… [and] that’s our view of the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.”
“We have to be extremely vigilant and that vigilance continues,” Carney declared.