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Fears of backlash mount as Muslims worldwide condemn Paris shooting

UN rights chief says a xenophobic backlash would only 'play into the hands of extremists'
A man holding a placard saying "I am Charlie" in Arabic, during a protest at Manhattan's Union Square in New York, United States on 7 January, 2015 (AA)
The UN's rights chief slammed Wednesday's massacre at a Paris weekly that killed at least 12 people but warned that a xenophobic backlash would only play into the hands of extremists.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein joined a global chorus of condemnation against the "hideous crime", after gunmen armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles gunned down staff at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. They also shot two police officers.

The weekly had been the focus of several attacks since publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in the mid-2000s that Muslims considered sacrilegious.

"Freedom of expression and opinion are a cornerstone for any democratic society," Zeid said, adding that "those trying to divide communities on grounds of religion, ethnicity or any other reason must not be allowed to succeed."

While calling for the arrest and punishment of those responsible, he cautioned against reacting with "discrimination and prejudice" against a wider group. 

That, he warned, would "be playing straight into the hands of extremists whose clear aim is to divide religions and societies."

"With xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments already on the rise in Europe, I am very concerned that this awful, calculated act will be exploited by extremists of all sorts," Zeid said.

France's Muslim leaders denounce 'barbaric' attack

France's Muslim leadership firmly condemned the shooting at a Paris satirical weekly that left at least 12 people dead as a "barbaric" attack and an assault on press freedom and democracy.

"This extremely grave barbaric action is also an attack against democracy and the freedom of the press," the French Muslim Council (CFCM) said in a statement.

The body represents France's Muslim community, which is Europe's biggest and estimated to number between 3.5 million and five million people.

The two or three heavily armed gunmen who stormed the offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly, the focus of several attacks since publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in the mid-2000s, shouted Islamist slogans as they fired.

CFCM president Dalil Boubakeur, who heads the Paris Mosque, planned to visit the scene of the shooting, his entourage said.

The Muslim council also called for calm and urged Muslims to beware of extremist manipulation.

"In this tense international climate stoked by the madness of terrorist groups unjustly claiming to represent Islam, we call on all those attached to the republic's values and to democracy to avoid provocation", it said.

The Muslim community must practise "the greatest vigilance towards possible manipulation by extremist groups," it added.

A separate statement from an organisation close to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF), also condemned "in the firmest manner this criminal attack and these horrible murders."

The Great Rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, told AFP that the country needed to show "national unity and defend all together our freedoms, including the freedom of expression."

France also has Europe's biggest Jewish population of between 500,000 to 600,000.

American Muslims condemn Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo

Despite frigid weather in some places, rallies have been going on across the Americas with hundreds of Muslims turning out in Washington, New York and Canada proclaiming "I am Charlie."

Those in Washington were joined by International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, of France, who told the media "We are all still in shock."

Against a wind chill of minus four degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 Celsius), several hundred gathered in New York's Union Square to denounce the attack, singing the La Marseillaise and chanting "Charlie, Charlie."

Prominent Muslim groups in the U.S. pronounced sweeping condemnations of the deadly attack on a French satirical newspaper that has a history of publishing unflattering depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Muslim community leaders summarily distanced themselves from the gunmen’s' actions, and agreed that speech that mocks faiths and religious figures cannot justify killing innocent people.

"The proper response to such attacks on the freedoms we hold dear is not to vilify any faith, but instead to marginalize extremists of all backgrounds who seek to stifle freedom and to create or widen societal divisions," Nihad Awad, director of Council on American–Islamic Relations, said.

"We strongly condemn this brutal and cowardly attack and reiterate our repudiation of any such assault on freedom of speech," he said.

Widespread condemnation and demand for punishment of perpetrators poured in, from world leaders and ordinary people as they held vigils and demonstrations across the world.

The magazine had sparked controversy in 2006 and 2012 for publishing comic cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, and its offices were also targeted three years ago after it named the Prophet as its “editor-in-chief."

However, Muslims in the U.S. banded together to reiterate the verse in the Quran that tells Muslims: if anyone kills an innocent person, it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people.

“The tragic irony that these criminals displayed is that if they actually gave a cursory look over the Prophet Muhammad’s life, they’d see how he reacted to insults and degrading treatment,” Haris Tarin, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said.

“The Prophet always responded with mercy and forgiveness. No matter what grievances individuals or communities might have, violence is never the answer," he said.

Islamic literature and the Quran hold that, during his lifetime in the early 6th century, the Prophet Muhammad faced continuous insults, persecution and assassination attempts by his opponents. He reacted to these personal attacks without retaliation of any sort, even after he led a persecuted minority movement to become a dominant social and political force in Arabia.