News agent’s u-turn on decision to stock Charlie Hebdo

An Oxford news agent’s who planned to stock the latest edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has done an abrupt U-turn after receiving threats.

The publication features a cartoon on its front page depicting the Prophet Muhammad crying and holding a sign declaring “Je suis Charlie”. This edition was printed in the aftermath of the murder of the magazine’s staff and a police officer on January 7th 2015.

The newsagent’s, Wendy’s News on Broad Street, originally ordered 500 copies of the controversial magazine. Due to popular demand from customers, a further 500 copies were ordered, so that 1,000 copies were expected to arrive earlier this week.

However, a worker at the newsagent’s, who wished to remain anonymous, has informed Cherwell that these orders have now been cancelled. He admitted that they had received some threats, but denied that this was the reason for the cancellation of the order, saying, “We did not know much about the magazine and now we have found out about the contents we have decided against stocking it.”

Thames Valley Police told Cherwell that they were “called yesterday morning [January 20th] to a newsagent in Broad Street, after receiving a report that a threat was made to the shop the previous night [January 19th] on the telephone.”

Tawfiq Hamid, President of the Oxford University Islamic Society, commented on the newsagent’s decision to stock the paper, “He is of course free to sell what he likes but it just seems strange for a Muslim man to sell a magazine that is openly anti-Islamic, each to his own I suppose.”

A worker at Wendy’s News later explained more specifically that he had been unaware that the publication contained a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, and that, had he known, he would have refused to stock the
magazine. His reasoning behind the decision was solely due to customer demand, claiming that “over 600 customers asked me to stock it”.

BBC Oxford reported that the decision to cancel the order was due to threatening phone calls and Facebook abuse received by the newsagent’s, including threats to burn the shop and break the windows. The Thames Valley Police confirmed to Cherwell that they received report of a threat made to a newsagent’s on Broad Street.

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A second Oxford newsagent’s, Honey’s on the High, has ordered 300 copies of the most recent Charlie Hebdo, which is expected to arrive today. They have no plans to reverse this order.

An employee told Cherwell that they were aware of the threats Wendy’s News had received, but that they had not received any such threats themselves. Honey’s of the High have placed a sign in a prominent position, apologising for the delay in the arrival of the stock, but assuring customers that they will be sold. 

Cherwell spoke to a customer at Honey’s of the High, Chris Hardy, who wished to buy a copy of the most recent Charlie Hebdo.

He said, “I’d like a copy because of what it stands for and represents at the moment. I’ve read Private Eye, which is the nearest English equivalent for generations. What I think it stands for is that there must be freedom to
speak.”

The attacks in Paris fuelled a debate about the balance between freedom of speech and publication and the offence of religion. In this case it was the publication of cartoons which caused enormous offence to many Muslims.

In relation to this debate, Tawfiq Hamid, the President of the Oxford University Islamic Society commented, “The debate has turned into Islam vs freedom of speech, with no textual support to the implicit notion that Islam has a problem with freedom of speech. The overall tone of the debate is excessively Islamophobic and helps to build a general air of mistrust around Muslims in general, while in many cases inciting hatred against innocent individuals, such as we have seen reflected in the subsequent attacks against the Muslim community.

“Tomorrow, being Friday, ISoc will meet at about midday to pray and then chill while eating some (hopefully warm) sandwiches for lunch. We’ve also arranged a cheeky spot of 5-a-side for the evening. I just wanted to say that this, for me, is ‘living Islam’. The lives of Muslims are so different to what we see in the media and it’s sad that at the end of the day the only debate around Islam tonight revolves around ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘extremism’.”

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Adam Ismail, a Muslim Law undergraduate at St. Catherine’s College, commented, “I don’t agree with the magazine covers produced by Charlie Hebdo but I respect the right of free speech and publication. There should be a right to insult and make fun of religion. I think that is fundamental to the freedom of speech.”