France cartoon row: What you need to know

BERLIN, OCT 29 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 10/29/2020 12:50:22 PM IST

The outcry over remarks about Islam by French President Emmanuel Macron and cartoons of Prophet Muhammad has escalated. Muslim nations are protesting with calls to boycott French products. How did it get to this?

French President Emmanuel Macron has invoked the ire of Muslims worldwide after he pledged to fight “Islamist separatism” and defended the right to publish religious caricatures. The row has led to protests, boycotts and condemnations.
Macron’s statement: Macron delivered a spirited defense of free speech and secular values after a French high school teacher was beheaded for displaying caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
He vigorously defended the controversial cartoons, saying they were protected under the right to free speech. He later added that “we won’t renounce the caricatures.” Macron’s government is also planning a new bill to combat “Islamist separatism.” Macron has said that Islamists have created a parallel culture in France that rejects French values, customs and laws.
He also said that Islam is “a religion that is in crisis all over the world” and that Muslim positions are “hardening.” On Friday, the offending cartoons were projected onto government buildings in France.
As part of a class on free speech, history teacher Samuel Paty showed his students some caricatures of Muhammad that had been published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. After community complaints about this lesson, Paty was killed and beheaded outside his school by an 18-year-old Chechen extremist. The cartoons in question have inspired many Islamist attacks, including the slaughter of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2015.
Depictions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad are offensive to many Muslims. It is not explicitly forbidden by the Quran, but some accounts forbid Muslims from depicting him. In France, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons have become icons of a secular tradition that dates back to the Revolution.
Islamic world reaction: Many Islamic countries have condemned Macron’s defense of the cartoons and called for a boycott of French goods.
Turkey has led the charge, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying Macron needs a “mental health check” and accusing him of running an anti-Islamic agenda. “You are in a real sense fascists, you are in a real sense the links in the chain of Nazism,” he said of Europe, comparing the treatment of Muslims in Europe to the Nazi treatment of Jews. “Never give credit to French-labeled goods, don’t buy them,” Erdogan said on Monday during a televised speech. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has said it rejected “offensive” images of any of Islam’s prophets. 
Traders in Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar have removed French goods from store shelves, while Qatar University has canceled French culture week.
There have also been protests held in Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Gaza Strip, and Bangladesh, the last of which attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators and included burning effigies of Macron.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said Macron was encouraging anti-Muslim sentiment and was deliberately provoking Muslims. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University has denounced the cartoons. The Abu Dhabi-based Muslim Council of Elders said it was planning to launch legal proceedings against Charlie Hebdo and “all those who insult Islam.”
The Foreign Ministry in Iran has summoned the French charge d’affaires to strongly reject “any insult and disrespect to the prophet of Islam,” according to state media. Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord has “firmly condemned” Macron’s comments and demanded an apology. There was also condemnation from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Europe response: European leaders have rallied around Macron and criticized attacks on him, particularly from Turkey.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “They are defamatory comments that are completely unacceptable, particularly against the backdrop of the horrific murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist fanatic.”
The prime ministers of Italy, the Netherlands and Greece also expressed support for France. Several EU officials have slammed Erdogan’s comments. 
Domestic reaction: In the aftermath of Erdogan’s comments, France on Saturday recalled its ambassador to Turkey. The French Council of the Muslim Faith  said in a statement that Muslims are “not persecuted” in France. 
“France is a great country, Muslim citizens are not persecuted, they freely construct their mosques and they freely practice their religion,” it said.
France’s largest trade association, Medef, also said it supported the French government. Association head Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux told French broadcaster BFMTV: “I call on the companies to resist the blackmail and unfortunately to endure this boycott for the time being.”

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