Muslim world’s falling-out with France deepens over hostility to Islam

By Usaid Siddiqui

A rift between France and Muslim nations is growing after French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this month that Islam was in “crisis”.

Tension escalated after French teacher Samuel Paty was killed on October 16 near his school in broad daylight. He had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his students. Since the crime, French officials were perceived as linking the killing to Islam.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticised Macron, saying the French leader needed “mental checks” over his attitude towards Islam.

Across the Muslim world, some leaders have condemned France and Macron, including Saudi Arabia and Iran; while tens of thousands have attended protests in Bangladesh calling for a boycott of French goods.

Malaysia says it is “gravely concerned” over the “growing open hostilities towards Muslims following Paty’s brutal killing.

“As a matter of principle, we strongly condemn any inflammatory rhetoric and provocative acts that seek to defame the religion of Islam,” Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement.

Hishammuddin said Malaysia, whose multi-ethnic population is just over 60 percent Muslim, would work with the international community “to promote mutual respect among religions”.

President Erdogan will grace the cover of the next edition of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, the publication said in a tweet, likely escalating a war of words between Erdogan and Western powers over freedom of speech.

The tweet showed a cover featuring a caricature of Erdogan sitting in a chair and lifting the dress of a woman to reveal her backside with the caption “Erdogan – he’s a lot of fun in private.”

The next Charlie Hebdo is set for release on Wednesday.

Caricatures

Erdogan has been at the forefront of a wave of anger from Muslim majority countries after Charlie Hebdo opted to rerelease caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed that had enraged Muslims a decade.

France has urged fellow European Union leaders to adopt measures against Turkey, after President Erdogan questioned President Macron’s mental health and called for a boycott of French goods.

“France is united and Europe is united. At the next European Council, Europe will have to take decisions that will allow it to strengthen the power balance with Turkey to better defend its interests and European values,” Trade Minister Franck Riester told lawmakers, without elaborating.

Turkey’s parliament has condemned French Macron’s defence of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammed, saying his comments were “sick sick rhetoric” with the potential to cause a global rupture.

The United States has voiced hope that NATO allies France and Turkey would ease tensions that have soared over President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad.

“The United States strongly believes that unnecessary Alliance infighting only serves our adversaries,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyron has said that President Emmanuel Macron was contributing to the radicalisation of people by insisting that caricatures of Prophet Muhammad fell under free speech.

“You are forcing people into terrorism, pushing people towards it, not leaving them any choice, creating the conditions for the growth of extremism in young people’s heads,” Kadyron wrote on Instagram.

The fallout between the Muslim world and France continued this week, with anger rising over Macron’s recent speech in which he said Islam was “in crisis” globally, and amid renewed support in the country for the right to display caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

“This isn’t the time for this,” Silouane Tessak, a student living in northeast Paris, told Al Jazeera. “There’s so much going on in the world, especially with the [coronavirus] health crisis. Is this really the appropriate moment for a political spat?”

Others worried the drama was creating an unnecessary distraction as France deals with record numbers of new coronavirus cases.

In Qatar, shoppers said they supported the decision by some retailers to withdraw French products from their shelves. – Al Jazeera.

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