Posted on October 29, 2020

Muslim Countries Denounce French Response to Killing of Teacher, Urge Boycott

Steven Erlanger, New York Times, October 27, 2020

Since a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class, France has conducted dozens of raids against suspected Islamic extremists, closed a major mosque and shut down some Muslim aid groups.

In France, a nation still traumatized by some 36 Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks in the last eight years, including two that together killed more than 200 people, those broad measures have found widespread support. President Emmanuel Macron, a fierce defender of French secularism and the right to free speech, went as far as to suggest that Islam was in need of an Enlightenment, and his interior minister spoke of a “civil war.”

In the Muslim world, these actions, and the tone coming from top French officials, have opened France to criticism that the nation’s complicated, post-colonial relationship with its six million Muslim citizens has taken an ugly turn.

Leading the condemnation has been President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who called Mr. Macron mentally damaged in a speech over the weekend. “Macron needs mental treatment,” he said. “What is the problem of this person Macron with Muslims and Islam?”

{snip} But as much as his attack on Mr. Macron offended many Europeans, it has resonated throughout the Middle East and North Africa, especially in France’s former colonies, as has his call for a boycott of French goods.

In Bangladesh, an estimated 40,000 people took part in an anti-France rally in the capital, Dhaka, burning an effigy of Mr. Macron and calling for a boycott of French products. There were also calls for the Bangladeshi government to order the French ambassador back to Paris and threats to tear down the French embassy building.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused Mr. Macron of being divisive and encouraging Islamophobia.

“This is a time when President Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarization & marginalization that inevitably leads to radicalization,” he said in a series of tweets. “By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world.”

Kuwait’s foreign ministry criticized linking Islam to terrorism, saying it “represents a falsification of reality, insults the teachings of Islam and offends the feelings of Muslims around the world.”

French goods were taken off shop shelves there and in Qatar, a strong supporter of Mr. Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood. Le Train Bleu restaurant in Doha, the Qatari capital, a replica of the one in Paris’ Gare de Lyon, will now serve French meals without any imported French ingredients.

Jordan’s foreign ministry did not criticize Mr. Macron directly but condemned the “continued publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad under the pretext of freedom of expression.” It also denounced any “discriminatory and misleading attempts that seek to link Islam with terrorism.”

In Saudi Arabia, the country’s state-run press agency quoted an anonymous foreign ministry official saying the kingdom “rejects any attempt to link Islam and terrorism and denounces the offensive cartoons of the Prophet.” The kingdom’s highest religious authority said that “defaming” the prophet “only serves extremists,’’ and that “these insults have nothing to do with freedom of expression.”

France warned its citizens in Muslim countries to be careful, but there has so far been little violence. Much of the official reaction seemed aimed at showing offended publics that their leaders were at least listening, especially given the ambivalence of much of the Muslim world about some Arab countries moving to recognize Israel, said François Heisbourg, a French defense analyst.

But the reactions underscored the chasm of perception surrounding France’s response to the killing of the teacher, Samuel Paty, 47, especially when the differences are amplified through the bullhorn of domestic politics.

Many French found Mr. Macron’s desire, as he put it, to “build an Islam in France that can be an Islam of Enlightenment,” to be patronizing of Muslims. But few have quibbled publicly with the breadth of his crackdown on extremism. {snip}