Written by Tahira Akbar
Edited by Bhromor Rahman
France vs Islam
France has always had a bone to pick with Islam, since the Crusades, to the genocidal colonial war in Algeria, to the recent hijab and burka bans. Even though there is now a sizeable population of six million Muslims in France, they have come under scrutiny once again. Indeed, in recent weeks, tensions have escalated in light of French President Emmanuel Macron disparaging the Muslim population and the religion of Islam. He did so by describing Islam as “a religion in crisis all over the world”, and accused Muslims of supporting “separatism”. He then suggested that Islam required enlightenment. He announced that new laws will be coming soon to “reinforce secularism”. The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has even suggested that ethnic food aisles in supermarkets should be closed.
These reactionary comments were made after anti-Islamic caricatures where the holy Prophet is mocked were met with violence. Such comics were first published in 2006 by a Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten and have since sparked many protests.
Muslims rise up
On the grounds that they have had enough, Muslims worldwide, have protested against France, as the French president also defends the caricatures on the grounds of free speech. Anti-French demonstrations were held in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, and even Toronto, among other places.
The protests of French products have even made its way into social media, with hashtags such as #BoycottFrance #Boycott_French_Products and #ProphetMuhammad, becoming viral on Instagram and Twitter.
As touted above, there have been numerous attacks on innocent french citizens in response to the cartoons. A teacher working in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a school northwest of Paris was murdered. The teacher, Samuele Paty, was beheaded only a few days after the controversy began. His death has angered the French government and gave credence to Macron’s “Islamic separatism” claims, which has provoked the Turkish government. The French president also announced that Samuel Paty “was killed because Islamists want our future”, and that France would “not give up our cartoons”. He also tweeted these encouraging words on Twitter, “ We will not give in, ever. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”
Muslims internationally are calling to boycott French products in protest and many Muslim leaders are on board. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday during a speech: “I am calling on the people, do not go near French goods, do not buy them,”. He urges European leaders to put a stop to Macron’s “campaign of hatred”. Erdogan also expressed his opinions on the French president by saying “Macron needs mental treatment” during a speech. He also questioned why Macron seems to have an issue with Islam and Muslims.
Many find issue in Turkey even getting involved in all this. For example, European Council President Charles Michel tweeted his opinion on the situation: “Rather than a positive agenda, Turkey chooses provocations, unilateral actions in the Mediterranean, and now insults. It’s intolerable.” In his view, the Turkish Prime Minister should have remained silent instead of responding to the French President’s comments. Yet, some can say that it would be unethical for Erdogan to do so, as Turkey would do a great disservice to Muslims around the world by ignoring Islamophobia.
In Karachi, Pakistan, approximately 10,000 people marched to protest France, and effigies of the French president were burned.
Protests in Islamabad, Pakistan though turned violent, when about 2000 people attempted to march towards the French embassy (you can only assume their intention…) but were beaten and pushed back with tear gas by police officers.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has also directly criticized President Macron and accused him of “attacking Islam.” His tweet reads: “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.”
Furthermore, Khan has also written a letter to Mark Zuckerburg demanding to ban Islamophobic content on Facebook. He has not yet received a response.
In Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, and Indonesia many grocery stores, convenience stores, and markets have announced that they will no longer sell French products in spite of financial losses. The products not being sold anymore include cosmetics, dairy products, stationery as well as high-end brands. Boycotted brands include Activia, Perrier, Tefal, BIC, L’Oreal, Chanel, Dior, Cartier among others. Turkey has also planned to boycott French products, but their plans were foiled after sunni theocracy Saudi Arabia announced they were going to boycott Turkish products in response which goes to show that even the Muslim-majority countries are not unanimous in this course of action.
In the face of the boycotts, the French Foreign Minister has demanded an immediate end to the bans, and claimed that they are “baseless”. President Macron has also promised the country that he will not “give in”.
No matter what people may say, violence is not the solution, and the beheading of Samuel Paty and the killings in response to the cartoons were not justified nor were they righteous. They was heinous, wicked, and atrocious. The killing of innocents will not bring equality and justice, but coming to a mutual understanding and accepting each other will. The Muslim world’s protests and ever-increasing Muslim population make me hopeful that one day, islamophobia and hate can eventually die. If we use our voices to speak up about injustices, then better days are surely to come because Islam, for its part, is not going anywhere.