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Stores in Muslim-majority nations boycott French goods to protest caricatures

Muslims in the Middle East and beyond on Monday broadened their calls for boycotts of French products and protests, as a clash over depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and the limits of free speech intensified.

Kuwaiti stores pulled French yogurts and bottles of sparkling water from their shelves, Qatar University cancelled a French culture week, and calls to stay away from the Carrefour grocery store chain were trending on social media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Protests have been held in Iraq, Turkey and the Gaza Strip, and Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution condemning the publication of cartoons of the prophet.

Also read | Indian Muslim forum condemns beheading in Paris

The beheading earlier this month of a French teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet in class has once again ignited a debate over such depictions — which Muslims consider blasphemous. The growing confrontation is raising political tensions between France and some Muslim-majority nations, especially Turkey, and could put pressure on French companies. Other European countries have also entered the fray in support of France.

The teacher, who was killed by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, has been heralded at home as a national symbol of France’s dearly held secular ideals and its rejection of any whiff of religious intrusion in public spheres.

We will not give in: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron has vigorously defended such depictions as protected by the right to free speech. At a memorial for the teacher last week, Mr. Macron said: “We won’t renounce the caricatures.”

On Sunday, he appeared to double down. In tweets published in both Arabic and English, he wrote: “We will not give in, ever.” He added, however, that France does not accept hate speech and respects all differences.

Mr. Macron’s stance has drawn anger from both everyday people and some political leaders in the Muslim world.

On Twitter, some criticised what they said is France’s hypocrisy and bias against Muslims. One cartoon widely shared put forth the argument that caricatures of Muslims are defended in “The West” as fair game under freedom of speech protections, while caricatures of Jews are labelled hate speech.

Egypt’s top cleric, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, who is also the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, also accused those who “justify insulting the prophet of Islam” of hypocrisy.

In France, a law aimed at addressing the country’s role during Nazi occupation specifically mentions that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are crimes, but it can also be used to prosecute anti-Muslim discrimination - or hate speech, in general.

Erdogan criticises Macron

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the most vociferous in his criticism among political leaders, saying Mr. Macron needed his head examined and had lost his way. France responded by recalling its ambassador to Turkey. On Monday, Erdogan also called on Turks not to purchase French goods.

Both Jordan and Pakistan have summoned the French ambassador in their countries to express their displeasure. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the French leader chose to encourage anti-Muslim sentiment.

Muslims debate

The dispute is also creating debate within the Muslim world. Diana Moukalled, a Lebanese writer and co-editor of the independent Daraj news site, criticised how some people appear to be more offended by the cartoons than by the beheading of the French teacher.

Muslim scholars have condemned the caricatures, but some also sought to curb swelling anger.

Saudi Arabia’s senior council of clerics issued a statement saying that defamation of the Prophet Muhammad only serves extremists who want to spread hatred. While denouncing insults against Islam, the clerics also cited the prophet’s “mercy, justice, tolerance” in their statement.

The head of the Saudi-based Muslim World League, Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa, told a Saudi news channel that while the caricatures are insulting, the prophet’s influence and status are greater than any impact from such drawings. He said Muslims should not overreact.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 1:49:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/stores-in-muslim-majority-nations-boycott-french-goods-to-protest-caricatures/article32950320.ece

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