Macron’s Islamophobic campaign stokes fears of political exploitation

October 26, 2020 - 12:46

TEHRAN – As French President Emanuel Macron intensifies his anti-Muslim campaign, leaders and analysts in the Muslim world turn the spotlight on the French president’s goal of inciting hatred against Muslims.

Leaders and people of Muslim countries around the world are protesting against Macron’s reckless push to support what he called the French “right to blasphemy” against the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). On Saturday, France recalled its ambassador to Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his French counterpart needs mental treatment over his view of Islam.

“What is the problem of this person called Macron with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs treatment on a mental level,” the Turkish president said in what appeared to be a criticism of the French president’s recent vow to fight Islamism.

He added, “What else can be said to a head of state who does not understand freedom of belief and who behaves in this way to millions of people living in his country who are members of a different faith.”

Erdogan and Macron have been at loggerheads in recent months over a range of issues, including a dispute over territorial waters between Turkey and Greece, the conflict in Libya, and Azerbaijan’s Armenian separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Macron’s support for blasphemous cartoons against the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) has only exacerbated the discord between the two presidents who, at times, personally attacked each other.

“Outrage and insult are not a method,” Macron’s office said in response to the Turkish president’s remarks.

France’s relations with the Muslim world took a dangerous turn in early October when Macron gave a speech to counter what he described as the ways radical Islamism infiltrates French society. Macron also turned the spotlight on what he called “Islamist separatism,” outlining a plan to “build an Islam in France that can be an Islam of Enlightenment.”

The Macron plan includes training imams in France rather than continuing to import them from Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey.

“Islam is a religion that is experiencing a crisis across the world,” the French president claimed.

Macron’s speech has raised eyebrows in France and beyond as it was a clear departure from his political platform over the past years which was based on liberal values and freedom of speech for all social groups in French society. The speech also sparked a wave of outrage among Muslims in France and the Muslim world.

While the debate over Macron’s new approach toward Muslims in France was still ongoing, the president defended satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which published caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that helped inspire two French-born men to mount a deadly January 2015 attack on the paper’s newsroom. 17 people were killed in the attack, which marked the beginning of a wave of violence by the ISIS terrorist group in Europe.

In a provocative move, the newspaper republished the insulting caricatures in September as the trial began of 14 people over the attacks on the newspaper and a kosher supermarket.

The newspaper’s insistence on republishing the insulting cartoons once again revived the debate over the relation between freedom of faith and freedom of expression. This debate was further exacerbated following the murder of Samuel Paty, a French middle-school teacher who was killed by a teenager in a suburb of Paris after he showed the Charlie Hebdo cartoon in the class.

Instead of containing the hatred toward Muslims in France, Macron chose to further crack down on Muslims who were fed up with the insults against their prophet. Of course, Muslims around the world denounced the killing of the French teacher, who was posthumously awarded Légion d'Honneur, France's highest honor.

Macron, who is seen by some as exacerbating hatred toward Muslims, tried to use the murder of Paty to move forward with his preplanned campaign against Muslims in France.

“He was killed precisely because he incarnated the Republic,” Macron said of Paty, adding, “He was killed because the Islamists want our future. They know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it.”

Earlier in September, Macron promised to counter “Islamic separatism” while defending the right to blasphemy.

Speaking at a ceremony in September celebrating France’s democratic history and naturalizing new citizens, he said: “You don’t choose one part of France. You choose France … The Republic will never allow any separatist adventure.”

Freedom in France, Macron said, includes: “The freedom to believe or not to believe. But this is inseparable from the freedom of expression up to the right to blasphemy.”

But critics have questioned the idea of freedom of expression in France. They say if ridiculing and committing blasphemy against a prophet revered by more than a billion and a half believers across the globe is considered to be part of freedom of expression, then why conducting research about or scientifically questioning the Holocaust, let alone ridiculing it, is not part of freedom of expression. This may be the reason why some analysts accuse Macron of pursuing double standards in dealing with a part of France’s population that is known for being marginalized and deprived of their basic rights. France is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe.

Macron himself has acknowledged that the French governments have marginalized the Muslim citizens.

“We built a concentration of misery and difficulties, we concentrated populations according to origin and social milieu,” he admittedly said. “We created neighborhoods where the promise of the Republic was never kept and where these most radical forms [of Islamism] became sources of hope.”

However, Macron promised to attack these concentrations. “What we should attack is Islamist separatism,” the French President said.

After the killing of Paty, Macron has doubled down on his Islamophobic agenda, expressing support for the insulting cartoons of Charlie Hebdo.

Speaking at a televised memorial service for the murdered teacher, Macron told viewers that France “will not give up our cartoons.”

These remarks sparked a wave of outrage across the Muslim world, prompting the people of some Muslim countries to launch a campaign aiming to boycott French products. Twitter users in the Arab world called for boycotting these products by using Arabic hashtags such as “Boycotting French products,” “Macron insults the Prophet,” and “Our Prophet is a red line.”  These hashtags have been trending in many Arab countries in recent days.

Twitter users also prepared a list of dozens of French firms that they want them to be boycotted by Muslims due to Macron’s insult against the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

“Macron has deliberately hurt the sentiments of 1.8 billion Muslims by attacking Islam and our Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Boycotting any French product is a little gift we can give to him & his supporters,” tweeted Suhaib Sadiq, while posting a picture showing the logos of many French firms.

Some Twitter users also published images showing supermarkets in some Arab countries such as Kuwait and Qatar that are empty of French products.

“Qatar’s flagship Al Meera supermarket has removed all French products from its shelves after calls for boycott grew louder across the Arab and Muslim world, the corporation announced on Friday,” tweeted a Twitter user called Gentleman.

Al-Reem, another Twitter user, said, “I invite you to boycott French products after the French government supported cartoons that insult our Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him.”

Religious and political leaders in Arab countries also condemned Macron’s approach toward Muslims, saying he is damaging the French-Islamic relations and instigating hatred for political and partisan gains.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said in a statement that it has followed the ongoing practice of running satirical caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and it was “struck with astonishment at so unexpected a discourse from certain French politicians, which it deems to be harmful to the Muslim-French relations, hatemongering and only serving partisan political interests.”

“The General Secretariat says it will always condemn practices of blasphemy and of insulting Prophets of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism,” said the OIC statement, adding that it had earlier condemned the brutal murder of French citizen Samuel Paty.

Analysts and political leaders also agree with the OIC’s assessment that Macron is politically exploiting the idea of freedom of speech to create a manufactured crisis with Muslim citizens of France in order to mobilize the public opinion ahead of France’s 2022 presidential election.

According to a Politico report, since the beginning of his presidency, Macron has been pressured by critics – mostly from the right and far right – to address the security, cultural and social challenges posed by the so-called “radical Islamism.”

“The theme will feature heavily in the public debate until the presidential election in 2022, where Macron is likely to face off once more against Marine Le Pen, in a country that struggles with tackling the issue without reviving colonial wounds or tipping into Islamophobia and racism,” Politico said.

Erdogan also accused Macron of intensifying anti-Muslim sentiments ahead of the 2022 election, adding that France will witness a presidential election in about a year, which will determine Macron's fate.

“I think that his end is not far away because he did not benefit France in anything, so how can he benefit himself?” the Turkish president said.

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