The presidente has since been described as mentally ill by his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. From Syria to Saudi Arabia, French products are being boycotted
France is in chaos. President Enmanuel Macron announced this Wednesday national confinement starting Friday, October 30. The reason is the second wave of COVID-19 infections that the European nation is experiencing. However, that is not the only social problem that currently occupies the president’s attention.
The protests against Macron — for insisting that publishing cartoons against the Prophet Muhammad is essential for freedom of expression — is spreading. There are international demonstrations, cyberattacks against French websites and warnings that the president’s response is “reckless”.
Muslims in France, and elsewhere, are furious at “the government’s harsh crackdown on their communities”. This, as a result of the murder on October 6 of the high school teacher Samuel Paty.
The Guardian newspaper reports that Paty taught history and geography in a school in a quiet suburb of Paris. In class, he presented a copy of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine five years ago.
Obviously, he was unaware of the tragic consequences that this would have for his life, in the French society, and in Paris’s relations with the Islamic world. Ten days later, Paty was killed, allegedly by a Russian-born teenager of Chechen origin. The president immediately replied that France would not “give up doing cartoons”.
French Interior Minister Gérard Darmanin has overseen raids against Islamic organizations and individuals in recent days. He even defended the police actions and insisted that France seeks to end extremism.
“We seek to fight an ideology, not a religion. The vast majority of French Muslims are well aware that they are the first to be affected by the ideological drift of radical Islam”, he told the media.
The world reaction against Macron
Macron has since been described as mentally ill by his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to condemn the incitement to Islamophobia. From Syria to Saudi Arabia, French products are being boycotted. Thus, France became an “axis of evil”.
For its part, Iran summoned a French diplomat to inform him that the president’s response to the assassination was “reckless”. Likewise, Tehran accuses Paris of fomenting hatred against Islam, under the guise of freedom of expression.
A powerful association of clerics in the Iranian city of Qom urged Tehran to call on Islamic nations to impose political and economic sanctions on France. A hardline Iranian newspaper described the French president as the “devil”. portraying him as Satan in a cartoon on its front page.
The Saudi State press agency, quoted an anonymous official from the Foreign Ministry. This ‘ anonymous’ official would have commented that the Kingdom must “reject any attempt to link Islam with terrorism, and denounce the cartoons”.
In Bangladesh, some 40,000 people took part in a demonstration against France in the capital Dhaka. There, they burned an effigy of Macron and called for a boycott of French products. There were also calls for the government to expel the French ambassador from the country. Otherwise they threaten to demolish the building of the French embassy.
Meanwhile, the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo risked inflaming tensions with Turkey. On the most recent cover of his online edition, he posted a mocking cartoon of Turkish President Erdogan.
What happened in France after the crime
Paty’s alleged murderer is Abdoullakh Anzorov (18), a Chechen citizen who has lived in France since he was six years old. Following the crime, French police raided the residences of dozens of suspected Islamist groups and individuals accused of extremism.
Minister Darmanin stated that the raids, authorized by a judge, were aimed at “sending a message”. He even assured to the Libération media that in the operations they found “weapons and videos of beheadings”.
Likewise, the official announced his intention to dissolve high-profile Muslim organizations. These include the Collective for the Fight against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a humanitarian organization that carries out projects in Togo, Southeast Asia and Pakistan.
Darmanin said the CCIF was implicated in Paty’s murder, as an alleged video posted on Facebook implicated it. “It is an Islamist group that does not condemn the attacks (…) that have invited radical Islamists. It is an agency against the Republic. It considers that there is State Islamophobia while it receives subsidies from the French State”, he said.
Following the murder, police sources told the media that the authorities were prepared to deport 213 foreigners. All were included on a government watch list for allegedly having extreme religious beliefs.
On Tuesday, Le Figaro reported that Islamic hackers took over several French websites. “Those who mistreat the messenger of Allah must be punished”, read one alleged message.
Similar attacks, described by French officials as a “cyberjihad”, occurred after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. On that occasion, the attack on the magazine left 12 people dead.
Macron’s next steps
The French president does not retract his controversial statements. On the contrary, he called on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to urge him to redouble efforts and cooperation against terrorism. This he did with the Chechen origins of Paty’s alleged killer in mind.
This is not a fight that Macron will be likely to give up soon. At national level, he faces the first round of presidential elections in April 2022.
His challenge will come from the right, be it the center-right Les Républicains or the far-right Marine Le Pen. With the latter he is side by side in the polls, although his net disapproval rate as president is -24%.
The Guardian exposes that being tough on Islamist separatism and paying a price globally doesn’t hurt the wavering right wing. Macron is committed to keeping the stakes high, for others to recognize that “they cannot remain neutral”.
Previously, Macron addressed the Islamist extremism debate in his Oct. 2 speech on secularism. That time, he tried to clarify how to integrate Islam and French secularism, with several proposals to regulate imams and mosques.
“Islam is a religion that is experiencing a crisis throughout the world”, he said. The president was referring to Islamic State jihadism and also Wahhabism, Saudi extremist ideology and Salafism. “We do not believe in a political Islam that is not compatible with stability and peace in the world”.
In addition, it had passages of balance on the State as guarantor of freedom of religion, economic deprivation and the French colonial legacy. His speech found many complaints abroad, especially in Turkey, as half of the imams in France are Turkish.
Turkey’s role in the conflict
Turkey is present in a series of disputes with France. These conflicts — over Syria, Libya, NATO, gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, and Armenia — each have their own context and details.
- In Syria, Macron opposes Turkish attacks on the Kurdish YPG militia, allies of France in the war against the Islamic State.
- In Libya, Macron rejects Islamist influence in the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. It also condemned Ankara’s assistance to the GNA.
- In NATO, Macron warns that the alliance could suffer “brain death” because of Turkey. He accuses Erdogan of being ambivalent about defending Western values.
- In the Mediterranean, he equates Greek interests with those of Europe, leaving Germany to mediate. Thus, he is increasingly siding with Armenia.
Amid the conflict, Paris hopes Erdoğan will give in to pressure. Currently, the Turkish lira is at a new low and there are few fronts on which the president of that country can fight.
Still, Erdogan draws his own strength from Macron’s condemnations in the Arab world. Even this Monday, he explicitly joined the call for a boycott of French products. “It becomes increasingly difficult to be Muslim and to live an Islamic lifestyle in Western countries”, emphasized the Turkish leader. It will dawn and we will see.
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