Comment made by French President Emmanuel Macron in connection with the brutal murder of French history teacher Samuel Paty by a radicalized teen has sparked a massive global debate. Over the last week, France has been facing massive backlash from countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.
It began when, on October 16, when an 18-year-old French citizen of Chechen origin beheaded a teacher who had shared caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in class. While shown in an academic context, the move had reportedly prompted outrage among some Muslim parents. The killer was subsequently shot dead by police.
Later, while eulogizing the teacher, Macron had said that France would not renounce its freedoms. The problem however is that while France considers religious satire to be permissible under the freedom of expression, many Muslims consider any perceived attack on their prophet a grave offense. As such the President's comments that Paty was "was killed because Islamists want our future", but that this would not make France give up their cartoons has drawn criticism from several other world leaders.
The president had also urged people to "free Islam in France from the foreign influence and strengthen control on the mosques' funding," and stressed that France would continue to defend freedom of expression and step up battle against radical Islam.
"In numerous countries of the Middle East, calls to boycott French products...and more generally, calls to demonstrate against France, in sometimes hateful terms, have been relayed on social media," the French Foreign Ministry said recently. But while folks with social media access continue tweeting about how France and its products should be blacklisted, there are far bigger ramifications that the escalating, potentially high-risk dispute bring with it.
In Turkey for example, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's comment's about Macron's mental state have prompted a furious back-and-forth, with Paris on Sunday recalling its ambassador from Turkey. As French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian put it in a press release, such conduct was "unacceptable, especially from an allied nation".
On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said that the French president disrespected millions of French Muslim citizens and "needed mental treatment." He added that "manifestation of hostility to Islam means hostility to Turkey." He followed this up, a day later, by opining that the French leader has "lost his way."
French authorities for their part have denounced Turkish "propaganda" against France that they said was aimed at fanning hate at home and abroad, and asked Sunday that calls to boycott French products cease immediately, saying such attacks were the work of a "radical minority."
Imran Khan-led Pakistan too has launched a scathing attack on France, as well as more overarching criticism that saw Islamophobia be likened to the Holocaust.
"It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists. Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, incl his own citizens," Khan had tweeted.
Almost at the same time, Khan also opted to write to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeking a ban on Islamophobic content similar to the prohibition put for the Holocaust on the social networking site.
Khan said that he appreciates Zuckerberg's step to "rightly ban any posting that criticises or questions the Holocaust, which was the culmination of the Nazi pogrom of the Jews in Germany and across Europe". He added that the world is witnessing a similar pogrom against Muslims.
"I would ask you to place a similar ban on Islamophobia and hate against Islam for Facebook that you have put in place for the Holocaust," he said.
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, headquartered in Saudi Arabia, had recently condemned the "ongoing practice of running satirical caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad" and "will continue to decry justification for blasphemy of any religion in the name of freedom of expression."
Unlike Turkey, the organization had earlier condemned the slaying of the French teacher.
While less vocal about their displeasure, other countries too have taken heed of the situation. Reportedly, some shops and supermarkets in Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar have now removed French products from their shelves and a major retail union in Kuwait has called for a boycott. At the same time, online sale of French products has also been affected in other countries including Saudi Arabia. Protests have also broken out in Libya, Syria and the Gaza Strip.
Macron for his part appears to have maintained his stance. "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," he tweeted on Sunday.
(With inputs from agencies)