French President Emmanuel Macron drew the ire of many Muslim countries recently, following his statement on Islamic terrorism. In countries like Pakistan, the mobs after Friday prayers became uncontrollable and turned violent so much so that the authorities had to deploy riot force to control the unruly mobs.
The leaders of the protesting nations lost no time in denouncing President Macron for what they call “disrespecting the Prophet and humiliating Islamic religion”. When Pakistani Prime Minister, the Turkish President, Malaysia’s ex-Prime Minister and other senior leaders orchestrated this allegation, their masses took the cue and staged huge demonstrations, pledging to protect their faith at the cost of their lives.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had earlier snubbed the French President over the Charlie Hebdo and its caricatures, went a step ahead by saying that President Macron should undergo a mental health checkup, after he announced a plan to reform Islam to make it compatible with French values.
In Islamabad, the National Assembly passed a resolution demanding the suspension of relations with France, boycott of French goods and withdrawal of Pakistani Ambassador from Paris (interestingly, no Pakistani Ambassador has been appointed to France).
In Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership issued a warning to take action, if France did not apologize. At many places, the effigies of the French President were burnt and photographs trampled under feet by rowdy crowds to express deep hatred against the French President.
In India, Muslim majority areas witnessed protests and demonstrations as well. Munawwar Rana, a poet in Lucknow and Farhan Zubair, President, Aligarh Students Union, in Aligarh, have been arrested by the police and FIRs have been lodged against them for spreading hatred. Farhan had said that anybody disrespecting the Prophet will be beheaded.
Surprisingly, no leader except the Saudi monarch drew the attention towards the actual words uttered by the French President and also the context in which he said it.
“France was faced with the threat from Islamist terrorists… we respect all the religion”, the French President, said, reiterating that his country upholds the freedom of speech and expression.
A look at Macron’s speech suggests that there was no derogatory remark either against Islamic faith or the Prophet of Islam as has been alleged by the protesting masses with surcharged emotions and their leaders. Macron never said France faces a threat from Islam, but from Islamic terrorists, which is a reality. It has now become proverbial with the political commentators to say that every Muslim is not a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim. That is precisely what Macron meant. He disparaged neither the Islamic religion nor was disrespectful of the Prophet.
It may be recalled that even Pakistan has, at various world forums, including at the United Nations, raised its concerns on Islamist terrorists and threats posed by religious extremists. Moreover, the Zarb-e-azab campaign against Islamic extremists in North Waziristan, resulting in the killing of more than 70,000 people, is also a case in point. In fact, at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Islamabad had announced that it has put curbs on the radicals on its soil and even banned their organizations. So, how was Macron wrong?
Talking of Charlie Hebdo and the caricatures, let us not forget that France is a democratic country, where freedom of expression is given utmost respect. Now, if the magazine Charlie Hebdo, drew a caricature that hurt the feelings of a section of people, the proper way to seek justice is to lodge a complaint with the police and take the case to the French judiciary. Nobody has a right to take the law into his hands. Unfortunately, the law was taken into hand by those who want to be known as Islamic radicals.
The large scale propaganda and tirade against President Macron and France appears to be part of a larger conspiracy of the terrorist elements among the French population. As far as protests in Islamic countries are concerned, each has its own motive. Turkey is nursing rivalry against France in the backdrop of trade and commerce in African countries, where France has a strong clout. Pakistan is upset with France over its friendly relationship with New Delhi, especially over the Rafale deal, which has boosted India’s air capability. Besides, the fact that France had supported New Delhi during the Sino-India standoff in Ladakh hasn’t gone well in the power corridors of Islamabad. The Charlie Hebdo episode provided Islamabad the opportunity to square off with Paris, who in turn indirectly instigated mob outburst against the French President.
Let us now take a look at the context of the protests. Islamic terrorists have been active in France. On January 7 2015, two Islamist gunmen forced their way into the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing 12 staff cartoonists. The gruesome attack surged the demand for the next issue of the news magazine, and no fewer than five million copies of Charlie Hebdo were published. The money collected from the issue was given to the victims. The French government also offered a sum of one million Euros help to the magazine. On September 25, 2020, weeks after the caricature republications, two people were critically injured by an assailant during a stabbing attack outside the magazine’s former headquarters. A day later, the perpetrator was identified as Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, a 25-year-old allegedly from Pakistan, who claimed to have arrived as an unaccompanied minor refugee in France in 2018. He confessed of his actions and said that he had acted in vengeance for the caricature republications. Recently, a French teacher showing the Hebdo caricature to students was beheaded by an 18-year old Chechen refugee Muslim carrying a knife.
These incidents pose a bigger debate on the right to freedom of expression and religious sensitivity. Remember, democracy is no democracy if it cannot ensure the right to freedom of expression. Millions of Muslims escaped their original countries and sought asylum in France just because they did not find the right of expression in their countries of origin. Today, France is suffering for its sin of generosity and humane treatment to the asylum seekers. Among all the countries in Europe, France has offered maximal largesse to the Muslim refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and illegal intruders from the Middle East and North African countries not imposing any restriction on them in regard to education and pursuit of an economic prospectus. French judiciary is known for its just and humane treatment and nobody is denied justice if he or she approaches the court of law instead of taking the law into their hands. France will protect and uphold its democratic traditions in any case and no power can derail the country from what it stands for. This great country has been the model of freedom and liberty for entire Europe and the world.