French-Arab relations under strain following murder

Following the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, many people took to the streets in solidarity with the victims and France's long history of freedom of expression. Source: Olivier Ortelpa (Via Wikimedia Commons)
French President, Emmanuel Macron, has been criticised by various Arab leaders for comments made about Islam and secularism in France. Many Muslim countries are now boycotting French products.

By George Gourlay | Contributor

Last week, the world watched in familiar horror at the murder of teacher, Samuel Paty, by an Islamic extremist in the middle of a suburban street outside Paris. The assailant, who targeted the teacher for showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad (considered deeply offensive to the Islamic faith) to his class, was killed by French police at the scene of the attack.

The crime echoed the 2015 terrorist attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine after they printed an image of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover of an issue.

France, a famously secular country, is now developing a reputation for these types of incidents and the reaction of President Emmanuel Macron is garnering criticism not only from the 6 million Muslims who call France home but also leaders of countries in the Middle East and Muslims around the world.

The president’s defence of France’s policy of laïcité (secularism) has not been out of the ordinary in keeping with French values, the policy was adopted in 1905.

However, many have criticised a recent statement he made in which he claimed, “Islam is a religion in crisis”, as well as a tweet shared after the incident in Paris stating, “[France] will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”

Macron’s words have translated into widespread criticism from Muslims around the world as well as creating new diplomatic tension between France and Arab nations such as Turkey. Despite the two being NATO allies, relations have been strained following remarks made by Turkish President Erdogan in which he claimed his French counterpart “needs some sort of mental treatment.” In response, France has recalled their ambassador to Turkey and rebuked the comments as “unacceptable.”

Many others, including the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, have accused Macron of alienating France’s Muslim population and spreading a rhetoric of Islamophobia. In a scathing tweet, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, noted his disapproval of Macron’s comments:

The situation has developed with many countries adopting a boycott of French products. In Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar, French goods are being stripped off the shelves in protest. Kuwait’s Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies stated that the move was a response to France’s “repeated insults” to the Prophet Muhammad. France has responded calling the boycott “baseless” and perpetuated by “a radical minority.”

Seven people, including two students, have been charged with the murder of Samuel Paty. The incident has only strengthened Macron’s resolve to bring in tougher laws against what he has called “Islamist separatism” within France.

The people of France appear to be on Macron’s side of the secularity debate, the census being that the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad were in tune with the country’s freedom of expression. Many took to the streets following the attack on Samuel Paty with signs reading “Je Suis Samuel” (in reference to the “Je Suis Charlie” movement in 2015). As of now, a serious international disagreement could be on the horizon.

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