Erdogan bows to Macron as France mourns victims of terrorism

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Seen from the Elysee Palace of President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, it is perverse and hurtful that the most visible foreign reaction to the brutal Islamist terrorist attacks on French soil has been the condemnation in Muslim countries not of the murders but of the response from France.

Seen from the capitals of some of these predominantly Muslim nations, on the other hand, it is perverse that Mr. Macron persists in defending absolute freedom of speech and the right to blaspheme the Prophet Muhammad.

In public and private, leaders and officials on both sides of the dispute this week said they were determined to hold on. Each side accused the other of exploiting an extremely inflammatory issue for domestic political purposes.

Political analysts conclude that the recent attacks in France – including the beheading of a schoolteacher by a Chechen refugee and the massacre of three people in a church in Nice by an illegal Tunisian immigrant – and the resulting French crackdown on Islamists have once again laid bare two irreconcilable worlds views.

At the end of another horrific week of terror in France, French and Turkish officials showed signs of a willingness to lower the temperature in a dispute that threatened to be economically damaging for both sides – but not before the protests anti-French street protests and calls for a boycott. broke out from the Middle East to Southeast Asia in countries like Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticisms of Mr. Macron have been echoed elsewhere in the Muslim world © AP

Protesters demanded an end to cartoons of the prophet at the center of the latest outbreak of violence and complained that France – which defends religious freedom and has the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe – is guilty of Islamophobia.

Mr. Erdogan, criticized by activists for his silence on the much more severe persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China, led the anti-French charge, calling for a boycott and insulting Mr. Macron just a month after the two men tried to defuse the tensions between them. during a long, apparently civilian phone call on September 22.

The Turkish president is already grappling with Mr Macron over their conflicting interests in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. The Islam argument has provided a leader who considers himself an Islamic world champion with a useful distraction from the woes of the Turkish economy and the lira, which has plunged to a succession of record lows against the dollar this week.

“Erdogan used this new line from Macron’s [against Islamists] very opportunistically, ”said Dorothée Schmid, Middle East expert at Ifri, the French institute for external relations. “For Erdogan, it is really a political question. . . He plays on the question of values.

Yet Emre Gonen, professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University, said the deep feelings of rejection and suffering in Turkey over the country’s unsuccessful attempts to join the EU meant standing up to Mr Macron was “almost a necessity” for the Turkish leader. “He couldn’t let him go,” he said.

As a sign of general disapproval of the French president’s remarks on radical Islamism, even the Republican People’s Party (CHP) founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the resolutely secular founding father of Turkey, inspired by French ” secularism– felt compelled to condemn what he called his “disrespectful and dangerous” comments on Islam.

However, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP, did not miss the opportunity to shoot Mr. Erdogan: he called on the Turkish president to lead the boycott of French products by burning the Hermès handbag of his woman.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, faced with opposition protests against his own government, welcomed the distraction of being able to accuse Macron of fomenting Islamophobia. In a rare display of unity, the ruling and opposition parties adopted a joint anti-French resolution.

Pakistanis, however, view Mr. Khan’s response as part of the usual policy of declaring devotion to Islam. There has been no visible drop in the number of motorists buying fuel or food from French companies Total and Carrefour.

In the Gulf, calls for a boycott have grown in popularity. Kuwaiti cooperatives, which account for up to 80% of grocery sales, have removed all French products from their shelves.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect the boycott to be so big, but it is multiplying here and in the Muslim world,” said Saoud Al-Farhan, a former government official.

French officials in Paris and the Gulf counter that the impact of boycotts has so far been modest. Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, president of the French employers’ federation of Medef, called on companies to resist “blackmail” and to privilege their principles over their company.

Anti-French protesters in the Iranian capital Tehran on Wednesday © Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

This robust employer response was characteristic of France’s broadly united response to the latest upsurge in terror. Muslim religious groups loyal to the state and Muslims of North African descent who attended protests paying homage to Paty were heavily weighted behind Mr Macron’s condemnations of terror and extremism.

French politicians from all walks of life condemned the attacks. At the Elysee Palace, there was anger over foreign interference in French affairs and the lack of appreciation in Ankara or Islamabad of the shock to France of having a beheaded teacher in the streets.

Mr. Macron was initially criticized by some critics in Belgium and abroad for having declared in a speech on Islamist “separatism” in France in early October that “Islam is a religion in crisis all over the world” – a press release considered by Mrs Schmid as a “clumsy” generalization.

But Paty’s subsequent beheading and the murder of the three in Nice overshadowed that discourse, unified France in outrage and made most of its citizens more determined than ever to defend their republican freedoms and their secular constitution.

Analysts do not foresee an imminent meeting of mind between Mr Macron and his Muslim critics on such an existential issue, but Turkish and French leaders acted on Thursday to ease growing tensions.

Turkey, which had angered France by delaying in sending condolences after Paty’s murder, quickly condemned the “savage attack” in Nice and expressed “its solidarity with the French people. . . against terror and violence ”.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, released what he called “a message of peace to the Muslim world” in a speech to the National Assembly, reaffirming French religious tolerance and urging people not to listen to manipulative voices that try to stir up anger.

Additional reporting by Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad and Simeon Kerr in Dubai

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