Some wore portraits of French President Emmanuel Macron with an “X” across his face. One of them wore a cutout image of Macron with shoes around his neck as an insult.
The demonstrations follow a horrific beheading near Paris of a French teacher showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The 18-year-old Chechen refugee who carried out the attack was then shot dead by police.
The teacher, Samuel Paty, has been presented as a symbol of France’s secular ideals and its rejection of religious intrusion into public spheres. Macron and members of his government have pledged to continue supporting these cartoons protected by freedom of expression.
Muslim politicians, religious scholars and ordinary people have condemned these representations as a form of hate speech and consider them sacrilegious and insulting to Islam. Muslims have called for both protests and a boycott of French products in response to France’s stance on the cartoons of Islam’s most revered prophet.
Five years ago, French-born al Qaeda extremists killed 12 employees of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in response to its publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. These cartoons have also sparked mass protests in Muslim-majority countries, with some turning fatal.
Elsewhere, Iran has summoned a French diplomat to protest France’s stance on the cartoons. A state television report on Tuesday said that an Iranian official told the French diplomat that Paris’ response to Paty’s murder was “reckless” and that France allowed hatred against Islam under the guise of support freedom of expression.
A powerful association of clerics in the Iranian city of Qom also urged the government to condemn Macron. The hard-line Iranian newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz portrayed Macron as the devil and called him Satan in a front-page cartoon on Tuesday.
Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution condemning the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Events in several countries
In Saudi Arabia, the state-run Saudi news agency released a foreign ministry statement on Tuesday saying the kingdom “rejects any attempt to link Islam and terrorism, and denounces the offensive caricatures of the prophet.” Saudi clerics also condemned the cartoons, but also cited the prophet’s “mercy, justice, tolerance”. Another prominent sheikh called on Muslims not to overreact.
The Arab Gulf State of Qatar also condemned what it described as “the dramatic escalation of populist rhetoric” inciting religious abuse. In a statement, the government said the inflammatory rhetoric fueled calls for the repeated targeting of nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world through the willful offense of the Prophet Muhammad and led to an increase in hostility towards Muslims.
Bangladeshi protesters gathered outside the main Baitul Mokarram Mosque in downtown Dhaka on Tuesday morning. The group headed for the French embassy, but police intercepted the march, which ended without violence.
There have also been recent protests in Iraq, Turkey, Gaza, and opposition areas in northwestern Syria controlled by Turkish-backed rebels.
Rezaul Karim, the leader of the Islami Andolon group in Bangladesh, called on France to refrain from displaying caricatures of the prophet.
“We Muslims have never made caricatures of other religious leaders,” he said.
“Allah sent the Prophet Muhammad as an ambassador for peace … Macron and his associates learned nothing from history,” he added, before calling on Muslims to boycott French products.
Karim also said Macron should be treated for his “mental illness”, remarks similar to those made days earlier by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was most vehement in his criticism among political leaders saying that Macron needed a head exam and had lost his. way. France has since recalled its ambassador to Turkey and other European nations have defended Macron.
Bangladesh’s leadership, however, has not criticized France, as have Turkey, Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries. Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million mostly Muslim inhabitants, is governed by a secular constitution.
In the Middle East, Kuwaiti stores have removed French yogurts, cheese and sparkling water bottles from their shelves, the University of Qatar has canceled a week of French culture and calls to stay away from French grocery chain Carrefour were all the rage on social media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.