France: President Macron says he understands the shock of Muslims at the prophet’s caricatures

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French President Emmanuel Macron has said he can understand Muslims being shocked by the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but can never accept that they are used to justify violence.The French leader spoke to Al Jazeera in an interview published on Saturday in which he sought to clarify his position on Islam and defuse tensions that erupted following the murder of a teacher who showed cartoons of Muhammad to his students.

“I understand and respect the fact that we may be shocked by these cartoons. I will never accept that we can justify physical violence for these cartoons and I will always defend in my country the freedom to say, to write, to think, to draw, ”Macron said.

He stressed that the French press is free to publish what it wants and that what is broadcast is therefore not the official position of the government.

“But does the president think this right should be removed? The answer is no because it is the right of the French people. ”

He also accused some of spreading “lies and distortions” about what he said in recent days.

Last month, Macron said in a speech that “Islam is in crisis” and unveiled new measures to fight radical Islamism on French soil.

He doubled down on his words following the beheading of Samuel Paty on October 16. The history-geography teacher was killed after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free speech.

Macron’s remarks sparked anti-French protests in Muslim-majority countries and a boycott of French products.

Three attacks have since taken place, including a deadly knife attack on a church in Nice.

“I have seen too many people in recent days saying unacceptable things about France, corroborating all the lies about us, about what I had said and being unspoken accomplices at worst,” he told Al Jazeera.

France, he said, does not fight Islam but radical Islamism.

“Today, in the name of Islam and by distorting this religion, violent extremists are doing the worst,” he added.

He noted that the overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism over the past four decades have been Muslims and argued that the recently unveiled measures were also aimed at protecting French citizens of the Muslim faith.

Measures to curb radical Islamism include ending a system allowing imams to train abroad, more transparency in religious funding and new requirements for home schooling.

“Everywhere in recent weeks in the Muslim world, we have tried to aggregate the two, by distorting my words, by telling lies, by saying that the President of the French Republic and therefore France, they have a problem with the Islam. No, we have no problem with Islam. None, ”he said.

Watch a video report in the player above.

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