Leaders and groups across Muslim world join debate as protests erupt, while Europe stands by Macron and criticises Turkey.
The backlash over French President Emmanuel Macron’s critique of Islam has intensified after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned his counterpart’s mental health, while Muslims in several countries are demanding a boycott of France.
Marking his second sharp criticism against Macron in two days, Erdogan said on Sunday that the French president had “lost his mind”, prompting France’s foreign minister to recall the country’s ambassador in Ankara.
The French debate on Islam was deepened after the beheading of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad – previously published by a satirical magazine – in a class on freedom of expression. Muslims believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.
On Friday, the cartoons were projected onto government buildings in France. Earlier this month, Macron described Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide and vowed to present a bill in December to strengthen a law that officially separated church and state in France.
Since Friday, social media has been awash with criticism of Macron in countries from west to east, including the UK, Kuwait, Qatar, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The social media campaign has led to several Arab trade associations to announce their boycotts of French products.
The spat has drawn in world leaders as people in Muslim-majority countries organise street protests.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter: “Muslims are the primary victims of the ‘cult of hatred’ – empowered by colonial regimes & exported by their own clients. Insulting 1.9B Muslims- & their sanctities – for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech. It only fuels extremism.”
Pakistan‘s Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned the French ambassador in Islamabad to complain about Macron’s comments.
“The seeds of hate that are being cultivated today will polarise the society and have serious consequences,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a statement.
The move comes a day after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote a letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg seeking a ban on Islamophobic content, similar to the website’s measures against Holocaust deniers.
Qureshi said Pakistan had urged the United Nations “to take notice and action against the hate-based narrative against Islam.”
Demonstrators held protests Sunday in regions of war-torn Syria still outside government control during which they burned pictures of Macron, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
About 70 people protested in Libya‘s capital Tripoli, an AFP correspondent said. Some set fire to French flags and stamped on pictures of the French president.
“As Muslims, it’s our duty to respect all the prophets, so we expect the same from all other religions,” housewife Fatima Mahmud, 56, said ahead of the Tripoli protest. “Demonising Islam and Muslims isn’t going to keep the social peace in France.”
In Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians burned portraits of Macron, calling his remarks “an attack and an insult against Islam”.
“We condemn the comments of the French president… and whoever offends the Prophet Mohammed, whether through words, actions, gestures or drawings,” said Maher al-Huli, a leader of the Palestinian Hamas group.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah condemned the “deliberate insult” to the Prophet.
Rabaa Allah, a pro-Iran faction in Iraq, said in a statement that one and a half billion people worldwide had in effect been insulted, and warned that its men were “ready to respond when and where they want”.
Morocco‘s foreign ministry also “vigorously” condemned the continued publication of the caricatures, in a statement carried by the official MAP news agency.
Jordan‘s Islamic Affairs Minister Mohammed al-Khalayleh said that “insulting” prophets was “not an issue of personal freedom but a crime that encourages violence.”
Meanwhile, Jean-Luc Melanchon, head of France’s left-wing Unbowed France party and a member of parliament, also attacked Macron.
“Macron has totally lost control of the situation. By Erdogan’s statements, France is demeaned, humiliated and ridiculed. What is Macron’s strategy? What does he plan to do besides tweet?”
But the French president found support with some leaders of the European community.
On Sunday the European Union’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said Erdogan’s words were “unacceptable” and called on Turkey to stop “this dangerous spiral of confrontation”.
Also responding to the remarks, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said on Twitter: “Sorry to disappoint you but this is our way of life as defined in our Treaty. The European Way of Life”, as he added a screenshot of a treaty article defining fundamental EU values.
“Actually, this is your way of life now,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Fahrettin Altun snapped back, posting on Twitter a link suggesting Frontex, the EU agency tasked with border control, has been complicit in illegally pushing back refugees.
The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, also said on Sunday that “hate speech targeting France by the Turkish leadership is unacceptable, fuels religious hatred”.