Outcry in Asian Muslim Countries over ‘Islamophobia’ in France

Jesmin Papri, Ray Sherman and Ahmad Syamsudin
Dhaka, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
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bd-my-protest-1000 Police block a procession of activists and supporters of Islami Andolon Bangladesh as they march toward the French Embassy in Dhaka, Oct. 27, 2020.
[Focus Bangla]

Close to 10,000 people rallied in Bangladesh’s capital Tuesday to call for a boycott of French goods, while a faith-based party in Malaysia and Indonesia's top Islamic scholarly body condemned "Islamophobia," amid growing anger across the Muslim world against France’s leader for defending cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

President Emmanuel Macron is facing a backlash for saying last week that France would “not give up cartoons,” in a speech in which he paid homage to a French teacher who was beheaded earlier this month for showing his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Many Muslims see visual depictions of the prophet as offensive. On Tuesday, protesters in Dhaka said the cartoons had caused great anguish, while Malaysia, without naming France, condemned acts that defame Islam, like the publication of depictions of the prophet. Macron’s comments defending these cartoons are insulting to Islam, Indonesia said.

“The publication of cartoons of the prophet in France, under the auspices of the state, has caused bloodshed in the hearts of Muslims all over the world. France needs to be taught a lesson with a boycott of its products across the world," Mufti Syed Rezaul Karim, president of Islami Andolon Bangladesh, said during a speech at the rally organized by the faith-based political party, which calls for Sharia rule in the Muslim-majority country.

Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded in a Paris suburb on Oct. 16 had shown his students some of the prophet‘s cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. The publication of the same cartoons in 2015 led to an attack by Islamic extremists that killed 12 people in and around the main offices of the French satirical magazine.

Last week, Paty’s portrait and cartoons were projected on buildings in two French cities as a tribute to the teacher.

Islami Andolon’s Karim urged Bangladesh’s government to pass a resolution condemning France for allowing the publication of caricatures of the prophet. He also demanded that Dhaka snap diplomatic ties with Paris.

BenarNews contacted Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen for comment. He declined to speak on the protests but urged calm.

“[W]e hope that no one will hurt anyone’s faith. Everyone should be patient in this matter,” Momen told BenarNews.

The French Embassy in Dhaka declined to comment about the protests.

Md. Shamsul Alam, chairman of the Islamic Studies department at Dhaka University, told BenarNews that France should be criticized, but peacefully.

“Bangladesh should condemn this act of France. We do not tolerate anyone insulting the messenger of Allah,” Alam told BenarNews.

“But we have to protest in a systematic and peaceful manner. The fact that Islam is a religion of peace must also be proven in the protests,” he said.

“The boycott call is a peaceful program. But it is not right to lay siege to the embassy or to suddenly cut off of diplomatic relations, because France is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a friend of Bangladesh.”

Malaysia: ‘Provocative and disrespectful’

Meanwhile, Malaysia on Tuesday said it was “gravely concerned” about what it believes are the growing and open hostilities towards Muslims in the name of support for free speech.

“Malaysia is committed to upholding the freedom of speech and expression as fundamental human rights for as long as these rights are exercised with respect and responsibility in order to not infringe on or violate the rights of others,” Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement.

“In this context, to denigrate and tarnish Islam’s Holy Prophet and to associate Islam with terrorism are certainly beyond the scope of such rights. Such an act is provocative and disrespectful towards Islam and more than two billion Muslims all over the world.”

The statement didn’t once mention France but a ministerial aide told BenarNews that the minister was referring to current goings-on in France.

Last Wednesday, Macron said the 47-year-old French teacher, who was killed by an 18-year-old boy of Chechen origin, was slain by “cowards,” because he represented the secular, democratic values of the French Republic.

“Samuel Paty became … the face of the Republic, of our will to shatter terrorists, to reduce Islamists, to live like a community of free citizens in our country,” Macron said at a ceremony held at Sorbonne University in Paris to honor Paty, according to a transcript.

At this ceremony, Paty was also posthumously granted France’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur.

Malaysia’s Pan Islamic Party (PAS), which is a part of the ruling coalition, on Tuesday sent a memorandum of protest against Islamophobia to the French embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

At a press conference in front of the French Embassy, the party's vice-president, Idris Ahmad, said the memorandum demanded that France withdraw the posthumous honor given to Paty, suspend the publication license of Charlie Hebdo, and ban the magazine “for insulting” the prophet.

“People who are civilized and have moral values can never accept insults against any religions. What is happening in France is shameful. It is not proper for a highly developed country to behave this way,” Idris said.

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Malaysian opposition, also criticized Macron.

“With freedom comes responsibility, a responsibility notably absent from the rabblerousing smears essayed by Monsieur le President,” he said.

But Anwar, at the same time, criticized Muslim zealots for praising the killing of the French schoolteacher.

“There is no defense for the violence and murders of the men of blood, the misguided homicidal monsters who pervert Islam,” he said. “[I] mourn for Mr. Samuel Paty as for all the victims of such depredations.”

PAS vice president Idris Ahmad speaks to the media in front of the Integrate Tower in Kuala Lumpur, where the French Embassy is located, Oct. 27, 2020.
PAS vice president Idris Ahmad speaks to the media in front of the Integrate Tower in Kuala Lumpur, where the French Embassy is located, Oct. 27, 2020.

French envoy summoned

In Jakarta, Indonesia’s foreign ministry summoned French Ambassador Olivier Chambard to voice its concerns about the situation in France, spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews.

“We conveyed our condemnation of the French president’s remarks that were insulting to Islam,” Teuku said.

Macron is stoking Islamophobia by allowing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to be published, said Muhyiddin Junaidi, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), on Monday.

“The MUI believes that Macron is indirectly supporting the Islamophobic movement,” Muhyiddin said, according to state news agency Antara News.

Similarly, the Muslim Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) condemned Macron’s “attack” on Islam and the Muslim community.

“We urge the foreign ministry to remind French authorities not to engage in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric to appeal to Islamophobes,” said Toriq Hidayat, a PKS legislator, in a statement on the party’s website.


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