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Turkey calls for France boycott as Macron faces backlash over offensive cartoons

Turkish President Erdogan has called on Turks to boycott French goods in a televised speech as Muslim countries condemn President Macron’s defence of Prophet Muhammed caricatures amid large-scale demonstrations.

ISTANBUL—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a boycott of French goods, ramping up a standoff between France and Muslim countries over the Charlie Hebdo caricatures.

Erdogan has led the charge against President Emmanuel Macron over his defence of the right to mock religion following the beheading of a French schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of Prophet Muhammed in a class on secularism.

The Turkish leader added his voice to calls in the Muslim world for citizens to spurn French goods.

“Never give credit to French-labelled goods, don’t buy them,” Erdogan said during a televised speech in Ankara on Monday.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Monday denounced the “monstrous murder”, adding “nothing” could justify the murder of Samuel Paty on October 16 over the cartoon.

Depictions of prophets are strictly avoided in Islam.

The images of Prophet Muhammed were first published years ago by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose editorial offices were attacked by gunmen in 2015, killing 12 people.

However, Muslims say the Hebdo cartoons were produced with the deliberate intention of mocking their community as a whole. The cartoons were seen within the context of the French state’s terse relationship with the Muslim community, with successive French governments introducing laws that have targeted Muslims for practices such as choosing to eat halal food and women wearing hijabs.

Since the beheading of the teacher this month, the cartoons have been displayed in France in solidarity, angering many.

Freedom of Muslim speech

A French Muslim human rights group announced plans to expand its activities outside France amid concerns for its safety and recent controversial statements by officials on Islam.

“As an organisation, we no longer feel we can conduct our work in a safe environment, as our lives are threatened and the government designates us as an enemy,” said the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) in a statement.

The group said they had been targeted by hate messages, death threats and insults over the past week after the French government announced it wanted to dissolve the organisation as part of its crackdown against groups it perceives as a security threat.

“President Macron’s recent anti-Islam rhetoric is yet another example of a desperate European politician vying for relevance,” Turkey’s Communication Director Fahrettin Altun tweeted on Monday.

“His flailing attempt to assume leadership in Europe is driving his promotion of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and his attacks on our President Erdogan,” he added.

Altun stressed that Macron is discriminating against Muslims in France and in Europe while also doing this for a political purpose, “trying to instrumentalize fears and ignorance.”

“Macron is following the old Fascist playbook that targeted Jews in Europe in this manner,” he said.

Boycotts and protests

Around 10,000 people in Bangladesh rallied in the South Asian nation’s capital on Tuesday to protest Macron’s support of the caricatures as freedom of speech.

Protesters from the conservative Islami Andolon Bangladesh group, which supports the introduction of a blasphemy law in the Muslim-majority country, carried banners and placards reading: “All Muslims of the world, unite” and “Boycott France”.

It was the largest protest yet against the cartoons in recent days.

More protests are planned on Tuesday in the Jordanian capital Amman.

Iran summoned a senior French envoy, the charge d’affaires, in protest, the foreign ministry in Tehran said, also on Tuesday.

Florent Aydalot was summoned Monday “in protest against the French authorities’ insistence on supporting the publication of cartoons insulting the Prophet, peace be upon him,” the statement said.

“Any insult and disrespect toward the Prophet of Islam and Islamic values are strongly condemned,” it added.

Saudi Arabia joined in condemning the cartoons on Tuesday, but held back from echoing calls by other Muslim states for action.

“Freedom of expression and culture should be a beacon of respect, tolerance and peace that rejects practices and acts which generate hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to coexistence,” said the statement carried by state media.

In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour were trending on social media, though stores visited in Riyadh on Monday seemed busy as normal. A company representative in France said it had yet to feel any impact.

United Arab Emirates-based Majid Al Futtaim, which owns and operates Carrefour supermarkets across the Middle East, said the chain supported regional economies by sourcing most items from local suppliers and employing thousands of people.

“We understand that there is some concern among consumers across the region at present and we are monitoring the situation closely,” it said in a statement.

French goods have already been pulled from supermarket shelves in Qatar and Kuwait, among other Gulf states, whereas in Syria people have burned pictures of Macron and French flags have been torched in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Pakistan’s parliament passing a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris.

France’s largest employers’ federation on Monday urged companies to “resist the blackmail” over the boycott calls.

European support

The beheading of high-school teacher Paty by a Chechen extremist caused deep shock in France.

Paty had shown his pupils some of the Hebdo caricatures made in 2015 in a class on secularism and civics.

In France, such cartoons have become identified with a proud secular tradition dating back to the Revolution.

In the aftermath of Paty’s murder, Macron issued a passionate defence of free speech and France’s secular values, vowing that the country “will not give up cartoons”.

As the backlash over France’s reaction widened, European leaders rallied behind Macron.

“They are defamatory comments that are completely unacceptable, particularly against the backdrop of the horrific murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist fanatic,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

The prime ministers of Italy, the Netherlands and Greece also expressed support for France, as did European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

“President Erdogan’s words addressing President @EmmanuelMacron are unacceptable,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted, adding that the Netherlands stood “for the freedom of speech and against extremism and radicalism.”

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “Personal insults don’t help the positive agenda the EU wants to have with Turkey but pushes solutions further away.”

Muslims treated ‘like Jews’

Erdogan has compared the treatment of Muslims in Europe to that of Jews before World War II, saying they were the object of a “lynching campaign”.

“You are in a real sense fascists, you are in a real sense the links in the chain of Nazism,” he said on Monday.

“European leaders should tell the French president to stop his hate campaign” against Muslims, Erdogan added.

France has been targeted in a string of militant attacks that have killed over 250 people since 2015 and led to deep soul-searching over the perceived impact of Islam on the country’s core values.

Some of the attackers have cited the Muhammad cartoons as well as France’s ban on wearing the face veil in public among their motives.

Several suspected militants have been arrested in dozens of raids since Paty’s murder, and about 50 organisations have been earmarked for closure by the government, with many complaining the profiling was unjustified.

Earlier this month, Macron unveiled a plan to defend France’s secular values against a trend of “Islamist separatism”, and described Islam as a religion “in crisis”.

Macron’s stance has fuelled tensions with Turkey particularly. On Saturday, Paris announced it was recalling its envoy to Ankara after Erdogan questioned Macron’s sanity.

But the French leader has remained defiant, tweeting: “We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”

Macron has also drawn fire in other Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan and Morocco.

Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord also “firmly condemned” his comments, demanding an apology.

The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah have also spoken out against France.

(Courtesy: TRT World)

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