French President Emmanuel Macron said he understands the sentiments of the Muslims over Prophet Muhammed’s cartoons and said his defense is not against any religion but protection of rights.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian media and broadcaster Al Jazeera, published Saturday, the French President tried to address the growing rift between France and the Muslim world, over a caricature of Prophet Mohammed by a satirical newspaper.
“I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now, it’s to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these rights,” Macron said.
A school teacher was beheaded outside the campus after he showed a caricature of Prophet Mohammed in a history class to explain freedom of expression.
The open portrayal of the Prophet is considered blasphemous to orthodox Islam, and France protested by flashing the same cartoons shown by Patty on government buildings, which irked the Muslim community, globally.
Addressing the widening spat between France and the Muslim world, Macron condemned the political leaders’ invocations as ‘distortions’ who lead people to believe that the cartoon was a creation of the French state.
He said, ‘I think that the reaction (over the cartoon) came as a result of lies and distortions of my words,” which he says were made to appear as if he supported the cartoons.
Freedom of expression is deeply intertwined with the French national identity and is “one of the most precious rights of man,” which is guaranteed by the French constitution.
But the secular ideals of the government come in the way of suppressing one channelisation of freedom of expression from another.
After the October 16 Samuel Paty beheading attack, President Macron said France will not give up its right to make cartoons and crackdown on radical Islams.
These comments were perceived by the Muslim world as the nation’s collective animosity toward Islam, which Macron sought to differentiate in the Al Jazeera interview.
“The caricatures are not a governmental project, but emerged from free and independent newspapers that are not affiliated with the government,” he added.
The caricatures Macron was referring to was a recent republication from the 2015 cartoons that made the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo victim of a deadly jihadist attack in their Paris office.
Prior to the October 16 attacks, Macron defended the right to blaspheme under the freedom of speech rights in September.
And in October before the re-launch of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, he said Islam is a religion ‘in crisis,’ and that the radical community is promoting separatism from others, prompting a backlash from Muslims all over the world.
In the recent interview Macron addressed what he meant when he connected separatism with Islam: “there are groups, which I call them violent extremists, who act in the name of Islam, and by hijacking religion, who teach, explain within the framework of associations, using all the freedoms and rights that the Republic offers, that our country offers.
“They teach that we must not respect France, that we must not respect our law, that we must somehow get out of our laws. They teach women are not equal to men. They teach little girls should not have the same rights as little boys. Not our values!
“And so I’ll never, never, accept an association, even if it would be in the name of a religion, that would promote these rights, in any case, one that would say, a little girl is not an equivalent of a little boy,” Macron said, winning many plaudits on social media.
Emmanuel Macron’s interview came at a time when Muslims all over the world are protesting in tens of thousands of numbers in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and even India.
France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, and Macron has time and again reiterated that people of every religion live harmoniously in France.
France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said: “We are at war against an ideology, Islamist ideology,” after the send attack in the city of Nice.
Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara opined: “I think the damage is done. But I’m not sure it needs to continue to escalate, because at the end of the day … there is no winner,” he said about the growing tensions between France and the Muslim world.
“No one is a winner, and if there are any losers, it will be a lot of the Muslims in Europe.”
After two attacks back to back over the controversial cartoon, an Orthodox church priest was shot in the French city of Lyon while he was closing the church in the afternoon. The attack is on the run.