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Muslim Anger Aimed At France Grows Over Cartoon Row


French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects at the coffin of slain teacher Samuel Paty at a memorial event in Paris on October 21.

France faces a growing backlash over images being displayed in the country of the Prophet Muhammad, which some Muslims consider blasphemous.

Pakistan complained on October 26 about an alleged "Islamophobic campaign" in the European country, while Iranian officials accused Paris of fueling "extremism," and Turkey's president called on his compatriots to boycott French products.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador in Islamabad over French President Emmanuel Macron's reaction to the beheading of a school teacher last week by an Islamist militant who was avenging the use of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression.

Since the killing of the teacher, the caricatures have been projected onto the facade of a building in one French city and people displayed them at protests around the country. Macron, meanwhile, said he would redouble efforts to stop conservative Islamic beliefs subverting French values.

The French envoy in Islamabad was informed of "Pakistan's concerns over [the] systematic Islamophobic campaign under the garb of freedom of expression,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri told AFP.

History teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on October 17 by an ethnic Chechen born in Russia because the teacher had shown pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a civics lesson on freedom of speech.

The cartoons had initially appeared years ago in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris editorial office was attacked in 2015 by gunmen who killed 12 people.

Calls to stop buying French products and protest rallies gained momentum in some Muslim-majority countries in response to Macron's support for the caricatures and pledge to defend secularism against radical Islam.

“We will not give in, ever. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate,” the French president tweeted on October 25.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Macron of "attacking Islam” and wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to put a ban on Islamophobic content.

Referring to a recent decision by Facebook to ban any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, Khan called for a similar policy to be put in place for “Islamophobia and hate against Islam.”

Facebook already has a policy of removing hate speech on its platforms.

In Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that "insulting” Muslims and their sanctities “for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech. It only fuels extremism.”

The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, the parliament speaker, the adviser to the supreme leader on foreign policy, and other top Iranian officials also joined the chorus of those condemning the French president.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks to boycott French goods amid a deterioration of relations between the two NATO allies.

"As it has been said in France, 'don't buy Turkish-labeled goods,' I call on my people here. Never give credit to French-labeled goods, don't buy them," he said during a televised speech in Ankara.

Two days earlier, Erdogan called for Macron to undergo mental checks, which led to Paris recalling its ambassador to Ankara. He made similar comments the next day and again on October 26.

Turkey and France have been at odds over issues including Syria and Libya, maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean, and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Boycotts of French goods are under way in supermarkets in Qatar and Kuwait, with further calls to spurn French products in Jordan and other states. Hashtags in Arabic on Twitter calling for French boycotts were trending.

France's Foreign Ministry said the criticism of France was being driven by a radical minority and urged governments to dissociate themselves from boycott calls.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) said Muslims are "not persecuted" in France, which it described as "a great country."

Muslim citizens in France "freely construct their mosques and they freely practice their religion," said the council, which acts as an official go-between for the state and observant Muslims.

With reporting by Reuters, the BBC, and AFP
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