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Wednesday 5 October 2022

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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
Pakistanis attend a peace rally in Lahore on February 2019 to protest against the escalating tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.

The United States is urging countries that have ratified a UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons to withdraw their support as the pact nears the 50 ratifications needed to trigger its entry into force, which supporters say could happen this week.

The U.S. letter to signatories, obtained by The Associated Press, says the five original nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France -- and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty.

It says the treaty “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous” to the half-century-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts.

“Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession,” the letter says.

The treaty requires that all ratifying countries “never under any circumstances ... develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also bans any transfer or use of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices -- and the threat to use such weapons -- and requires parties to promote the treaty to other countries.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition whose work helped spearhead the nuclear ban treaty, told The Associated Press on October 20 that several diplomatic sources confirmed that they and other states that ratified the TPNW had been sent letters by the United States requesting their withdrawal.

She said the “increasing nervousness, and maybe straightforward panic, with some of the nuclear-armed states and particularly the Trump administration” shows that they “really seem to understand that this is a reality: Nuclear weapons are going to be banned under international law soon.”

Fihn dismissed the nuclear powers’ claim that the treaty interferes with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as “straightforward lies, to be frank.”

“They have no actual argument to back that up,” she said. “The Nonproliferation Treaty is about preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eliminating nuclear weapons, and this treaty implements that. There’s no way you can undermine the Nonproliferation Treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers. It requires non-nuclear signatory nations to not pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee non-nuclear states’ access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the nuclear weapons ban treaty “a very welcome initiative."

“It is clear for me that we will only be entirely safe in relation to nuclear weapons the day where nuclear weapons no longer exist," he said in an interview on October 21 with AP. “We know that it’s not easy. We know that there are many obstacles."

He expressed hope that a number of important initiatives, including U.S.-Russia talks on renewing the New Start Treaty limiting deployed nuclear warheads, missiles, and bombers and next year's review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty “will all converge in the same direction, and the final objective must be to have a world with no nuclear weapons."

“That the Trump administration is pressuring countries to withdraw from a United Nations-backed disarmament treaty is an unprecedented action in international relations,” Fihn said. “That the U.S. goes so far as insisting countries violate their treaty obligations by not promoting the TPNW to other states shows how fearful they are of the treaty’s impact and growing support.”

The treaty was approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on July 7, 2017 by a vote of 122 in favor, the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining. Among countries voting in favor was Iran. The five nuclear powers and four other countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons -- India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel -- boycotted negotiations and the vote on the treaty, along with many of their allies.

The treaty currently has 47 ratifications and needs 50 ratifications to trigger its entry into force in 90 days.

Fihn said there are about 10 countries that are trying very hard to ratify to get to 50, “and we know that there are a few governments that are working toward Friday as the date. ... We’re not 100 percent it will happen, but hopefully it will.”

October 23 has been an unofficial target because it is the eve of United Nations Day, which marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter. The day has been observed since 1948 and this year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

Fihn stressed that the entry into force of the treaty will be “a really big deal” because it will become part of international law and will be raised in discussions on disarmament, war crimes, and weapons.

“And I think that over time pressure will grow on the nuclear-armed states to join the treaty,” she said.

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