People carry banners and chant slogans against the cartoon publications of Prophet Mohammad in France and French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments, during a rally to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammad, in Karachi, Pakistan October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Protests grew in the Middle East and South Asia on Friday as tens of thousands expressed anger over the French government’s call for the “reform” of Islam. The protests began in response to French President Emmanual Macron’s statements at a memorial service on October 21 after the killing of a French school teacher, as well as his statements on Thursday following killings in a French church. 

French school teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded two weeks ago, days after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. Macron described Paty as a “quiet hero” and promised to clamp down  Islamist activity. Paty’s suspected killer, Abdullah Anzorov, was shot dead by police after the attack. Prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said among seven people face potential charges of association with criminal terrorists and complicity in a terrorist assassination.

A week after the memorial for Paty, a man used a knife to attack people at the Notre Dame Basilica, killing three people and injuring several others. The suspect was arrested, according to Mayor Christian Estrosi. “We will not give any ground,” Macron said. He added that France was attacked “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief.”

Protests have since taken place in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries where Islam is the prominent religion. Kuwait and Qatar removed French products from store shelves. Macron’s portrait was burned or trampled in Turkey and Libya. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, demonstrators carried signs reading: “Stop Religious Defamation,” “Freedom of Speech is not Freedom to Abuse,” and “Boycott French Products.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Macron should undergo “some sort of mental health treatment” and joined calls for a boycott of French goods. France’s ambassador to Turkey was then recalled from Ankara.

In the days after Paty’s killing, Muslims in France expressed fear that the tragic death was being weaponized to conflate Islam with terrorism. “Muslims are being targeted,” Yasser Louati, a French Muslim activist, told Al Jazeera. He added that he believed Macron was using Islamophobia to power his campaign.

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, a political initiative established in 2005 to address the polarization between societies and cultures, issued “A Call for Mutual Respect.” In it, officials emphasized the importance of upholding freedom of religion or belief and added that addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting free speech. The statement added that all major world religions “espouse tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a spirit of shared humanity.”

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Pakistan’s Imran Khan urges Muslim unity against Islamophobia – Al Jazeera – 10/29/2020
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has written to the leaders of Muslim-majority countries, asking them “to act collectively to counter growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states”, his office has said. Khan issued the letter on Wednesday, according to a statement, but it was unclear exactly which state leaders it had been sent to.

Macron declares France ‘under attack’ after church beheading, bolsters security at schools, religious sites – Fox News – 10/29/2020
French President Emmanuel Macron bolstered security in schools and religious sites Thursday after three churchgoers were killed, including one woman reportedly decapitated, in a knife attack in the southern city of Nice, saying that “France is under attack.” Macron’s announcement to increase deployments from around 3,000 currently to 7,000 soldiers to schools and religious sites around the country came hours after the attack that left two women and a man dead and several others wounded at the Notre Dame basilica. 

France Rattled By Gruesome Terror Attacks and Second COVID Lockdown – The Daily Beast – 10/30/2020
As the country vows to crack down on terrorism, it is left grappling with how to deal with radical Islam without alienating its Muslim population. The attack in Nice has also incited worry among the country’s Muslims, who fear such acts stigmatize them and sow division. Moreover, Macron’s recent campaign against what he terms Islamic “separatism,” and the hardline comments by some members of his government—Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called Muslim extremism “the enemy within”—have left many Muslims feeling as though their faith, not the jihadists, is being targeted.

Instagram Blocks Iranian Leader’s French Language Page Over Holocaust Denial – Washington Free Beacon – 10/30/2020
Instagram blocked the French-language page of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Friday after he published an open letter to French youths promoting Holocaust denial, according to reports in Iran’s state-controlled media. “Why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust?” Khamenei wrote in his Wednesday post. “Why should anyone who writes about such doubts be imprisoned while insulting the [Islamic] Prophet is allowed?”

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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