OPINION

FRANCE, ISLAM AND BLASPHAMY: HOW SHOULD MUSLIMS RESPOND?

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Muzamil Manzoor and Vakeel Ahmad

What sparked the controversy across the world was the incident that happened on October 16, in which an 18-year-old Chechen refugee beheaded a school history teacher namely Samuel Paty in France, days after he had shown caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to his students. The same caricatures had inspired the 2015 deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in which 12 persons were killed.

President Macron’s controversial statements

Days before history teacher’s killing, French President Emmanuel Macron had supported the caricatures drawn by Paty by calling the attempt as ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘right of blasphemy’. He had made a controversial speech in which he out rightly declared “Islam, a religion that is in crises all over the world today. “We will continue: we will defend the freedom of expression, not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others back down,” he had said. He spoke about ‘Islamist separatism’ and called ‘Muslim society’ a parallel order whose final goal is to take control over France, its culture, traditional values and secularism. He had said that his government is also planning to introduce a bill to combat ‘Islamist separatism’. He further said that ‘Islamists’ have created a ‘parallel culture’ in France that rejects French values, culture and laws. As Muslim positions in France are hardening, he termed ‘Islam’ a religion influenced by radical temptations that aims to the destruction of the ‘other’.

How the world reacted

Soon after the controversial statement, there were mass condemnations especially from the Muslim world where Turkey led the charge, with President Erdogan saying “Macron needs a mental health check” and accused him of running an anti-Islam agenda.

It is pertinent to mention here that Turkey has long standing rows with France and Macron over gas reserves of Cyprus, over Nagarno Karabakh and over the wars in Libya and Syria. Speaking of which, Erdogan exploited the opportunity for his political gains and tried to prove himself a savior and mass leader of Muslims.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad made a knee-jerk reaction as he tweeted: “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” He has a history in making such irresponsible and provocative statements just to seek attention of the world, especially the Muslims.

The nations which condemned the controversial statement, as well as, caricatures included Saudi-Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan. Protests were held, effigies of Macron were burned and French goods were removed from the markets.

Interestingly, many nations came out in support of France and India became the first non-western country to support the French President in his fight against “Islamic terrorism”. European leaders also maintained a pro-Macron stance and criticized the “personal attack” on him, particularly from Turkey. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Markel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said “These 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.” The Prime Ministers of Italy, Netherlands and Greece also expressed their support for the France. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted “President Erdogan’s words are unacceptable” and Netherlands stood “for the freedom of speech and against extremism and radicalization”. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrel said that Erdogan’s comments were unacceptable and urged Turkey to stop this dangerous spiral of confrontation and further provocations.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the ‘freedom of speech’ but added that it should be ‘not without limits’ and should not ‘arbitrarily’ and ‘needlessly hurt’ certain communities.  Russian Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov ruled out the possibility of publication of an offensive caricature on Islam in Russia, he said that publications similar to Charlie Hebdo in France are absolutely impossible in Russia.

While the incident has divided most of the countries into two blocks, one block supporting and other condemning, The United Nation’s anti-extremism body has expressed deep concern over growing tensions over satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Migual Angel Moratinos- who heads the UN Alliance of Civilizations said in a statement, “Insulting religious and sacred religious symbols provokes hatred and violent extremism leading to polarization and fragmentation of the society”.

Consequences of the event

France has a long and complex relationship with Islam and its 5 million citizens. Islam has become a political tool for the leaders of the world in general and France in particular. This can be understand by analyzing a statement of Macron day before Paty’s killing, when he made a special address to his nation in which he insisted that ‘Islam is in crises all over the world and he is going to liberate it from foreign influence’.

There is a clear indication that Muslims in France are going through tough times especially after the recent attacks. Interestingly, these attacks were carried by ‘Refugees’ residing in France; Chechens and Tunisian Muslim refugees and not by its own citizens. It clearly indicates that French Muslim citizens may be facing challenges but they have not taken any extreme steps against its own government.

Macron is being criticized over ‘not controlling the Islamic Extremism’ in France. Last year, he made changes to the immigration law and he is seemingly running out of the time to come up with something that can help secure his Presidentship in the upcoming election in 2022. He has announced a controversial ‘anti-separatism’ bill to crackdown on Islamic radicalism, control on mosques and preachers, this is going to affect French Muslim citizens badly. Every terror attack carried out by a Muslim triggers a fresh wave of public questioning about the loyalty of French Muslim citizens to the republic and its values. It puts a question mark on their nationalism and faith.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (C.F.C.M) head Mohammed Moussaoui said in a statement “France is a great country, Muslim citizens are not persecuted in France and French Muslims should defend the interests of the nation”. He stressed over unity and said “we know that the promoters of these campaigns against France are counter- productive and create division” and French law gave people ‘the right to hate’ the caricatures. From the aforementioned statement, it becomes clear that French Muslim citizens have condemned the violence as well as caricatures, they are aware of the fact that any kind of intervention from foreign countries especially from Turkey can trigger the ongoing situations and push them into a deep trouble.

How should Muslims respond?

In fact, a majority of the Muslim countries have condemned Macrons’s defence of the cartoons and called for a boycott of French goods and shopkeepers in most of these countries have removed French goods from shelves. This is happening at a time when there is an economic breakdown all over the world due to Covid-19. What are we supposed to do with these French products? Are we going to throw them away despite we have already invested in lakhs on these products?

Though ‘whatever’ happened is a ‘problem’ and we can’t deal with a problem with a problem. We have to find the long-lasting solutions. We should be aware of the political-economy of this incident and how is it going to be affect us, besides religiously.

We have been protesting against such incidents since a long time and we are again protesting and boycotting. In a globalized world, the states are interdependent on each other, and boycotting products of a particular country can prove counterproductive, especially in times of Covid-19 pandemic.

Wayforward

Incidents like that of France have provided Muslim countries an opportunity to unite and fight against Islamophobia and other Muslim related issues. It has provided them a chance to revive International Muslim organizations like Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).

To call our envoys or diplomats back from the countries which are indulging in the disrespecting Islam is not going to benefit us, we severe ties with such countries, but the issue remains there unsolved. The diplomats act as a bridge and through them we can debate the contentious issues with those countries.

Literature plays an important role in shaping the societies, it is a right time to produce such literature: there should be international seminars, debates and discussions, workshops about Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), as to how he served the mankind.

There were five staunch enemies of Islam- Abu-Lahab, Abu- Jehal, Hind bint Utba, Washi and Abu Sufyan. There are hundreds of such incidents where Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) was put into challenges and attempts were made to disgrace him, but both Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) and his companions responded wisely, dealt with profound love and mercy their descendants. Ikrema bin Abu Jehal embraced Islam and fought for Islam, Utba bin Abu Lahab embraced Islam and spent a good life. Hind embraced Islam and his son Ameer Mauviyah founded the Mauviyah ruling dynasty in Islamic history. Washi, the killer of Ameer Hamza embrassed Islam, Abu Sufyan embrassed Islam.

Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) would seek permanent and long lasting solutions. Neither he beheaded anyone nor did he boycott them. Here, when Islamophobia is on rise especially in west and everything is related to ‘Islamic Extremism, ‘Islamic Separatism’ and ‘Islamic Radicalization’, we should condemn the killings, especially the beheadings in the name of Islam. It is a high time for us to follow the sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) to deal with the rivals non-violently. After all, Islam means Peace.

Muzamil Manzoor is an independent researcher, writer and poet;

Vakeel Ahmad is pursuing Bachelors at Government Degree College Tral. Authors can be contacted at muzamilmanzoor05123@gmail.com

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