Last month, on October 16, an 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee, Abdullakh Anzorov, shocked the world by beheading French teacher Samuel Paty. This act of terror has galvanized France and led to rising international tensions.
France has suffered more and more bloody terrorist attacks. On July 14, 2016, in Nice, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel deliberately drove a truck into the crowd celebrating Bastille Day. His attack ended after an exchange of gunfire, during which he was shot and killed by police, but not before killed 86 people.
The only deadly attack was on November 13, 2015, when the Islamic State was staged three coordinated suicide attacks. A bomber hit outside the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, during a football match. There were then mass shootings and a suicide bombing in nearby cafes and restaurants. Gunmen carried out another mass shooting and took hostages at a concert at the Bataclan Theater, leading to a brawl with police. The attackers were either shot or blown up when police raided the theater. The result was 131 dead and more than 400 injured.
Then there were the attacks on the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015 and 2020, the murder of a priest, murder ea teachers and three children in a Jewish school, and more than a hundred other incidents.
A turning point?
Each of them caused an outburst of popular sentiment, then French President Franois Hollande called the 2015 attacks an act of war. But each time, the moment passed and gradually shifted from a sense to an official feeling, anyway that the problems of Islamic terrorism should not be exaggerated. Charlie Hebdo again he would be criticized for being insensitive.
Such a sense of resignation may come again, but early signs suggest that French public opinion may have reached a turning point. The fact that Samuel Paty was a teacher and was killed for what he taught in the classroom may be a factor, as this implicated the French state itself. President Emmanuel Macron stated that Paty was killed because he embodied the values of the french republic.
Paty was giving a free speech class and had used that Charlie Hebdo cartoons as illustrations of the issue, but only after the class was initially told that those who did not want to watch could leave the classroom unpunished, or they simply could not watch.
It was precisely Patys’s defense of free speech that led to his death. She also emboldened Macron. it given to Patit of Lgion dhonneur, France ‘s highest price. Police carried out dozens of counter-terrorist attacks. A pro-Hamas group, the Cheikh Yassine Collective, disbanded to be directly implicated in murder. The group’s founder, radical Islamist Abdelhakim Sefrioui, was held by the police for posting a video on YouTube insulting and threatening Paty. The government promised to create a new criminal offense that would punish anyone who endangers another person by posting their details online. Cabinet ministers discussed a fight against cyber Islamism with social media executives.
After all, President Macron has been admirable to express himself. He had before criticized Islamic separatism, and claimed that Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world. Macron said Paty gave himself the task of becoming a Republican.
Then why was Samuel killed? Macron asked in his praise:
[A]At first I believed it was a crazy random act, a senseless arbitrary act: another victim of free terrorism. After all, he was not the main target of the Islamists, he was just teaching. He was not an enemy of the religion they exploit: he had read the Qur’an, he respected his students regardless of their beliefs, and he was interested in Muslim civilization.
No, on the contrary, that’s exactly why Samuel Paty was killed. Because he embodied the republic which is enlivened every day in the classrooms, the freedom that is conveyed and perpetuated in schools.
Samuel Paty was killed because the Islamists want our future and because they know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it. They divide the believers and the disbelievers.
Thus Macron portrayed Patys’s assassination, not as an act of a single terrorist attack, but as a war between the Islamists and the republic. But Macron was committed: We will not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others are drawn.
As might be expected, the challenging words of the French Presidents have drawn criticism and insults from across the sea. Pakistani Prime Minister Imram Khan accused Macron of attacking Islam by defending the publication of blasphemous cartoons: it is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than terrorists who commit violence, whether Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologues
Khan also wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, asking them to stop Islamophobia and hatred of Islam on Facebook. The disturbing irony, of course, is that the death and massacre caused by Pakistan’s own blasphemy laws continues. On July 26, 2020, Tahir Naseem, a U.S. citizen, was killed in court during the conditional hearing as he was accused of blasphemy. Religious minorities in Pakistan are disproportionately accused of blasphemy and have been killed.
Meanwhile, there were demonstrations against France in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey and calls for it boycotts of French goods in Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar, Libya, Syria and Gaza. Iranian newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz claimed that French extremists were burning copies of the Qur’an.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also clashed over his usual lack of diplomatic tact. Not content to criticize, he quickly turned to insult. In a speech he asked, What is the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with Muslims? Macron needs treatment at the mental level. France, in response, recalled its ambassador to Turkey and advised French citizens abroad to be especially careful.
Parallel to Danish cartoons
These events have disturbing echoes of the surrounding fury Danish cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten, the largest newspaper in Denmark. Following their publication, there were killings, riots, boycotts and protests. Many people now assume that these events erupted spontaneously after the cartoons appeared, but this was not the case. The cartoons were published in September 2005 and were mostly received with silence or mild protest. Some Danish Muslims demonstrated peacefully outside the office Jyllands-Posten, saying the newspaper should not have published the cartoons and that they should have apologized.
Protests and terrorist attacks that erupted in Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond in the Middle East came in January and February 2006 four or five months after the event. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, made up of about 56 countries and territories, changed the agenda of their January 2006 meeting in Mecca; instead of addressing the scourge of terrorism, they discussed instead of insulting Islam. An action plan emerged from that meeting which included boycotts of Danish and other products, demonstrations and protests. Many of these protests went out of control, leading to violence and killings.
There is no doubt that Muslims are really hurt by and angry in response to perceived insult or blasphemy. But in the vast majority of cases, if there are demonstrations and widespread deaths, usually because some government figures, or other powerful people, want this to happen and spark anger and rage.
In Erdogan’s case, Turkey and France were already at odds. On November 29, 2019, long before the latest controversy, Erdogan told Macron, You need to check if you have died from the brain. Macron, for his part, has criticized Turkish intervention in Syria. In the eastern Mediterranean, France is opposing Ankara over hydrocarbon reserves and maritime borders and backing Greece and Cyprus in their rejection of Turkey’s expansionist claims. Turkey has challenged the French navy at sea. France has even deployed fighter jets to the region.
In 2006, Turkey gave its criticism to Denmark regarding Jyllands-Posten cartoons on concessions from NATO and later used the cartoons as a negotiation scheme in negotiations with the United States in order to gain leverage for two high-level Turkish appointments to NATO. Turkish pressure may now include a similar attempt to use religion for political influence in disputes in the Mediterranean.
Despite international maneuvers, Emmanuel Macron should usually be commended for his refusal to erode words, for his willingness to call for an ideological battle for what it is, and for the way he has promoted France and free societies around the world. understand the importance of protecting their freedoms. As was the late Abdurrahman Wahid former President of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in the world and the former President of Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world insisted, forcibly enforced the laws of blasphemy:
narrow the boundaries of discourse acceptable not only to religion but to the larger spheres of life, literature, science, and culture in general Instead of encouraging Muslim fundamentalists in their efforts to impose a worthless, harsh, and monolithic spiritual understanding of Islam all over the world Western authorities must instead resolutely defend freedom of expression
Here, at least, Muslims and non-Muslims should be able to find the common cause.
Paul Marshall is Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institutes Center for Religious Freedom, Washington DC. An earlier version of this article appeared on Religion unplugged.
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