The aftershocks of blasphemous cartoons in France and a change of heart

.. by Col (rtd) Ikram Ullah

The aftershocks of the blasphemous statements by French President Emmanuel Macron defending the publication of  caricatures of the Holy Prophet (SAW) in a French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (known for publishing cartoons and caricatures), and shown by a French teacher to his pupils in the class during a discussion on freedom of expression taking the plea of the so-called freedom of expression, are still being felt throughout France, nay, throughout the world. This is not for the first time that the magazine has published the blasphemous cartoons of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Before this too It has published such blasphemous caricatures several times. In 2007 the magazine publishers were sued in a French court which unfortunately, gave decision in favour of the magazine accepting the plea of freedom of expression under French law. It’s extremely regrettable that the Western world is maintaining a double standard regarding freedom of expression. In the West nobody is allowed to talk about the Holocaust i e. the World War-II genocide of European Jews in  which over six million Jews were systematically murdered by Nazi Germany and its collaborators ; but when it comes to blaspheming the Holy Prophet ( SAW), the right of the so-called freedom of expression comes into play.

Mercifully, Macron has recently backtracked from his previous sacrilegious statement. In an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera, Macron says that he understands the feelings of Muslims who are shocked by the displaying of cartoons of the Holy Prophet (SAW). A few excerpts from his interview are reproduced verbatim below for the readers to see how Macron experienced a change of heart after a tremendous pressure by international community was exerted on him. But this change of heart has come after much damage has been done to French image and economy.

“I understand the sentiments of the Muslims and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now. My role is to calm things down, but at the same time it’s to protect these rights (rights of freedom of expression).”

“I think the reaction came as a result of lies and distortion of my words because people understood that I supported these cartoons. The caricatures are not a governmental project, but emerged from free and independent newspapers that are not affiliated with the government.”

“Of course this is a problem for Islam because Muslims are the first victims. More than 80 percent of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, and this is a problem for all of us.”

This change of heart has not come as a result of compunction rather it has come as a result of compulsion and can rightly be called a forced change of heart as Macron couldn’t sustain the international pressure as well as the huge damage done to French economy.

The boycott of French-made products by the Muslim community across the globe which has shaken the French economy to its foundations bringing a colossal financial loss of around 100 billion dollars coupled with an intense condemnation of Macron’s statement by the international community both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, has exerted tremendous pressure on Macron bringing him to his knees and effecting a forced change of heart. Macron’s recent interview to Al-Jazeera is surely an abortive attempt to control the damage done to French image and economy by his impugned statements. How much successful would he be in his attempt remains to be seen.

It may be recalled that Macron in his previous statement had not only supported the blaspheming cartoons published in the French magazine but had also threatened to take stern action against the human rights activists and the NGOs who had condemned his blasphemous remarks about Islam and the Holy Prophet (SAW).

It may be noted that it’s not the first time that an incident of blasphemy has taken place in France. France, unfortunately, has a notorious track record in this regard. The blasphemous incidents in France date back to 19th century when during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid-II ( 1876 –1909), the last Sultan of Ottoman Empire, when France revealed its intentions to make a blasphemous film on the life of the Holy Prophet ( SAW), but had to abandon it after Sultan Abdul Hamid warned France to refrain from it, or else be prepared for war and face the dire consequences.

Although the blasphemous incident has been condemned by the Muslims across the world and protest demonstrations are held throughout the Muslim world, the lone potent voice comes from Turkey. It’s heartening to see that while maintaining the old Turkish tradition, Turkish President Tayyib Erdogan has not only condemned the incident but has also appealed to the Muslims all over the world to boycott the French-made products. At the same time, he has cast doubt over the mental health of the French President Macron and has advised him to get his mental health checked up. The Muslim community is in a dire need of many Erdogans like him.

Lastly, it’s not enough for the French President to simply grant an appeasing interview to Al-Jazeera to get himself off the hook; he should openly come out to apologize to the Muslims all over the globe for hurting their religious sentiments and express his resolve to stop the recurrence of such blasphemous incidents in future. .. Col (rtd) Ikram Ullah, 20 Nov 2020

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