By Sophie Boulter, Staff Writer
French President Emmanuel Macron has drawn support and condemnation for his defense of French secularism and his criticism of “Islamist separatism.” His comments have sparked ongoing anti-French protests and boycotts across the Muslim world, led by Turkey.
France has suffered two terrorist attacks in the past month from extremists associated with what Macron describes as “radical Islam.”
The controversy began when Macron spoke about Islam in a speech unveiling a new law which would further enshrine laicite, or the separation of church and state in France.
“Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today,” he said.
His comments came after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty on October 16. Paty showed students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed during a lesson about free speech.
The jihadist who beheaded Paty did so after watching a video of Paty’s class.
Macron’s comments likening Islam to crisis set off protests from Muslims in countries such as Bangladesh, Kuwait, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia and Qatar. Some protestors have burnt effigies of the French President while chanting anti-French slogans.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led calls to boycott French goods in response to Macron’s comments, and called Macron’s mental health into question.
“What is the problem this person called Macron has with Islam and Muslims? Macron needs some sort of mental treatment,” Erdogan said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also criticized Macron for his critiques of Islam.
“President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world,” Khan tweeted.
After ISIS’s knife attack on October 26th in Nice, Macron stood by his comments on Islam, saying that he would not waver in his commitment to freedom of speech.
On Tuesday Macron clarified his remarks in a letter to the Financial Times.
“This is what France is fighting against … hatred and death that threaten its children — never against Islam. We oppose deception, fanaticism, violent extremism. Not a religion,” he said.
He explained that his criticism of Islam referred to “Islamist separatism.” Stressing the difference between “Islamist separatism”and “Islamic separatism,” he argued, was crucial, because he did not want to stigmatize all Muslims.
“France — we are attacked for this — is as secular for Muslims as for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and all believers,” Macron said.
Erdogan continued to criticize Macron’s statements despite his clarification.
The European Council has taken Macron’s side in this dispute.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian threatened European sanctions against Turkey on Thursday, asserting that Europe would support France.
“There is a total European solidarity on the subject – we want Turkey to renounce this logic,” Le Drian said.
On Wednesday the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came out in support of Macron, accusing Erdogan of using the situation for his own advantage.
Anwar Gargash, the UAE Foreign Minister, accused opponents of taking Macron’s comments out of context.
“With his attacks on France, Erdogan manipulates a religious issue for political purposes. You should listen to what Macron really said in his speech,” Gargash said.