France, a nation that symbolizes tolerance, is being targeted by Islamic extremists. Its citizens are mourning the death of a middle school history teacher who was beheaded by an extremist after showing a cartoon of Muhammad in class. Last month, three people were killed in a basilica in Nice, in the south of France by another extremist. The crimes are violent and on-going. Since 2012 France has lost 260 citizens to radical extremist attacks. Under pressure to deal with the problem, French President Emmanuel Marcon has introduced sweeping new measures to try to combat further incidences of violence. They include a reorganization of Islam in France and a program to certify Imans in the country rather than overseas. His plans and subsequent comments about the problem have met with mixed reactions both at home and around the globe.
|▲ The suspect was detained minutes after the attack at the Basilica. (Photo from BBC News)|
When history teacher Samuel Paty showed a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad during a class about freedom of speech, he advised his Muslim students to leave the room if they thought they might be offended. The portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad is forbidden according to the Islamic religion. The teacher had been threatened before, but he continued to use the lesson in class so it came as no surprise that eventually the threat would be carried out. The issue had already made headlines in the nation after the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad triggering a violent attack on their offices killing 12 people. The suspects are currently on trial for the 2015 murders.
French President Emmanuel Macron defined the attacks as terrorism by Islamic extremists. After visiting Nice, another site of the most recent violence he said, "If we're attacked again, it's because we value freedom," and added, "I'll say it again today. We will not give in to anything." Macron said he would expand the number of troops from 3,000 to 7,000 to protect public places such as churches and schools. France's national alert level has also been raised to its highest level. While these measures were welcomed, others were not. Macron has proposed a bill that would make it easier for the French government to shut down radical Islamic groups and vowed to close mosques or organizations that promote extremism and violence. While the measures are seen as tougher government oversight of the religion, the President continues to say he is working to combat extremism and not a peaceful Islam. However, not all of the President’s cabinet are as careful with their comments. France's Interior Minister made remarks about the separation of Kosher and Halal foods from other products are being an issue that divides communities and should be looked at. While Macron has tried to distance himself from the comments, he has stopped short of decrying them outright leading some to believe he is leveling his fight against Islam instead of terrorism.
Several Muslim countries, including Turkey, Libya, Bangladesh and Gaza, are protesting France's response to the attacks. Turkish President Erdogan said, "French as well as other European leaders are fascists." Ten of thousands of Bangladeshis took to the streets protesting the actions of the French government. They burned effigies of French President Macron. In addition, they launched campaigns to stop buying French products. In Pakistan, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the French Embassy in the capital Islamabad. French security forces fired tear gas as the protestors tried to enter the embassy. In Indonesia and Malaysia, considered some of the most representative Islamic countries, there were also voices criticizing France. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad caused a stir on Twitter posting that Muslims have the right to kill French people, while Indonesia's Islamic Law Commission pointed out that President Macron is encouraging Islamophobia. Some French-Muslims say they are frequent targets of racism and discrimination because of their faith - an issue that has long caused tension in the country.
Abdul Hamid, chairman of Malaysia's Islamic Organization, called on people around the world to boycott French products. According to Lim Hyun-suk, a Korean correspondent based in Cairo, a household goods store in Mochatam district has refused to sell products made in France. "This is where the pots and frying pans of the original French household goods brand 'Tefal' used to be," said owner Cardi Abdel Kadel. He said he returned all of his Tefal products two weeks ago in protest, as he believed the French continued to insult the prophet Muhammad.
In response to the widespread outcry, Macron agreed that while the cartoon could be offensive to some, it is not a sufficient justification for this kind of extreme violence. He added, “I understand and respect the feelings raised by these cartoons, but Islamic people have to undertstand this is my job to calm the situation.” While the president defended freedom on expression, he said radical Islam is a threat to everyone, especially Muslims, the majority of victims who have suffered at the hands of extremists.
|▲ Citizens gathered at a memorial service for Samuel's party in downtown Paris. (Photo from BBC News)|
French citizens are feeling the fear of terrorism along with the pain of Corona fatigue. Citizens of Islamic countries are uneasy about their culture being the subject of constant disdain. Confrontations initiated by all sides show no sign of relenting. Experts expect the number of attacks on innnocent civilians to increase. While the world hopes there will be no more blood spilled, it seems the only thing we can do is wait and see.
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