image Photo: Reuters, Flash90

Turkey-France tensions soar

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has called for a boycott of French goods and demanding that European Union leaders act to halt what he claims is the “anti-Islam” agenda of is French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.

For the third consecutive day, Erdoğan said yesterday that Macron needs mental help over his attitude towards Muslims; the same rebuke that caused Paris to recall its ambassador from Ankara over the weekend.

France is the tenth largest source of imports into Turkey and the seventh greatest market for Turkish exports, according to Turkey’s statistical institute.

During a televised speech at the start of a week of activities in Turkey to commemorate the birthday of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad, Erdoğan said, “European leaders with foresight and morals must break down the walls of fear” to “put an end to the anti-Islam agenda and hate campaign that Macron is leading.”

The Turkish leader then invoked the Holocaust in an expanded attack on the West at large. “The rising Islamophobia in the West has turned into a wholesale attack on our book, our prophet, and everything we consider holy. Relocations, inquisitions and genocides toward members of different religions is not a practice that is foreign to Europe. The crimes against humanity committed against Jews 80 years ago, the acts against our Bosnian siblings in Srebrenica just 25 years ago, are still in the memory,” he charged.

Erdoğan has issued similar boycott calls in the past, including an appeal not to buy U.S. electronic goods in 2018 which failed to gain momentum.

The deepening conflict between Ankara and Paris erupted after an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin beheaded 47-year-old French teacher Samuel Paty on 16 October, after he showed students cartoons of Mohammad in a civics lesson on freedom of speech. The cartoons first appeared many years ago in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris editorial office was attacked in 2015 by gunmen who killed 12 people. A Danish paper first published the cartoons in 2005 and protests and boycotts on Danish goods swept the Islamic world at that time.

Muslims see any depiction of Mohammad as blasphemous.

During a national tribute ceremony for the beheaded educator at the Sorbonne University, Macron said, “Samuel Paty, on Friday, became the face of the Republic, of our desire to break terrorism, to diminish Islamists, to live as a community of free citizens in our country.”

Macron pledged to bolster efforts to stop radical Islamic beliefs from subverting French values, “because Islamists want our future,” and announced a plan to stop “Islamist separatism” from taking over Muslim communities in his country by banning home schooling and dissolving some nonprofit organizations, among other measures.

Following widespread criticism on the internet over his crackdown on Islamist separatism, the French President doubled down on his stance by posting a number of Tweets on Sunday in French, English and Arabic.

“Liberty, we cherish; equality, we guarantee; fraternity, we live it with intensity. Nothing will ever make us give in, ever. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values,” he wrote.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex thanked his visiting-Romanian counterpart Ludovic Orban, for having expressed “solidarity and support… following the defamatory attacks of President Erdogan against the President of the French Republic.” He added that in the wake of the terrible beheading of the French teacher, “it is indeed important that our European partners are at our side, to defend our common values, those of freedom of expression, and the awareness of the fight against calls to hatred and against terrorism in particular.”

Macron met representatives of France’s Muslim community yesterday in a closed-door meeting. The Elysee Palace has provided no detailed information on what was discussed.

The diplomatic rupture between Turkey and France comes against a backdrop of already-escalating geopolitical hostilities over Syria, Libya, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, mass protests against France have been raging throughout Arab and Muslim countries.

Iran has accused France of fueling “extremism” and summoned the Interim French chargé d’affaires in the absence of the ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran. According to the state IRIB broadcaster, the Deputy Director General for Europe “emphasized that any insult and disrespect to the Prophet of Islam and Islam’s pure values by any person regardless of their position is strongly condemned and rejected.”

“Muslims are the primary victims of the ‘cult of hatred’ – empowered by colonial regimes & exported by their own clients,” tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, adding, “Insulting 1.9B Muslims – & their sanctities – for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech. It only fuels extremism.”

Palestinians staged a protest in Gaza in front of the French Cultural Center to denounce Macron’s so-called insult to Islam. “The head of democratic country speaks about freedom of religion, freedom of prisoners and prevents aggression,” the Mufti of Khan Yunis, Ihsan Ashour, said in an address to the demonstrators. He also called on Muslims to boycott French products and cut off economic relations with France.

Pictures of the French President were burned in other protests at Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip on Monday.

Protesters in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore burned the French flag and chanted slogans against Macron yesterday, after the French ambassador in Islamabad was summoned to the foreign office for Pakistan to register its protest. The Pakistani parliament passed a resolution expressing “serious concern at the highly disturbing statements and hate-mongering, specially by leaders like President Macron, justifying unlawful provocation and insult to the sentiments of more than a billion Muslims.” The bill also urged the government to recall its envoy from Paris and to call on other Muslim countries to boycott French products.

The President of the All Pakistan Traders Association, Ajmal Baloch, has called for a march on the French embassy after Friday Islamic prayers on 30 October, and advocated that world’s entire Muslim population refuse to buy French products.

Protestors in Bangladesh marched yesterday with placards bearing the French leader’s caricature captioned with the words: “Macron is the enemy of peace,”

Calls for a boycott of French supermarket retailer Carrefour was the second most trending hashtag at the start of the week in Saudi Arabia, which is the Arab world’s largest economy. A company representative in France said it has yet to feel any impact.

Kuwait’s retail co-ops have pulled French products and dozens of shops in Lebanon have also joined the boycott of French goods.

France is a major exporter of grain to mainly-Muslim North Africa, and French companies in the autos and retail sector also have significant exposure to majority-Muslim countries. French Trade Minister Franck Riester said it is too early to put a figure on the impact of the boycott campaign, but said so far it has been limited and mainly affected French agricultural exports.

The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that, “These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority,” and called on authorities to speak out against such actions in order to help French companies and ensure the safety of French citizens.