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Calls to boycott French products grow after President defends Mohammed cartoons

Across the Muslim worlds, countries are calling to boycott French goods in protest after President Emmanuel Macron publicly defended cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which are considered disrespectful in Islam.

The French president made his comment last week in memory of Samuel Paty, a French teacher who was killed last month in a terror attack in northern Paris. Paty was killed after he showed satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a class on freedom of speech and expression. The cartoons that Paty used in his class originally appeared in Charlie Hebdo and were cited as the motivation for a terror attack on the satirical magazine in 2015 that left 12 people dead. Macron fiercely defended the right to display such cartoons in France at the memorial event for Paty. He said he would not “give up” the cartoons and pledged to solve the problem of extreme Islamism.

This move by the president has sparked protests from Muslim-majority countries. During a speech in Ankara, Turkey’s President Erdogan said: “I am calling on the people, do not go near French goods, do not buy them, European leaders must say 'stop' to Macron.” In Kuwait, a chain of supermarkets said that more than 50 of its stores planned to avoid French products. The same campaign is also happening in Jordan, where many grocery shops hung signs saying that they were not selling French products. Many Qatar stores are following suit, including Al Meera, which has more than 50 branches in the Arab country. Saudi Arabia also condemned the “offensive” cartoons of the Prophet, but surprisingly did not call for more action against France.

In response, France’s foreign ministry called the boycotts of French products “unjustified” and demanded that they “end immediately.” He added that “the position of France was in favor of freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and refusal to any form of hatred.”

Key questions

  1. Why do you think the Muslim-majority countries are boycotting France?

  2. Was the French president’s defence of the cartoons justified?

  3. Is this boycott justified? What could have happened differently?

  4. Do you think freedom of expression in this case should be upheld and supported?

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