Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday (26 October) joined calls for a boycott of French goods, ramping up a standoff between France and Muslim countries over Islam and freedom of speech.
Erdoğan has led the charge against President Emmanuel Macron over his robust defence of the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
On Monday, the Turkish leader added his voice to calls in the Arab world for citizens to spurn French goods.
“Never give credit to French-labelled goods, don’t buy them,” Erdoğan, who caused a furore at the weekend by declaring that Macron needed “mental checks”, said during a televised speech in Ankara.
After Turkey was accused by France of remaining silent over Paty’s killing on 16 October, Erdoğan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Monday denounced the “monstrous murder”, adding “nothing” could justify the attack.
French goods have already been pulled from supermarket shelves in Qatar and Kuwait, among other Gulf states, whereas in Syria people have burned pictures of Macron and French flags have been torched in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
France’s largest employers’ federation on Monday urged companies to “resist the blackmail” over the boycott calls.
The 16 October beheading of high-school teacher Samuel Paty by a Chechen extremist caused deep shock in France.
Paty had shown his pupils some of the Mohammed cartoons over which 12 people were massacred at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
Depictions of the Prophet Mohammed are seen as offensive by many Muslims, but in France such cartoons have become identified with a proud secular tradition dating back to the Revolution.
In the aftermath of Paty’s murder, Macron issued a passionate defence of free speech and France’s secular values, vowing that the country “will not give up cartoons”.
As the backlash over France’s reaction widened, European leaders rallied behind Macron.
“They are defamatory comments that are completely unacceptable, particularly against the backdrop of the horrific murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist fanatic,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
The prime ministers of Italy, the Netherlands and Greece also expressed support for France, as did European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
“President Erdoğan’s words addressing President @EmmanuelMacron are unacceptable,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted, adding that the Netherlands stood “for the freedom of speech and against extremism and radicalism.”
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “Personal insults don’t help the positive agenda the EU wants to have with Turkey but pushes solutions further away.”
In contrast, Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov, who seeks close relations with Turkey, took equal distance from Erdogan and Macron. Addressing Macron and Erdogan, he wrote on Facebook:
“Great leaders are great leaders because they discuss big issues. Do not create unnecessary ones in the difficult times in which we live. Look for dialogue, not confrontation”.
Muslims treated ‘like Jews’
Erdoğan — who has styled himself a defender of Muslims worldwide — on Monday compared the treatment of Muslims in Europe to that of Jews before World War II, saying they were the object of a “lynching campaign”.
“You are in a real sense fascists, you are in a real sense the links in the chain of Nazism,” he said.
“European leaders should tell the French president to stop his hate campaign” against Muslims, Erdoğan added.
France has been targeted in a string of jihadist attacks that have killed over 250 people since 2015 and led to deep soul-searching over the impact of Islam on the country’s core values.
Some of the attackers have cited the Mohammed cartoons as well as France’s ban on wearing the Islamic face veil in public among their motives.
Several suspected Islamist radicals have been arrested in dozens of raids since Paty’s murder, and about 50 organisations with alleged links to such individuals have been earmarked for closure by the government.
Earlier this month, Macron unveiled a plan to defend France’s secular values against a trend of “Islamist separatism”, and described Islam as a religion “in crisis”.
Anger in the Islamic world
His stance has fuelled tensions with Turkey particularly. On Saturday, Paris announced it was recalling its envoy to Ankara after Erdoğan questioned Macron’s sanity.
But the French leader has remained defiant, tweeting: “We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”
We will not 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.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 25, 2020
Macron has also drawn fire in other Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan and Morocco.
Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord also “firmly condemned” his comments, demanding an apology.
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah have also spoken out against France.
Protesters also gathered outside the French embassy in Baghdad with a cleric demanding an apology from the French leader.
And in Algiers, the High Islamic Council condemned Macron’s “virulent campaign” against Muslims.
More protests are planned on Tuesday in the Jordanian capital Amman.