DHAKA: Tens of thousands of protesters marched through the Bangladesh capital on Tuesday in the biggest anti-France rally since President Emmanuel Macron defended publication of sketches depicting Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Muslims across the world have reacted furiously to Macron’s defence of the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher who had shown his pupils sketches of the Prophet (PBUH).
In Syria people burned pictures of France’s leader, tricolour flags were torched in the Libyan capital Tripoli, while French goods have been pulled from supermarket shelves in Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf states.
Protesters call for boycott of French products
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the treatment of Muslims in Europe to that of Jews before World War II, joining calls for a boycott of French goods which Paris said had had minimal impact so far.
In Dhaka, protesters set alight an effigy of Macron during Tuesday’s march, in which police said 40,000 people took part.
Hundreds of armed officers used a barbed-wire barricade to stop the demonstrators, who dispersed without violence before they could get close to the French embassy.
The rally was called by the Islami Andolon Bangladesh (IAB), one of the country’s largest religious parties, and started at the biggest mosque in the nation. Bangladesh is around 90 per cent Muslim.
“Boycott French products,” demonstrators chanted.
Ataur Rahman, a senior Islami Andolon member, told the rally at the Baitul Mukarram mosque: “Macron is one of the few leaders who worship Satan.”
Rahman called on the Bangladesh government to “kick out” the French ambassador, while another protest leader, Hasan Jamal, said activists would “tear down every brick of that building” if the envoy was not ordered out.
“France is the enemy of Muslims,” said Nesar Uddin, a young leader of the group. “Those who represent them are also our enemies.”
As the backlash against the French president widened, leaders from European nations including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece rallied behind Macron.
The European Union warned that Erdogan’s boycott call was a further setback to Turkey’s already stalled bid to join the bloc.
But the anger in Muslim countries showed no sign of abating. Tehran summoned a senior French envoy, the charge d’affaires, and the Saudi foreign ministry posted on Twitter a message that denounced “the offensive cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH)”.
Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim slammed Macron’s comments on Islam being in crisis as “offensive” and “unreasonable”, adding in a statement: “With freedom comes responsibility.”
Macron has also drawn fire in Morocco, while the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah have also spoken out against France.
Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov accused Macron of provoking Muslims and compared the French leader to a “terrorist”.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020