The French President Emmanuel Macron is doing his level best to revive his diminished national and international credibility after having unapologetically stated in the beginning of October that “Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world”.
On Friday, Macron held an exclusive interview with the Qatar-based news broadcaster Al-Jazeera in which he said the following:
“I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now, it’s to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these rights…”
“I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw…”
“I think that the reactions came as a result of lies and distortions of my words because people understood that I supported these cartoons… The caricatures are not a governmental project but emerged from free and independent newspapers that are not affiliated with the government.”
Macron’s decision to have the interview and his choice of words demonstrates his hasty scramble to restore trust in his position whilst simultaneously diverting attention away from the root cause of the recent outrage around the Muslim world and the subsequent boycotts of French products and services.
Macron remained unrepentant regarding the categorically unacceptable remarks he made earlier this month, as well as the derogatory publications by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Macron instead attempted to focus the spotlight on Islam:
“There are people who distort Islam and in the name of this religion that they claim to defend, they kill, they slaughter… today there is violence practiced by some extremist movements and individuals in the name of Islam.”
While this is undoubtedly true to some extent, for what religion is this not the case? For example, extremist Buddhist monks in Myanmar openly encourage and partake in the destruction of Muslim homes and instigate violence against Muslims in their country. It is odd that media outlets do not care very much to give the same weight and sense of importance in emphasising these monks’ Buddhist beliefs when the fact is that hundreds of thousands have been forced out of their homes by these monks.
Numerous Muslim-majority countries – including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar, and Kuwait to name a few – introduced swift boycotting measures, including the removal of French products in supermarkets and stores, and held large-scale protests against Macron for his apparent approval of cartoons disparaging the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). This has resulted in the French leader finding himself in a difficult spot, baffled as to why there has been a recent upsurge in “terrorist” events with a priest in critical condition after being shot yesterday, and three people killed in a church only three days ago.
Macron accuses others of “lies and distortions” yet purports to be sincere in wanting to make amends with the Muslim world. If he were genuinely sincere, we could at least hope that tensions would de-escalate. But why, then, have French government buildings been projecting the now-infamous Charlie Hebdo cartoons on their facades?
Perhaps it is an indication of the fact that Macron himself is putting on a facade. It may also be a further indicator that he needs “mental checks”, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested recently.
However, surely even Macron ought to have known that his comments – which caused such outrage on top of an already incensed and frustrated Muslim world after the release of inflammatory depictions of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) – would only fan the flames and make people angrier.
Macron is trying to engage in damage control, but in reality, he may have himself been directly responsible for the atrocities that have taken place since his remarks on 2nd October.