Dhaka/Islamabad (Reuters): Tens of thousands of Muslims protested in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Palestinian territories on Friday after killings in a French church prompted a vow from President Emmanuel Macron to stand firm against attacks on French values and freedom of belief.
French Interior Minister Gerald Damarnin said France – home to Europe’s largest Muslim community and hit by a string of militant attacks in recent years – was engaged in a war against Islamist ideology and more attacks were likely. In Pakistan, police fired tear gas at thousands of demonstrators marching towards the French Embassy in Islamabad, with some protesters trying to break through police barricades, witnesses said.
In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, tens of thousands marched through Dhaka, the capital, chanting “Boycott French products” and carrying banners calling Macron “the world’s biggest terrorist”. “Macron is leading Islamophobia,” said Dhaka demonstrator Akramul Haq. “He doesn’t know the power of Islam. The Muslim world will not let this go in vain. We’ll rise and stand in solidarity against him.”
Some Bangladeshi demonstrators also burned effigies of Macron and carried cutouts of the president with a garland of shoes around his neck, a severe insult according to Islam. In a Muslim-majority district of India’s financial hub Mumbai, some 100 posters showing Macron with a boot on his face and calling him a “demon” were pasted on pavements and roads.
In Lebanon, security forces fired tear gas to drive back some 300 protesters including supporters of a local Sunni Islamist party who marched from a mosque in the capital Beirut to the official residence of the French ambassador. Thousands of Palestinian worshippers rallied after Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, in Jerusalem’s walled Old City to condemn the republication of Mohammad cartoons in France. “A nation whose leader is Mohammad will not be defeated,” protesters chanted.
“We hold the French president responsible for acts of chaos and violence that are taking place in France because of his comments against Islam and against Muslims,” said Ikrima Sabri, the preacher who delivered the sermon at al Aqsa.
In Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinians trampled on a large French flag and burned other French flags. In Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, hundreds of Palestinians took part in anti-France rallies, chanting: “With our souls and blood we will redeem the Prophet.”
In Somalia, thousands turned up for Friday prayers in mosques where sermons were dominated by curses and condemnation of Macron and his government. A shopkeeper in Mogadishu, Abdirahman Hussein Mohamed, set aside all French products, including face wash, creams, perfumes and other cosmetics, with a large sign, “NOT FOR SALE”.
“I will never sell those products…as long as France does not apologise. France insulted our Prophet,” Mohamed told Reuters. Some women shoppers agreed. “I used to be one of the consumers of French cosmetics. Now I will no longer buy,” said Anisa Ahmed, 22. “I will look for products of other countries.”
FRANCE RAISES SECURITY ALERT
France raised its security alert to the highest level on Thursday after a knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) beheaded an elderly woman in a church and killed two more people before being shot and taken away by police. “We will not give any ground,” Macron said outside the church in the French Riviera city of Nice, promising to deploy thousands more soldiers to guard sites such as places of worship and schools.
France had been attacked “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief”, he added.
The violence has come at a time of growing Muslim anger over France’s defence of the right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, and protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries.
French investigators said the man suspected of carrying out the Nice attack was a Tunisian born in 1999 who had arrived in Europe on Sept. 20 on Lampedusa, an Italian island off Tunisia that is a main landing point for migrants from Africa.
AUSTRALIAN, INDIAN LEADERS BACK FRANCE
Several leaders in Asia expressed support for France after the attacks on Thursday, the birthday of the prophet. “It is just the most callous and cowardly and vicious act of barbarism by terrorists and should be condemned in the strongest possible way,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison had expressed his support to Macron, he told media on Friday. “We share values. We stand for the same things.”
He also condemned as absurd comments by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that Muslims had a right to be angry and kill “millions of French people for the massacres of the past”. “Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not,” the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, said on Twitter in response to Mahathir’s comments.
Mahathir said his comments were taken out of context, while a senior Malaysian government figure, Abdul Hadi Awang, said Macron’s comments could not be justified. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also voiced support for Macron’s position and condemned the violence.
“I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France,” Modi tweeted on Thursday. “India stands with France in the fight against terrorism.”