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Rabat – French President Emmanuel Macron has retracted his position on the ongoing, fierce debate about freedom of speech in France. In a remarkable u-turn speech, Macron said that his government does not stand behind the free display of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad.
Macron clarified his new position on the cartoons in an interview with Al Jazeera. The caricatures, he argued, are not a governmental agenda. They emerge instead from free and independent newspapers.
Macron then went on to emphasize that he understands Muslims’ feelings and the fierce response that the caricatures generated among Muslims worldwide.
Commenting on the reaction of Muslims around the world, Macron seemed to argue that lies, misleading reports, and misinterpretations had led many Muslims to believe that he was in favor of the cartoons.
After a 18-year-old Chechen refugee murdered French history teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 for showing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad to his students, the French president said that France will not give up the caricatures.
He suggested the drawings were an expression of France’s secular values, and that Islamists wanted to hijack France’s future.
Macron’s statements sparked outrage among Muslims around, with many taking to social media to call for boycotting French brands. The campaign spread quickly in the Muslim world, entering into force in several markets.
A number of world leaders also condemned Macron’s statement, expressing their displeasure with French authorities for equating Islam with islamism.
But the Arab call for boycotting French products was not only a reaction to Macron’s remarks on the caricatures. It also aimed to condemn the latest waves of racist attacks on innocent Muslims and Arab communities in France.
In the wake of the recent terrorist incidents in the French cities of Paris and Nice, a number of French Muslims, many of Arab descent, have been publicly assaulted or humiliated for either speaking Arabic or wearing the Hijab.
The boycott also followed threats to burn down mosques in France, as well as the official dissolution of some Muslim organizations.