UK Urges NATO Allies to Defend Free Speech as France, Turkey Spar Over Cartoons

October 28, 2020 Updated: October 28, 2020

As the dispute over depictions of Prophet Mohammad intensifies between France and Turkey, Britain has called on its NATO allies to stay united in defending the values of tolerance and free speech.

Turkey has reacted angrily to French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of the right to publish and display caricatures of Prophet Mohammad, following the beheading of a French history teacher by an 18-year-old radical Islamist on Oct. 16.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Emmanuel Macron
L: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presents statements following the Cabinet Meeting at the Presidential Complex, in Ankara, on Oct. 5, 2020. (Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)
R: French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for the arrival of the Armenian president, ahead of their meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on Oct. 22, 2020. (Charles Platiau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Samuel Paty was beheaded in broad daylight outside his school in a middle-class Paris suburb by a teenage Chechen refugee, who had sought to avenge his victim’s use of the Mohammad caricatures in a class on freedom of expression.

“The UK stands in solidarity with France and the French people in the wake of the appalling murder of Samuel Paty,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement. “My thoughts remain with his family. Terrorism can never and should never be justified.”

Epoch Times Photo
A child holds up a poster of Samuel Paty as people gather on Republique square in Lille, France, on Oct. 18, 2020. Demonstrators in France took part in gatherings in support of freedom of speech and in tribute to a history teacher who was beheaded near Paris after discussing caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class. (Michel Spingler/AP Photo)

Macron has vigorously defended the cartoons as protected under the right to free speech.

“We won’t renounce the caricatures,” he said at a memorial for the teacher last week. On Oct. 25, he wrote on Twitter in both Arabic and English, “We will not give in, ever.”

Macron’s attitude has angered some Muslim countries, including France’s NATO ally Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Macron needed a mental health check and led calls for a boycott of French goods. France responded by recalling its ambassador to Turkey and warned its citizens in the country to take extra caution to ensure their personal safety.

Pakistan France cartoons
Pakistanis burn a French national flag during a protest following French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments over the Mohammed caricatures, in Peshawar, on Oct. 26, 2020. (Abdul Majeed/AFP via Getty Images)

In response to the escalating dispute, Raab said, “NATO allies and the wider international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the fundamental values of tolerance and free speech, and we should never grant terrorists the gift of dividing us.”

But the rancor is showing no signs of abating. Turkey said on Oct. 28 that it will take legal and diplomatic steps in response to a caricature of Erdogan in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which officials called a “disgusting effort” to “spread its cultural racism and hatred.”

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea, on Sep. 29, 2020. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

The cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo showed Erdogan sitting in a white T-shirt and underpants, holding a canned drink along with a woman wearing an Islamic hijab.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin condemned the caricature as “vulgar” and “immoral,” and said it couldn’t be considered freedom of expression.

The magazine Charlie Hebdo has been a target of Islamic terrorists since it published cartoons depicting Mohammad years ago; its editorial offices were attacked in 2015 by terrorists who killed 12 people.

In September, as a trial of 14 alleged accomplices in the 2015 attack opened in Paris, the magazine republished the cartoons to underscore the right of freedom of expression.

On Sept. 25, a Pakistani man stabbed two people outside the publication’s former offices in Paris.

Amid the latest outburst of Muslim anger, France is on a heightened security alert to prevent Islamic terrorist attacks. France’s national police have called for increased security at religious sites around the All Saint’s holiday this coming weekend.

The French Foreign Ministry on Oct. 27 urged French citizens currently in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Mauritania, to exercise caution, while avoiding protests and other public gatherings.

On Oct. 27, the areas around the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower in central Paris were briefly evacuated after a bag filled with ammunition was discovered.

Reuters contributed to this report.