DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Muslims in the Middle East and beyond on Monday broadened their calls for boycotts of French products and protests, as a clash over depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and the limits of free speech intensified.
Kuwaiti stores pulled French yogurts and bottles of sparkling water from their shelves, Qatar University canceled a French culture week, and calls to stay away from the Carrefour grocery store chain were trending on social media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Protests have been held in Turkey and the Gaza Strip and are being planned in Pakistan.
The beheading earlier this month of a French teacher who had shown caricatures of the prophet in class has once again ignited a debate over such depictions—which Muslims consider blasphemous. The growing confrontation is raising political tensions between France and some Muslim-majority nations and could put pressure on French companies.
The teacher, who was killed by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, has been heralded at home as a national symbol of France’s dearly-held secular ideals and its rejection of any whiff of religious intrusion in public spheres.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vigorously defended such depictions as protected under the right to free speech. At a memorial for the teacher last week, Macron said: “We won’t renounce the caricatures.”
On Sunday, he appeared to double down. In tweets published in both Arabic and English, he wrote: “We will not give in, ever.” He added, however, that France does not accept hate speech and respects all differences.
His government plans a bill aimed at rooting out what Macron calls “Islamist separatism,” which he contends has created a parallel culture in France, one that rejects French laws and norms. While he blamed some of this separatism on France’s colonial past in North Africa, he was quoted as saying Islam is “a religion that is in crisis all over the world” and that Muslim positions are “hardening.”
Macron’s stance has drawn anger from the Muslim world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the most vocal on the political front, saying Macron needed his head examined and had lost his way. France responded by recalling its ambassador to Turkey.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said the French leader chose to encourage anti-Muslim sentiment and deliberately provoke Muslims by encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam. Pakistan also summoned the French ambassador to lodge a protest over Macron’s condoning of the caricatures.
Amid the political barbs, neither Erdogan nor Khan has publicly condemned the killing of the French teacher.
Meanwhile, Islamic terrorist groups ranging from the Taliban in Afghanistan to Hezbollah in Lebanon have condemned Macron’s defense of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad.