On the 6th of October 2020, a history and geography teacher in a quiet suburb area in France showed a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. Ten days later, he was beheaded. This event sent shock waves through France and reignited the debate about secularism -separation of the state from religious institutions-. France’s president Emmanuel Macron called it an “Islamist terrorist attack” and said that “Islam is a religion that is in crisis today all over the world”. The French president went as far as defending the cartoons of Muhammad and did not “renounce the caricatures”. The presidents handling of the situation and provoking remarks spread anger in the Islamic world.
Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “We will not give in, ever. We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values”
But if you do not accept hate speech Mr. President, how come you accept the images of the Prophet? Isn’t that considered a form of hate speech towards Muslims as well?
Why images of the Prophet offend Muslims?
There is no explicit ban in the Koran on portrayals of Allah or the prophet Muhammad. Chapter 42, verse 11 in the Quran says: “[Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth… [there is] nothing like a likeness of Him.” Some Muslims interpret this verse that Allah cannot be captured in an image by human hand; same is applied to the prophet. Islamic Hadith and scholars explicitly prohibit drawings and images of Allah and the prophets of all religions. It is believed that the prophet himself spoke against such images knowing that people would start worshiping these images.
In the Western world free-speech advocates such as the French magazine Charlie Hebdo have been portraying the prophet Muhammad in a disrespectful manner. This is considered an insult and bullying.
Impact on the French economy
Macron’s speech and handling of the matter has infuriated many Islamic countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan and Kuwait. Erdoğan even questioned the mental health of France’s president and called for a complete boycott of French products in Turkey. Protests grew across the Muslim world and several social media trends such as #BoycottFrenchProducts started.
The graph above shows that billions of euros are at risk in boycott of French products. This put a huge pressure on the French economy which is already suffering from new lockdown measures in response to the rise in coronavirus cases. In response, France’s main stock market index CAC 40 fell almost 10% in the past couple of days. Although global markets have been falling as impacts of a second wave of COVID-19 weigh on markets among other factors, France seems to be hit harder than its peers.