Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 November 2020

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘offensive’ French cartoons amid growing boycott calls

Muslim Council of Elders also criticised 'systematic' abuse of the Prophet Mohammed

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday condemned French cartoons that they branded offensive to the Prophet Mohammed and rejected any link between Islam and terrorism amid calls to boycott French goods over the matter.

An official at the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry condemned all acts of terrorism in an apparent reference to the recent beheading of a teacher in Paris this month by an extremist angered by the use of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on freedom of expression.

"Freedom of expression and culture should be a beacon of respect, tolerance and peace that rejects practices and acts which generate hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to coexistence," said the statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Elders – an Abu Dhabi-based group of religious scholars and thinkers – on Monday criticised what it called “systematic” abuse of the Prophet Mohammed under the pretext of freedom of speech as it sought to file a lawsuit against French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

"The time for mere words has passed and the time for action on the ground is right now,” the council said according to state-run Wam news agency. "Confronting these defamation campaigns should be through legal methods out of our belief in the importance of resisting hate speech.”

The council called on all Muslims to stand against hate speech by pushing for international legislation that criminalises actions against religions and to find ways to make the West “face up to this anti-Islamic campaign and work for establishing a friendly environment for peaceful co-existence and human fraternity”.

The council also called for Muslims living in the West to follow the values of peaceful co-existence with all parts of society and to integrate into their communities.

“It urged them to positively integrate into their respective wider communities and not be drawn into xenophobic provocations which aim to distort Islam’s image while promoting hostility towards its believers,” Wam said.

The images of the Prophet run by Charlie Hebdo have sparked anger in the Muslim world with Turkey's leader calling for a boycott of French goods and Pakistan's parliament passing a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris.

The Saudi statement did not refer directly to the calls for a boycott.

In the kingdom, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour were trending on social media, though two main stores of the chain in Riyadh on Monday seemed as busy as normal. A company representative in France said it had yet to feel any impact.

In neighbouring Kuwait, some supermarkets have pulled French products under a directive of a cooperative union.

Yemen's Foreign Ministry said the cartoons could fuel hatred and encourage violence and terrorism.

"The continuing insult of the Holy Prophet Mohammed is offensive to every Muslim man and woman," the ministry said.

"This cannot be justified or encouraged, in any way, under the pretext of freedom of expression."

Mr Macron has defended the cartoons as protected by freedom of expression. "We will not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others back down," Mr Macron said during a national tribute to the slain teacher Samuel Paty.

Paris has mobilised its diplomats in the region to ask countries where boycotts are being organised to provide assurances that French citizens would be safe.

“These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority.”

Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom's highest religious body, said that insulting prophets only served extremists who wish to spread hatred among societies.

“The duty of wise people all around the world … is to condemn such insults which have nothing to do with freedom of thought and expression and are nothing more than pure prejudice and a free service for extremists,” the council said on Sunday.

Al Qaeda-linked extremists have seized on the growing campaign to incite violence against the country’s political leadership.

A message posted on Telegram by a prominent online supporter of the group claimed the boycott should be the minimum required because of the “immoral crusade” launched by France.

France has also accused Mr Erdogan of stoking tensions amid a deepening rift between Ankara and Pairs over a number of regional issues including the war in Libya and maritime exploration of oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea.

Prominent French politician Jack Lang, who heads the Institute of the Arab World in Paris and a former French culture and education minister, urged an end to the boycotts to build trust.

In January 2015, Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 staff members in an attack organised by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Updated: October 28, 2020 01:00 AM

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