KUWAIT: Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah meets French Ambassador to Kuwait Anne-Claire Legendre yesterday. – KUNA

KUWAIT: Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah met French Ambassador to Kuwait Anne-Claire Legendre yesterday, discussing with her a number of important topics. During the meeting, the two officials touched on the gruesome murder of a history teacher in France, an act condemned by Kuwait in a previous statement, which reflected disdain of all acts of terrorism.

On the other hand, Sheikh Ahmad stressed it is vital to stop actions desecrating religion and important religious figures, especially within official and political discourse, to avoid the spread of hatred and racism. He also indicated that Kuwait strongly objects to policies aimed at linking Islam and its teachings to terrorism.

Calls to boycott French goods are growing in the Arab world and beyond, after President Emmanuel Macron criticized Islamists and vowed not to “give up cartoons” depicting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Macron’s comments, on Wednesday, came in response to the beheading of the teacher, Samuel Paty, outside his school in a suburb outside Paris earlier this month, after he had shown cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during a class he was leading on free speech.

On Saturday, Jordan’s foreign ministry said it condemned the “continued publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) under the pretext of freedom of expression” and any “discriminatory and misleading attempts that seek to link Islam with terrorism.” It did not directly criticize Macron, although the French president had on Wednesday also contended that Paty was “killed because Islamists want our future”.

But Jordan’s opposition Islamic Action Front party called on the French president to apologize for his comments and urged citizens in the kingdom to boycott French goods. Such boycotts are already underway in Kuwait and Qatar. Dozens of Kuwaiti stores are boycotting French products, with images on social media showing workers removing French Kiri and Babybel processed cheese from shelves.

In Doha, an AFP correspondent saw workers stripping shelves of French-made St Dalfour jams and Saf-Instant yeast in a branch of the Al Meera supermarket chain on Saturday. Al Meera competes with French supermarket chains Monoprix and Carrefour for market share in the lucrative Qatari grocery sector. Al Meera and another grocery operator, Souq Al Baladi, released statements late Friday saying they would pull French products from stores until further notice. They stopped short of explicitly naming Macron or citing his comments, but the Al Meera statement said customer “comments guided our actions”.

Turkey said yesterday “offensive caricatures” of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were being used to intimidate Muslims in Europe under the guise of freedom of expression. European attitudes demonizing Muslims were reminiscent of how the Jews in Europe were treated in the 1920s, said Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency.

“The dog whistle politics of offensive caricatures, accusations of separatism against Muslims, and mosque raids isn’t about freedom of expression,” Altun tweeted in English. “It’s about intimidating and reminding Muslims that they are welcome to keep the European economy going, but they will never belong – against the backdrop of lectures about integration. Everything we see about Muslims in European public culture today is eerily familiar to the demonization of the European Jewry in the 1920s,” he added.

“Some European leaders today do not just target Muslims in their midst. They attack our sacred values, our scripture, our prophet and our political leaders – our way of life,” said Altun. He said Europeans needed to understand: “Muslims won’t go away because you don’t want us. We won’t turn the other cheek when you insult us. We will defend ourselves and our own at all costs.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday slammed Macron over his policies toward Muslims, saying that the French president needed “mental checks”. “What can one say about a head of state who treats millions of members from different faith groups this way: First of all, have mental checks,” Erdogan said in a televised address. Before Macron’s comments on Wednesday, he had already sparked a backlash in early October when he said “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world”.

Erdogan yesterday renewed his call for Macron to undergo mental checks, a day after his comments prompted Paris to recall its envoy to Ankara. The Turkish leader accused Macron of being “obsessed with Erdogan day and night”, in a televised speech in the eastern Anatolian city of Malatya. “(Macron) is a case and therefore he really needs to have (mental) checks,” he said. Erdogan also took aim at Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders who shared a defamatory cartoon of the Turkish leader on Twitter. “Know your limits,” said Erdogan. “Fascism is not in our book, fascism is in your book.”

Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council called Macron’s words “irresponsible” on Friday, and said they would “increase the spread of a culture of hatred”. The same day, Qatar University wrote on Twitter that following “the deliberate abuse of Islam and its symbols”, French Cultural Week would be postponed indefinitely, in a context where 2020 is the France-Qatar year of culture.

Many Jordanians have changed their profiles on Facebook to add the message “Respect Muhammad the Prophet of Allah (God)”. In Jaffa, a largely Arab town next to Tel Aviv, some 200 people protested after evening prayers on Saturday in front of the residence of France’s ambassador to Israel.

One of the demonstrators, Amin Bukhari, accused Macron of playing the game of “the extreme right”. “Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the most sacred thing in Islam and whoever attacks his honor, attacks an entire people,” he told the crowd. Speaking outside the official residence of French ambassador Eric Danon, Bukhari said “we must respect Moses (PBUH) among the Jews, we must respect Jesus Christ (PBUH) who is our prophet too, and we must respect Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.” The gathering dispersed without incident.

“Insulting religions and prophets is not a matter of freedom of expression, but rather promotes a culture of hatred,” Hamas said in a statement, warning of unspecified “consequences”. The smaller Islamic Jihad group, which likewise operates in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, said that offending Islam and its prophet crossed a “red line” and “could not be tolerated”.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Macron yesterday of “attacking Islam”. In a series of tweets, Khan said his remarks would sow division. “This is a time when Pres Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation & marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation,” Khan wrote. “It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists.”

Blasphemy is an explosive issue in ultraconservative Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty. “By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world,” Khan said. In an address to the United Nations last month, Khan, a populist leader who has been known to play to Pakistan’s hardline religious base, blasted Charlie Hebdo for re-publishing the cartoons, saying “willful provocations” should be “universally outlawed”. – Agencies