Secularism or Separatism: Macron’s comments lead to Middle Eastern boycott of French-made products

December 5, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

In response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments, describing Islam as a “religion in crisis”, French products have been removed from shops in Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

What does this mean?

Muslims across the world have been angered by Macron’s comments, which were made in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack in the outskirts of Paris. On 16 October 2020, middle-school teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by an Islamic terrorist for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed to his students. 

Depictions of Prophet Muhammed are problematic because Islamic tradition explicitly forbids such images. In homage to Paty, Macron said “we will not renounce cartoons… even if others recoil”, later tweeting “we will not give in, ever”

In response, there were protests in Libya, Syria, Bangladesh and the Gaza Strip. Additionally, some countries began a boycott on French goods. Political leaders in Turkey and Pakistan accused Macron of using divisive rhetoric, conflating Islam with Islamism and marginalising France’s six million Muslims. Even though France has described these calls for a boycott as “baseless”, the country is faced with a crisis of its own.  

What's the big picture effect?

Since 1905 France has upheld the principles of secularism. Secularism separates religion and civic affairs, meaning the state cannot support or stigmatise any religion. A controversial example of France’s secular values was the decision to ban the hijab in public schools. Macron relied upon secularism in his defence of the caricatures shown by Paty as well as his new strategy to tackle radical Islamism. The French President recently announced plans for stricter controls on religious, cultural and sporting associations. The law has a key role to play as outward displays of religious affiliation in schools and the public service will soon be illegal

Some people may be happy to be part of a secular society; however, secularism does not protect every citizen. The Muslim community is often a victim of these principles, as many believe Macron’s crackdown risks legitimising Islamophobia. This belief is supported by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) who condemned what it said was France’s continued attack against Muslims, arguing Macron’s offensive rhetoric could fuel hatred.  

The wider impact of France’s battle with religion affects the lives of everyday citizens. As Macron continues to alienate the Muslim community, there is a real possibility that a minority of radical Islamists may take action. This has played out with an increased terror threat across the country. Following Paty’s murder, another attack took place in Nice as a terrorist killed three people. This was the country’s second terrorist attack in a matter of weeks. France is not alone in this battle against terrorism as citizens of Vienna suffered an attack on 2 November 2020. The UK is also on alert as it recently raised its terrorism threat level to ‘severe’. 

At first, it may seem an Arabian boycott of French-made products only affects the consumers and businesses involved. However, beyond the shop floor, the boycott means a great deal to millions of Muslims. For now, the conflict between Macron and the French Muslim community continues with the world watching, hoping peace prevails. 

Report written by Henry Bee

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