French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said he understood the feelings of Muslims who are offended by the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, but he would continue to fight “radical Islam”.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Macron said: “I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now, it’s to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these rights. I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw.”
The French president also criticised what he said was “distortions” from political leaders, and said that people were under the impression that the caricatures were a creation of his government.
“I think that the reactions came as a result of lies and distortions of my words because people understood that I supported these cartoons,” the president said. He clarified the cartoons, which Muslims consider blasphemous, had emerged from free and independent newspapers unaffiliated with the government.
Macron’s firm stance against Islamism following the beheading of a teacher near Paris on October 17 has drawn anger from Muslims across the world. The French teacher had showed caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in class before the attack. Macron had called the incident an “Islamist attack” and urged citizens to stand up against extremism. The president had called Islam “a religion that is in crisis all over the world”, while defending the right to publish such caricatures.
Macron said that there were extremist movements that distorted Islam and killed people in the name of religion. “Of course this is a problem for Islam because Muslims are the first victims,” he told the news channel. “More than 80% of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, and this is a problem for all of us.”
After an assailant shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice city on Thursday, officials have stepped up security in the country. France’s interior minister has said more militant attacks are likely in the country as it is fighting a war against Islamist extremism.
Members of the Muslim community across the world have launched campaigns against French products. Demonstrations were held in Syria, Libya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, among other countries. Many Muslims, in France and abroad, interpret the cartoons as a deeply offensive provocation.