I read Gimba Kakanda’s article “France: A kick of a Dying Empire,” published in Daily Trust of 1st November, 2020, and immediately thought he completely missed the whole point of the discourse championed by President Macron of France or is playing to the gallery to appeal to his widespread Muslim readers.
I have followed the debate with keen interest and the outrage in some parts of the Muslim world, which I think has to do with lack of understanding of crux of the matter.
Is the French President trying to reshape Islam as he is being accused of by his critics or is he simply defending his country’s secularism as his supporters put it? The answer now depends on which school of thought one belongs to or from which angle one chooses to look at it.
In early September 2020, Macron defended the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, the newspaper that cartooned and caricatured Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), saying that the right to free speech included the “right to blaspheme” and he pledged to fight against what he described as “Islamic separatism” in France. On 29th September, 2020, a Pakistani man was arrested after a knife attack on two people outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo where brothers, Sai’d and Cherif Kauochi, killed 12 people in January 2015, in retaliation for the newspaper publishing cartoons of the prophet. It was this latest attack that would prompt President Macron to announce that Islam was “in deep crisis” all over the world, and announced a drive to separate religion from education and public sector in the country on 2nd October, 2020.
On 16th October, 2020, Samuel Paty was killed and beheaded by Abouyedovich Anzorov, an 18 years old Russian immigrant of Chechen ethnic descent over the cartoon of the Prophet. The late Paty had shown the Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the prophet to his class when teaching freedom of speech after asking all Muslim students in his class to go out, as the story goes. Unfortunately one Muslim student didn’t hear him and remained in class. She would later go to tell her parent about it and the angry parent took it to social media. It eventually led to the killing and beheading of Mr. Samuel Paty.
After Paty’s murder, Macron came out in support of the teacher, saying, “Paty was killed because he embodied the Republic which comes alive every day in classrooms, the freedom that is conveyed and perpetuated in schools. Samuel Paty was killed because Islamists want our future and because they know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it.”
France has a long staunch tradition of secularism. In 1905, a law entrenched the principle of laicite (secularism) in law. It was designed to protect the rights of individuals to practise their own faith, but also to keep religion out of state institutions, particularly in schools. Other laws protecting the right to blaspheme go back further – there was a determined effort to keep the church out of state affairs in the wake of the French Revolution. It was based on this premise that President Macron was talking as he responded the killing of Samuel Paty.
The comment didn’t go down well with the likes of President Erdogan of Turkey who simply saw Macron support for the teacher as an attack on Islam. President Erdogan himself who has become unpopular with the West and seeking for support back home, has often dived into such issues to improve his own image. Soon Pakistan and Bangladesh with join the fray as local imams mobilize poor citizens who have no deep knowledge of happenings to take up the streets in protests.
Gimba Kakanda’s article and protest did not address the issue from the French perspectives. Charlie Hebdo may be wrong and I don’t support the cartoon or caricature of the Prophet, but it is not illegal in France to do so. It is not against the law in France to criticize any religion. Is it against the law to kill someone for criticising religion? It is against what France secularism stands for.
Mr.Gimba didn’t even bring up issues that led to the present situation, instead he went around telling us of how Muslims and Muslim resources was used to developed colonial France.
Until we understand the perspective for which France is talking, that they cannot succumb to terrorist threats and give up their ways of live, we may be doing injustice to France.