France is looking at seeking to appoint a special ambassador to explain President Emmanuel Macron’s thinking on secularism and freedom of expression, according to The Guardian.
The envoy would also be charged with helping to prevent any further spread of the anti-France sentiment that has been seen in some majority-Muslim countries in recent weeks.
Tensions between some Muslims and France started to increase in September after Macron refused to pass judgment on the decision by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to re-publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that had previously unleashed a wave of indignation in the Muslim world when they were originally printed.
Macron's statement has already worsened ties between France and a number of majority-Muslim countries, most notably Turkey. A call to boycott French products, encouraged by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has also been launched.
Other prominent Muslim leaders have followed Erdogan's lead and ramped up the anti-French rhetoric.
Following the murder last month of a school teacher near Paris, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote on Twitter that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past. But by and large the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.” The attitude of the French president was, he said, “very primitive”.
— Dr Mahathir Mohamad (@chedetofficial) October 29, 2020
France is also concerned that media in the Middle East has carried articles claiming that the rights of French Muslims are under threat.
Macron has stressed the cartoons were not official publications. He said: “I understand and respect that we can be shocked by these cartoons, but I will never accept that we can justify physical violence for these cartoons. I will always defend in my country the freedom to say, write, think, draw.”
Macron has already sought to engage with the wider Muslim world in an interview with Al Jazeera but so far this approach has made little headway in the region.
Macron also recently spoke with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to reassure him that he distinguished between terrorism and extremism on the one hand, and Islam and Islamic thinking on the other, according to The Guardian.
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash has come out in support of Macron's position. In an interview with Die Welt he said: “[Muslims] have to listen carefully to what Macron said in his speech. He doesn’t want to ghettoise Muslims in the west, and he is totally right.”
“The words of the French president were deliberately taken out of context.”
— Emmanuel Macron ᵖᵃʳᵒᵈᶦᵉ 😷 🇫🇷 (@real_E_Macron) November 1, 2020