As the controversy over rising Islamophobia in Europe leads to protests by millions of Muslims all around the world, European leaders continue to back each other’s anti-Muslim sentiments, presenting hate speech as freedom of speech.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on NATO allies to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on values of tolerance and free speech, in a veiled rebuke to Turkey, which has been calling for a boycott of French goods.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged Turks to stop buying French products and has accused France of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. Britain, France and Turkey are all NATO members.
French President Emmanuel Macron last week said he won’t prevent the publication of cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad under the pretext of freedom of expression, a statement that sparked outrage in the Arab and Muslim world.
France recently launched an extensive witch hunt against the Muslim community following Macron’s remarks characterizing Islam as a problematic religion that needs to be contained. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and mosques have been shut down in the last two weeks, while assaults against Muslims have spiked.
Macron this month also described Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide and said the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France.
He announced stricter oversight on schooling and better control over foreign funding of mosques. But the debate over the role of Islam in France reached new intensity after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, which prosecutors say was carried out by an 18-year-old Chechen who had contact with a terrorist in Syria.
“The UK stands in solidarity with France and the French people in the wake of the appalling murder of Samuel Paty,” Raab said in a statement. “Terrorism can never and should never be justified.”
“NATO allies and the wider international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the fundamental values of tolerance and free speech, and we should never give terrorists the gift of dividing us.”
The French government, backed by large numbers of citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on free speech and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons.
The French reaction to Paty’s murder has caused widespread anger in Muslim countries, where there have been anti-French demonstrations and calls for boycotts. France has warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions.
Meanwhile, France also urged fellow European Union leaders on Tuesday to adopt measures against Turkey.
“France is united and Europe is united. At the next European Council, Europe will have to take decisions that will allow it to strengthen the power balance with Turkey to better defend its interests and European values,” Trade Minister Franck Riester told lawmakers, without elaborating.
While France seems to lead Europe with its Islamaphobic stance, it is by no means alone as many others follow its path.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday weighed in on a growing dispute between Erdoğan and a Dutch anti-Muslim MP, whom the Turkish leader has accused of defamation over a cartoon drawing.
Erdoğan filed a complaint this week against the outspoken Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders, who shared a cartoon of the Turkish president wearing an Ottoman hat shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse on Twitter.
Anadolu Agency (AA) said Erdoğan brought a defamation complaint before state prosecutors in Ankara against Wilders, who also tweeted the word “Terrorist” with the cartoon.
“To lay a complaint against a Dutch politician which could lead to restricting his freedom of expression is unacceptable,” Rutte said.
Rutte said he was “speaking directly to the Turkish president” but that the Dutch objection would also be voiced through other diplomatic channels.
Rutte was also one of the first European leaders to support Macron.
The complaint against Wilders “went beyond all limits,” Rutte said.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is used by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) when making decisions on similar subjects.
It states the freedom of expression does not allow for unlimited declarations and can be restricted for certain purposes that are mentioned within the article: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Relations between the Netherlands and Turkey have remained strained since the Dutch government in 2017 refused to allow two Turkish ministers to campaign for Erdoğan among Turks of Dutch descent.
That decision, days before Dutch parliamentary elections were to be held in the Netherlands, angered the Turkish community who rioted in Rotterdam in the streets around the Turkish Consulate.
There are some 400,000 Dutch citizens of Turkish background in the Netherlands.