Thousands of Muslims throughout India took to the streets Friday to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to criminalize cartoons, resulting in about 2,000 arrests in Madhya Pradesh alone.
The largest Madhya Pradesh protest occurred in the large city of Bhopal, and resulted in the arrest of lawmaker Arif Masood. Muslims in Mumbai also assembled in protest, lining the roads with photos of Macron’s face so that cars would have no choice but to run them over.
As Friday is traditionally the day of the week when Muslims attend prayers at their local mosques, many convened around the world after the prayers to protest the French. In Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan, thousands attempted to storm the French Embassy, prompting police to use tear gas to hold back the crowd.
The Islamic world — including, notably, governments and heads of state — has erupted with anti-French sentiment following the beheading of Samuel Paty, a French teacher, on October 16. A teen Chechen immigrant beheaded Paty after parents of Paty’s students organized to call for a fatwa on the teacher. Paty used cartoons of Muhammad taken from the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo to teach a class on freedom of expression.
Macron responded to the beheading by awarding Paty the Legion of Honor and declaring, “we will never give up our cartoons.” French police have shut down multiple mosques and arrested dozens of suspected jihadists, some for celebrating Paty’s death.
“One of our countrymen was assassinated because he was teaching, because he was teaching his students about the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” Macron said following the incident. “It’s not a coincidence if tonight a teacher was struck, because the terrorist wanted to attack the values of the public, its light, the possibility to make our children, no matter where they come from, no matter what they believe or not believe, no matter what their religion is, to make them free citizens.”
Islamic leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi all condemned Paris for failing to apologize for the cartoons or censor them. Notably, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been among the most supportive allies Macron has found around the world in the dispute.
According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), police arrested 2,000 people for violating Chinese coronavirus social distancing measures to participate in calls for boycotting French products. India’s News18 added that many demanded an apology from Macron for condemning radical Islamic terrorism. Masood, the lawmaker, was among the march’s leaders. He used his time to speak to “urge[…] the Central government to snap all financial ties with France.”
In Mumbai, the protests were reportedly more subdued than in Bhopal and largely consisted of plastering the streets with photos of Macron.
“Muslims in Mumbai pasted Macron’s photographs on roads. People, cars, dogs, cats are walking over the posters,” Maulana Abbas Rizvi, who participated in the event, told the Times of India. “He (Macron) had the audacity to under his government. He must be punished like this only. I congratulate Mumbai for punishing this wrongdoer like this.”
The protests across the border in Islamabad turned violent despite the nation being largely Islamist and the election a prime minister who supports global blasphemy laws enforced through the United Nations. While local reports suggest no major injuries, a crowd of about 3,000 men organized a failed effort to break through Islamabad’s red zone to reach the French embassy, demanding the expulsion of the nation’s ambassador. Many appeared on video attempting to climb over large shipping containers placed around the fortified area to keep mobs out; mob violence is not uncommon in Pakistan. Some hung Macron in effigy over a bridge.
Pakistanis attack the French Embassy in Islamabad. https://t.co/KVJTzwrkju
— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) October 30, 2020
“The police used tear gas shells to push back the protesters. The demonstrators staged sit-in at Aabpara Chowk and demanded the government to expel the French ambassador and boycott the products of the country, which is supporting the blasphemous caricatures at the state level,” Daily Pakistan reported.
As of Friday night, the mob responded to the tear gas by attacking police outposts and have stationed themselves in woodland near the barrier to the diplomatic zone and have reportedly declared they will stay overnight.
At least three other Pakistani cities — Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar — experienced anti-French protests on Friday.
Khan has responded to national outrage not by calling for a boycott of France, but claiming that he will lead a global effort to criminalize anything any Muslim may deem offensive anywhere in the world. In remarks on Friday, Khan said that Europeans were ignorant of the sensibilities of Muslims and that, as Muslims, it is “our responsibility to apprise them of the sentiments of Muslim community.”
Protests also reportedly occurred in Bangladesh, which already say a group of 40,000 people convene on Tuesday to call for a French boycott; Lebanon, where Macron has been instrumental in first response to August’s deadly explosion in the port of Beirut; Israel, where Palestinians called for a “day of rage;” and the United Kingdom.