Iranian state media celebrated Vatan-e Emrooz, an Iranian newspaper with ties to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Tuesday for publishing a cartoon of French President Emmanuel Macron titled “The Devil of Paris.”
The cartoon depicts Macron as Satan, with pointed ears, a red face, and an elongated nose. It is meant as revenge for Macron’s opposition to the beheading of Samuel Paty, a French schoolteacher, by a teen jihadist last month that occurred after Paty used cartoons of Muhammad in a class about free speech.
Macron has not responded to the cartoon’s publication at press time. He has repeatedly opposed criminalizing any cartoons in public and has not made any indication that his personal appearance in a cartoon would change his opinion.
— روزنامه وطن امروز (@vatanemrooz) October 26, 2020
PressTV noted that Macron’s stance of defending free expression despite potential offense to Muslims resulted in a wave of criticism in Iranian media, which the government tightly controls, even when it does not own the outlet.
“Other Iranian newspapers criticized Macron on the front page. Daily Kayhan demanded that the French ambassador be expelled from Iran in response to Macron’s insolence,” PressTV said.
State news outlets have vocally attacked Macron for his policies limiting the ability of violent jihadists to act in France, including the arrests of dozens of people in the aftermath of Paty’s beheading for publicly praising the killing. Mehr News Agency has published multiple attacks on Macron. In one article published this week, an alleged “human rights activist” called for Macron’s arrest and prosecution.
“Insulting divine religions is a hate crime and hate speech is not freedom of expression in any way. Everything in life has its rules and limits and especially when the repercussions are clearly causing a whole society to fall into divisions and destruction,” Firas Al Najim, the alleged human rights champion, told Mehr, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Macron should be arrested and prosecuted for hate crimes as he is more accountable than any citizen in France; president and leaders always have more responsibility and accountability than basic citizens.”
“Oh Macron, how much have your idiot reckless and undisciplined statements pushed in the direction of inciting hatred and discrimination in the world and within France?” an Islamic cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim of Bahrain, wrote in a letter to Macron that Mehr also published last week. “If you complain about terrorism, then your statements inflame and ignite the flame of terrorism. A little bit of terrorism is vicious, so why are you igniting it if you hate it?”
Qassim went on to argue that Macron, by refusing to prosecute cartoonists, has declared himself a greater prophet than Muhammad. He then questioned the concept of freedom of speech.
“Can Macron rationally or religiously prove or claim that the general human conscience is both in words and in deeds with freedom without any moral or legal restraints, and without any respect for the set of lofty values, human dignity, and public security?” the cleric asked. “Macron’s freedom opens the door wide to insults, to slander, to mockery, to unlawful crimes, to expose people’s concealed nature and to drop every sanctity.”
Paty was beheaded on October 16 after parents of Muslim students in his class, who Paty told in advance the cartoons would be displayed and allowed to not participate in the class if they were offended, launched a campaign to punish him. Police arrested an 18-year-old Muslim immigrant from Chechnya for the crime and shut down the mosque where the campaign against Paty began. Macron has also moved to empower police to shut down radical Islamist groups in the country and repeatedly vowed never to criminalize speech in the face of violence. He awarded Paty the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian award, posthumously.
“[T]here are groups [of] violent extremists who act in the name of Islam and by hijacking religion, who teach, within the framework of associations, using all the freedoms and rights that the [French] Republic offers, that our country offers, they teach that we must not respect France, that we must not respect our law, that we must somehow get out of our laws,” Macron told al-Jazeera in an interview published this weekend.
“They teach that women are not equal to men. They teach that little girls should not have the same rights as little boys. Not our values!” he declared. “I’m telling you very clearly: not our values!”
“We believe in the Enlightenment, and women have the same rights as men. It is vital. And so, I will never, never, never accept an association, even if it would be in the name of a religion, that would promote [the idea that] a little girl is not the equivalent of a little boy; she will not be given the same education, she will not be given the same opportunities — because it’s not our values,” he asserted. “People who think like that, let them do it somewhere else, but not on French soil.”
In addition to outrage in Iran, Bangladesh has experienced multiple waves of protests attracting tens of thousands of men burning Macron in effigy, threatening the French embassy in Dhaka, and calling for boycotts on French products. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, among others, have condemned any offense or possible offense to Muslims as outside of the realm of free speech. A video from Pakistan surfacing last week depicted a schoolteacher beheading an effigy of Macron in front of children.
“Macron is one of the few leaders who worship Satan,” Ataur Rahman, a senior leader of the Islami Andolan Bangladesh (Islamic Movement) party of Bangladesh, said at one of the several protests against Macron in Dhaka that have taken place.