Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in an aggressive speech against Western values of free expression Wednesday that “no Muslim can be a terrorist” because only “black-hearted” people can commit that crime.
The next day, suspected jihadists launched a wave of at least five attacks and attempted attacks against French civilians and targets. Muslim leaders around the world have condemned France for weeks after President Emmanuel Macron honored Samuel Paty, a French schoolteacher beheaded by a jihadist after showing students cartoons of Muhammad.
Thursday is a Sunni Muslim holiday known as Mawlid, observing the birthday of Muhammad.
Erdogan addressed his speech to a parliamentary group of his Islamist party, Justice and Development (AKP). He was, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency, discussing the worldwide debate triggered by Paty’s beheading and Macron’s campaign to crack down on violent Islamists and champion free speech in its aftermath. In addition to French state action against jihadists, French cities have projected large versions of blasphemous cartoons depicting Muhammad by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on walls of buildings.
“Unfortunately, we are going through a period in which the hostility towards Islam, Muslims and disrespect to the Prophet Muhammad is spreading like cancer, especially among the leaders in Europe,” Erdogan said.
“No Muslim can be a terrorist, nor can any terrorist be a Muslim because a terrorist is a black-hearted, bloody murderer who does not hesitate to kill innocents to achieve his own goals,” the president added.
Erdogan has previously denied the existence of moderate Islam.
“These epithets of ‘moderate Islam’ are very ugly, it is disrespectful and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it,” Erdogan said at an event hosted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2017.
“It is a matter of honor for us to stand sincerely against the attacks targeting our prophet, who honored Mecca, Medina, Asia, Africa, Europe, the whole world, all the world and all the times […] We would die not the day we gave our last breath, but the day when we kept silent and unresponsive in the face of these attacks,” Erdogan continued. He reportedly called Macron’s defense of free speech “vicious, provocative, ugly, [and] hateful.”
Macron posthumously awarded Paty the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honor, at a ceremony in which he vowed, “we will never give up cartoons.”
“He was killed because Islamists want our future. They will never have it,” Macron vowed.
Erdogan concluded that the “enemies of Islam and Turkey will get drown [sic] in a swamp of hate which they have entered for the sake of freedom. That are the signs of Europe’s return to its barbaric era.”
Erdogan previously called into question Macron’s mental health for his defense of free expression in the aftermath of Paty’s killing, prompting French outrage. Erdogan’s particularly venomous remarks against Macron have attracted the mockery and rage of the French, including appearing as a cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo in his underwear, apparently lifting the skirt of a woman dressed in an outfit similar to one Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan wore to the 2017 NATO summit. The caption read, “in private, he’s very funny!”
Erdogan : dans le privé, il est très drôle !
➡ Disponible demain ! pic.twitter.com/jxXqKrvXbK
— Charlie Hebdo (@Charlie_Hebdo_) October 27, 2020
Erdogan filed criminal charges against Charlie Hebdo for “insulting the president,” which is illegal in Turkey. Erdogan personally has claimed he has not seen the cartoon on multiple occasions.
“You are bastards, you are sons of bitches,” Erdogan’s deputy minister for tourism, Serdar Cam, objected on Twitter.
The day after Erdogan declared that no Muslims can be terrorists, France fielded five different attacks so far at press time. The deadliest, a stabbing spree in Nice, resulted in the killing of three people, including the near-beheading of a woman. Police foiled at least three other copycat attacks by individuals in the country, all considered to be linked to radical Islamism. A fifth attacker targeted the French consulate in Saudi Arabia, stabbing a guard.
Muslim world leaders have largely condemned Macron for honoring Paty and continuing not to criminalize cartoons that offend them. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Erdogan have all called for the destruction of the cartoons. The government of Saudi Arabia, where France’s consulate was attacked, issued a statement objecting to “attempts to link Islam with terrorism” in relation to Paty’s beheading, but not condemning the beheading itself.
In Bangladesh, 40,000 people gathered on Tuesday to demand a nationwide boycott of French products. Protesters burned Macron in effigy. Similar protests occurred in Iraq and Syria.