Saudi Arabia Condemns Cartoons in Wake of French Schoolteacher Beheading

saudi arabia
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia condemned cartoons on Tuesday in response to the beheading of a French schoolteacher by a radical Islamist for showing students illustrations of Muhammad — The kingdom did not condemn the beheading itself.

The statement in question was published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and not attributed to any official by name. It asserted that Riyadh “rejects any attempts to link Islam with terrorism.” The largest nations of the Islamic world have united to condemn French President Emmanuel Macron this week for awarding the schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, France’s highest civilian honor for giving his life in the name of free expression and launching a crackdown on radical Islam in France.

Paty showed students illustrations by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a class on civics, reportedly warning Muslim students and allowing them not to attend the class if it would offend them. After parents complained — and reportedly demanded a fatwa against Paty, an 18-year-old Chechen jihadist beheaded him on October 16.

In response to the beheading, Saudi Arabia condemned the cartoons.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia rejects any attempts to link Islam with terrorism and condemns the offensive cartoons of the Prophet of Guidance and the Messenger of Peace Mohammed bin Abdullah, may God bless him and grant him peace, or any of the messengers, peace be upon them,” the government statement, from an unnamed “source,” read.

“Freedom of expression and culture should be a beacon of respect, tolerance, and peace that rejects practices and acts which generate hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to coexistence,” the statement continued.

The statement did not condemn terrorism, only any observation of a link between Islam and terrorism.

The Saudi executive cabinet similarly condemned “any attempt to link Islam and terrorism” in a statement Wednesday. Unlike the official statement from the Kingdom, the cabinet emphasized “its condemnation and rejection of every terrorist act or practices and actions that generate hatred, violence, and extremism.”

These assertions followed remarks from the Council of Senior Scholars, the nation’s most powerful Islamic agency, last week that linked Islam to terrorism by asserting that Muslim “extremists” benefit from the cartoons because they justify their violence.

“The duty of wise people all around the world … is to condemn such insults which have nothing to do with freedom of thought and expression and are nothing more than pure prejudice and a free service for extremists,” the council said, according to Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya news network.

While the Saudi response fails to adequately condemn the violence inflicted upon Paty, it is milder than much of the outrage in the Muslim world. Al-Arabiya noted in its coverage that no Saudi official has endorsed any economic punishment on France or addressed calls for boycotts of French products around the Muslim world.

The most prominent event condemning France for opposing radical Islamic violence so far occurred on Tuesday in Bangladesh, where an estimated 40,000 men swarmed the capital of Dhaka demanding a nationwide boycott of France. Islamists burned Macron in effigy in the street and attempted to storm the French embassy in Dhaka, prevented by a large police presence and barbed wire.

Similar protests occurred in parts of Syria where Turkish-allied jihadists have established control. Protesters waved flags of the Islamic State in protest of the French defending freedom of expression.

Elsewhere in the world, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted on Wednesday that “every single European is in debt to the Prophet” [Muhammad], despite the extreme violence early Muslims visited on Europe, and that defending cartoons is “encouraging violence.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi similarly asserted, “if some have the freedom to express what is in their thoughts I imagine that this stops when it comes to offending the feelings of more than 1.5 billion people.”

In Chechnya, where Paty’s murderer came from, local leader Ramzan Kadyrov said the cartoons force Muslims to act violently.

“You are forcing people into terrorism, pushing people towards it, not leaving them any choice, creating the conditions for the growth of extremism in young people’s heads,” Kadyrov said in an Instagram post directed at Macron. “You can boldly call yourself the leader and inspiration of terrorism in your country.”

Macron has rejected the proposition of censoring his nation to appease the Muslim world.

“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 in the aftermath of Paty’s killing. “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.”

“We will not give up cartoons,” he later asserted.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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