Turkish chief backs boycott of French items over cartoon row
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People chant slogans against the satirical French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which reprinted a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, during a protest in Karachi
By Christian Lowe and Tuvan Gumrukcu
PARIS/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan asked his compatriots to stop buying French goods on Monday in the latest expression of anger in the Muslim world over images being displayed in France of the Prophet Mohammad, which some Muslims consider blasphemous.
In Bangladesh on Monday, protesters unfurled placards with a caricature of French President Emmanuel Macron and the words: “Macron is the enemy of peace”, while Pakistan summoned France’s ambassador in Islamabad to issue a protest.
Erdogan, who has a history of fraught relations with Macron, said France was pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.
“I am calling to all my citizens from here to never help French brands or buy them,” Erdogan said.
In Turkey, French autos are among the highest selling cars, and French-Turkish bilateral trade overall was worth nearly $15 billion last year. The Turkish president has made similar boycott calls in the past, including an appeal not to buy U.S. electronic goods in 2018 that was not followed through.
Erdogan on Monday joined a chorus of voices elsewhere calling for a boycott. In Kuwait city, a supermarket had stripped its shelves of L’Oreal cosmetics and skincare products after the cooperative union to which it belongs decided to stop stocking French goods.
In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour (PA:) were trending on social media, though two stores Reuters visited in the Saudi capital on Monday seemed as busy as normal. A company representative in France said it had yet to feel any impact.
While the immediate commercial impact of the boycott calls was difficult to assess, French businesses operate in majority-Muslim markets around the world.
Asked about the calls, Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, the head of the main French employers’ federation, said on RMC radio station: “Of course it’s bad news for the firms that have a presence there.”
Earlier, Erdogan had questioned the state of Macron’s mental health, prompting Paris to recall its ambassador in Ankara.
“What is the problem of this person called Macron with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs treatment on a mental level,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday.
The row has its roots in a knife attack outside a French school on Oct. 16 in which an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin beheaded Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old teacher who had shown pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a civics lesson on freedom of speech.
The cartoons first appeared many years ago in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris editorial office was attacked in 2015 by gunmen who killed 12 people.
Since the beheading, the caricatures have been projected onto the facade of a building in one city and people displayed them at protests around the country.
Macron said he would redouble efforts to stop conservative Islamic beliefs subverting French values.
Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, the Council of Senior Scholars, said in a statement carried on state media late on Sunday that insulting prophets had nothing to do with freedom of expression and only “served extremists who aim to spread hatred”.
Qatar’s government issued a statement on Monday condemning what it described as populist rhetoric inciting the abuse of religions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that insulting Muslims is an “opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech. It only fuels extremism.”
Several of France’s partners in the European Union rallied round the French leader on Monday.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in a Twitter post, said Erdogan’s remarks directed at Macron were unacceptable.
“Full solidarity with the President @EmmanuelMacron,” Conte wrote. “Personal invective does not help the positive agenda that the EU wants to pursue with Turkey.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described Erdogan’s personal attacks on Macron as a new low. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his country stands with France for the freedom of speech and against extremism.
France itself has stood firm. In a Tweet on Sunday, Macron said France respected all differences in a spirit of peace but he also said: “We will not give in, ever.”
The French foreign ministry said in a statement at the weekend that the criticism of France was driven by a radical minority and urged foreign governments to dissociate themselves from boycott calls.