French President Francois Hollande has assured Muslims that his country respects them and their religion, but will not compromise its commitment to freedom and democracy.
Speaking a week after 17 people were killed in Paris, he told a meeting at the Institute of the Arab World in the French capital on Thursday that Muslims were “the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance”.
His speech struck a careful balance between France’s commitment to protect its five-million-strong Muslim minority, Europe’s largest, and to uphold the principle of free speech even for caricatures that Muslims find offensive.
French Muslims have reported dozens of attacks on mosques since attackers targeted satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo last week.
French of the Muslim faith have the same rights and duties as all citizens.
“Islam is compatible with democracy and we should refuse any confusion [about this],” Hollande said at the Institute, where the slogan “We are all Charlie” was written in French and Arabic on the building’s facade.
“French of the Muslim faith have the same rights and duties as all citizens,” he said, and should be “protected and respected, as they should respect the republic”.
Hollande’s speech came as five of the 17 people killed in last week’s attacks in Paris were laid to rest on Thursday.
The five burials included those of two of Charlie Hebdo’s best-known cartoonists.
Georges Wolinski, 80, and Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, 57, were buried at private family funerals after they were gunned down by two brothers in last week’s Charlie Hebdo attack, claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
After the shooting at the newspaper, which killed 12 people, the French rushed to get their hands on the “survivors’ issue” which sold out Wednesday before more copies of an eventual print run of five million hit newsstands.
The paper’s decision to depict Prophet Muhammad ont he cover has angered some in the Muslim world, but long queues formed throughout France again on Thursday as copies again quickly ran out.
The Charlie Hebdo assault on January 7 was followed two days later by an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris by a gunman claiming to have coordinated his actions with brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.
In all, 17 people died over three days in the bloodiest attacks in France in half a century, which ended when commando units stormed two hostage sieges and killed all three gunmen.