Saudi Arabia condemns attempts to ‘link Islam with terrorism’

Saudi statement comes as anger grows in the Muslim world over publications of cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad in France.

Protesters denounce French President Macron at a demonstration in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad [Teba Sadiq/ Reuters]

Saudi Arabia has said it “rejects any attempt to link Islam with terrorism, and condemns the offensive cartoons of the Prophet” amid an escalating row between France and some Muslim-majority nations over Paris’s support for the right to caricature the Prophet.

Its government also called for “intellectual and cultural freedom to be a beacon of respect, tolerance and peace that rejects practices and acts which generate hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to the values of coexistence,” a Saudi foreign ministry official told state media on Tuesday.

The official added that Riyadh condemned all acts of terrorism regardless of the perpetrators, in an apparent reference to the beheading of a teacher in Paris this month by a Muslim man angered by the use of caricatures of the Prophet in a class on free speech.

The images have sparked anger in the Muslim world.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a boycott of French goods, and Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris.

Several Arab trade associations also announced a boycott.

Protests have been held in Iraq, Turkey and the Gaza Strip, with demonstrators in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, burning the French flag and stepping on images of French President Emmanuel Macron.

In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour were trending on social media, though a company representative in France told Reuters news agency it had yet to feel any impact.

Tuesday’s statement from the Saudi foreign ministry did not mention the boycott calls.

On Monday, Erdogan again lambasted his French counterpart, saying for a third time that Macron needed a mental health check – a rebuke that caused France to recall its ambassador from Ankara over the weekend.

The Turkish president also urged European leaders to halt what he called Macron’s “anti-Islam” agenda.

“European leaders with foresight and morals must break down the walls of fear,” Erdogan said in a speech at the start of a week of celebrations in Turkey to commemorate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

“They must put an end to the anti-Islam agenda and hate campaign that Macron is leading.”

The criticism came after Macron pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”, saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France.

Critics say Macron’s rhetoric encourages Islamophobia, incites hate and alienates his country’s six million Muslims – the largest Muslim minority in Europe.

Late on Monday, the French embassy in Ankara issued a warning to French nationals living and travelling in Turkey to exercise “great vigilance” due to the “local and international” context, urging them to avoid any gathering or demonstration in public places.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies