France condemns Erdogan over Islam row, threatens sanctions

Foreign minister lashes out at Ankara’s ‘declarations of violence and hatred’ as Macron insists he is fighting ‘extremism’, not Islam.

Erdogan and Macron clash over several issues on the international scene, including Libya, the eastern Mediterranean and Nagorno-Karabakh [File: Christian Hartmann/Pool/Reuters]

France on Thursday condemned what it said were “declarations of violence” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and raised the possibility of new sanctions against Ankara.

Erdogan has been feuding bitterly with French President Emmanuel Macron on a number of geopolitical flashpoints and, more recently, France’s fight against what it calls “radical” Islam.

“There are now declarations of violence, even hatred, which are regularly posted by president Erdogan which are unacceptable,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.

Erdogan has joined calls from across the Muslim world to boycott French products in response to Macron’s statement that Islam was a religion “in crisis” globally, saying the French president needed mental treatment over his views on Islam.

Tensions have been further heated as Macron, top officials and the French public renew their support for the right to show caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which are deeply offensive to Muslims as they often conflate Islam and violence.

Turkey vowed Wednesday to “respond in the firmest way possible” to France’s ban of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group.

“It is not only France that is targeted, there is a total European solidarity on the subject – we want Turkey to renounce this logic,” Le Drian said.

The European Council, he added, has already decided to take measures against the Turkish authorities, and “now it is important for the Turks to take the necessary measures to avoid this.

“There are means of pressure, there is an agenda of possible sanctions.”

Macron insists not against Islam

Meanwhile, Macron has underlined that his country is fighting “Islamist separatism, never Islam”, responding to a Financial Times article that he claimed misquoted him and has since been removed from the newspaper’s website.

In a letter to the editor published on Wednesday, Macron said the UK paper had accused him of “stigmatising French Muslims for electoral purposes and of fostering a climate of fear and suspicion towards them”.

“I will not allow anybody to claim that France, or its government, is fostering racism against Muslims,” he said.

An opinion article written by a Financial Times correspondent and published on Tuesday alleged that Macron’s condemnation of “Islamic separatism” (an error, he actually called it “Islamist separatism) risked fostering a “hostile environment” for French Muslims.

The article was later removed from the paper’s website and replaced with a notice saying it had “contained factual errors”.

The renewed support for the right to show the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad comes amid the trial for the deadly 2015 attacks on the staff at Charlie Hebdo; the satirical magazine republished the images as the trial began. Since the fallout between Macron and Erdogan, it has printed a provocative caricature of the Turkish leader, further angering Ankara.

The support also comes after last month’s murder of teacher Samuel Paty – who had shown his class a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad.

Following the protests and boycotts of French goods across the world, Macron told Al Jazeera over the weekend he understood the caricatures could be shocking for some.

But recounting a wave of attacks in France since 2015, Macron warned in his letter this week there were still “breeding grounds” for “extremism” in France.

“In certain districts and on the internet, groups linked to radical Islam are teaching hatred of the republic to our children, calling on them to disregard its laws,” he wrote.

“This is what France is fighting against … hatred and death that threaten its children – never against Islam. We oppose deception, fanaticism, violent extremism. Not a religion.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies