Muslims are “not persecuted” in France, the French Council of the Muslim Faith said Monday, as a row over radical Islam and freedom of speech pits Muslim nations against Paris.
“France is a big country, Muslim citizens are not persecuted, they freely construct their mosques and the freely practise their religion,” said the council, which acts as an official go-between for the state and observant Muslims.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to take the fight to Islamist radicals after the October 16 beheading of a history teacher who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed to pupils in a class discussion on free speech.
But a backlash against his comments saw protests in Muslim-majority countries over the weekend, with people burning pictures of Macron in Syria and setting fire to French flags in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
Boycotts of French goods are under way in supermarkets in Qatar and Kuwait, with further calls to spurn French products in Jordan, Turkey and other states.
The head of the CFCM, Mohammed Moussaoui, urged French Muslims on Monday to “defend the interests” of the nation in the face of the international outcry.
“We know that the promoters of these campaigns say they defend Islam and the Muslims of France, we urge them to be reasonable… all the smear campaigns against France are counterproductive and create division,” he said.
Regarding cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, viewed as offensive by many Muslims, Moussaoui said French law gave people “the right to hate” the cartoons.
But he said he supported the stance of Macron, who has vowed France would never relinquish cartoons or the right to mock religion.
Representatives of the CFCM are to meet Macron at the Elysee Palace later Monday.