Why would small groups in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad, suddenly care about a cartoon in France when they have more pressing issues? This is a sort of regional competition over who “defends Muslims.”
Turkey, Iran, Qatar, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have all come out with statements over the weekend slamming France over alleged “insults to Islam,” in a campaign of media hype that appears designed to create a controversy over France’s reactions to the murder of a teacher.
French teacher Samuel Paty was murdered on October 16 in a gruesome beheading in which a parent from the school had incited another man to come and murder him over allegations he showed cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
While the murder was widely condemned and France went into national mourning, there has been a different reaction from countries whose leaders are rooted in political Islam. Muslim Brotherhood affiliated polities – such as Turkey which is run by the AK Party, and Qatar which tends to support Brotherhood politics, as well as Hamas in Gaza – have all condemned France and its President Emmanuel Macron, instead of condemning the murder of the teacher.
Over the weekend Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Macron of having a “problem” with Muslims and told him he needed mental health checks. In response, Paris withdrew its ambassador. Ankara often insults other countries, calling Austria and other European countries “Nazis,” telling Europe that the continent is full of “racist, spoiled children” and threatening to “slap” Europeans at every opportunity. Ankara has also bashed US Presidential candidate Joe Biden and US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and has accused Israel of being similar to the Nazis.
However, the new drive by Ankara is to try to portray France as “anti-Muslim.” This is interesting considering that Ankara’s regime is on a crusade to attack groups it calls “atheists,” such as Kurds in Syria, has rallied extremists to challenge Armenia and Greece, and routinely spreads veiled antisemitic threats against Israel, claiming the Jewish state puts its “dirty hands” on Jerusalem, a city Turkey recently claimed as its own.
WHILE TURKEY has attacked Macron, leading to yet another crisis with Europe and NATO members, Ankara has also directed its pro-government media to spotlight France as well. Anadolu on Sunday ran an article claiming that “Islamophobia is replacing antisemitism” in France, and that “Muslims [are] taking the place of the Jewish community in France.”
Jews in France have frequently been the victim of Islamist terror attacks, including the attack on a Toulouse school in 2012, and an attack on a kosher supermarket in 2015. Turkish media has not shown the same recognition and sympathy for Jewish victims of these attacks, as it has for what it alleges is a flood of “Islamophobia” in France. In fact, Paris has pointed out the “absence of messages of condolence and support” after the French teacher was murdered.
Turkish media has also given a platform to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two Palestinian terror groups whose statements got front page news in Turkey. Hamas claimed that “French cartoons provocative to Islam.” The “cartoons” in question relate to the publication Charlie Hebdo, which ran cartoons in 2015 and was then the victim of two terrorist attacks in which journalists and illustrators were murdered in France. The teacher murdered last week was also killed because of the rumors about “cartoons” being shown.
Hamas, which claims cartoons are provocative, has murdered hundreds of people in bus bombings and fired rockets at civilians and dug tunnels under schools, and cites antisemitic conspiracies in its covenant, all of which it does not consider “provocative” or an insult to religion. It routinely targets Jews and Jewish institutions.
Turkey’s pro-government media has chosen to highlight Hamas statements as if they are a normal group, part of Ankara’s hosting of the terrorist group’s leaders twice this year. News reports in the UK have indicated that Hamas plans terror attacks from Turkey, receiving visas from Ankara’s regime, and even conducts cyber attacks from Turkey. The anti-French comments in Turkey should therefore be seen more as part of the Turkey-Hamas-Qatar alliance system, than just about cartoons.
Turkey’s TRT state broadcaster also claimed there was “outrage” over the “anti-Islam” comments by Macron, comments that would largely have gone unnoticed had Ankara’s media not been ordered to highlight them and create a crises out of them that would make Ankara, Hamas and others appear to “defend Islam.” While Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Turkey pushed the anti-Macron comments over the weekend, they were joined by Iran and Qatari media in an avalanche of condemnations.
TRT SAYS that a far-right Islamist party in Jordan also condemned France, likely at the prodding of Ankara, and that in Qatar, French goods were being boycotted. The stores in Qatar whose shelves were supposedly now empty of French items couldn’t even explain to TRT why the sudden boycott was happening.
The cartoon controversy is more than five years old, so why did the murder of the teacher over false allegations about “cartoons” lead to a boycott of France in Qatar, rather than a boycott of the extremists who murder teachers? One supermarket named as Souq al-Baladi said it would pull French products, but “they stopped short of explicitly naming Macron or citing his comments.” The boycott thus appeared as an artificial controversy created for other reasons.
In Qatar, leading members of the ruling family tweeted anti-Macron statements, calling him “failed” and using language similar to Ankara. Al-Jazeera in Qatar, like Turkey’s pro-government and state media, stoked the anti-France “crisis” by highlighting Erdogan’s comments and appearing to agree that Macron “needs treatment.” Al-Jazeera claimed after the beheading of the teacher that Muslims in France now feared “Islamophobia.” The media heavyweight did not ask if teachers now feared being attacked.
Iran’s Press TV also highlighted the largely invented “cartoon” controversy on its front page as well on October 25. Like Ankara, it highlighted the “Palestinian” opposition to the “anti-Islam cartoons.” And like Ankara, it gave Hamas and other extremists a spotlight. Iran’s state media appeared to condone the murder, noting that “history teacher Samuel Paty had provoked outrage by showing to his students the blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.” Some Islamist countries sentence people to death for “blasphemy.”
The station also claimed that “Lebanese youths” were angry over the publication of cartoons. These unnamed youths “set fire to France’s national flag in a show of anger at the projection of offensive cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad onto government buildings in the European country,” the Iranian media claimed. According to this report the “blasphemous cartoons” were displayed on town halls in Montpellier and Toulouse for several hours.”
Once again the report and the protest appeared largely contrived, a controversy pushed by the same Iranian, Qatar and Turkish media, that then reported about the controversy. Most people in Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza would not know that a cartoon was displayed in faraway Montpellier had media in the states that stand to benefit not told them. In short, it appears the entire controversy since Paty’s murder was pushed to fan the flames of anger at France, rather than to have solidarity with the man who was murdered.
WHY WOULD small groups in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad, suddenly care about a cartoon in France when they have more pressing issues? It appears that Iran, which backs Islamic Jihad in Gaza, pushed the group to put out a statement that was then picked up by Turkey’s pro-government media to give the group legitimacy and exposure. Across the region this appeared to be the model: using Qatari, Turkish and Iranian media to spread the story about cartoons, and then to utilize the subsequent and largely feigned outrage to bring support to Doha, Ankara and Tehran as “defenders of Islam.”
This is a sort of regional competition over who “defends Muslims.” It is part of the same rhetoric from Tehran and Ankara about “liberating Al-Aqsa,” comments that are made by both regimes to fan the flames of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a “religious” conflict and “defending Islam.” The only beneficiaries of this are Ankara and Tehran, two regimes suffering economic failure at home and pushing conflicts abroad in the region under the illusory guise that they are helping a “pan-Islamic” cause. Creating a crisis with France can apparently help this, even when the cartoons in question are a half-decade old.
This has been done in the past by extremists groups: trying to leverage some “offensive” incident in the West to create conflict in the Middle East. In 2012, a video that almost no one had heard of or seen was said to be “offensive,” causing crowds to attack the US Embassy in Egypt. That same day of September 11, 2012, a coordinated terrorist attack murdered US ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. Evidence appeared to show that the feigned outrage over the “video” was a cover for the attack. Similar fake controversies have led to mob attacks and killing in Pakistan over the years.
Frequent invented stories of “blasphemy” are used by religious extremists to target minorities. In 1979 a rumor, pushed by extremists, led a mob to attack the US Embassy in 1979, claiming that America had bombed a mosque in Mecca. Mobs burned cinemas in 2012 in protest against the “anti-Islam” video that no one had seen. Similarly, when cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper in 2006, there were attempts by Turkey’s Erdogan to create a crisis with Denmark.
During the 2006 protests against the Denmark publication, up to 16 people were killed in Nigeria and Christians were attacked. In 2015, the BBC reported that more than 45 churches were burned in Niger as part of a protest against French publication of cartoons. Burning churches was not seen as blasphemous or offensive as a magazine in France publishing a cartoon.
It was alleged that various extremist groups in Niger and Nigeria used the controversy, which they might otherwise not have been aware of except for media reports, to push their own violent agenda, much as the current anti-Macron comments appear to be coordinated by pro-government media in Tehran and Ankara.