Following the murder of Samuel Paty in France two weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron gave a speech [fr] in which he defended freedom of expression and said "we won't give up on caricatures". This speech caused a massive backlash in the Muslim world, with protests and calls to boycott. There were also official reactions from the governments of several Muslim countries, apparently interpreting Macron's support of the caricatures as an insult to Islam.

Clearly the Charlie Hebdo caricatures are provocative and intended to mock Islam, so they can understandably be perceived by Muslims as an insult to their faith (it's worth mentioning that Charlie Hebdo didn't spare any other religion either). While the crowds protesting in Muslim countries might not always have a clear understanding of the cultural context and the significance of freedom of speech in a country like France, it's likely that government officials are better informed. Thus they must be aware that in most Western democracies freedom of speech implies the possibility to criticize religion, and that France is unlikely to introduce a law against blasphemy.

I understand that it's very likely that these official reactions obey mostly domestic political reasons, i.e. these leader need to show to their own population that they defend Islam. Still I'm curious whether any of them made any concrete request to France and/or Macron: are these governments asking Macron to do anything concretely? If yes what?

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    Has it really caused a "massive backlash" or are governments, hardliners, and media sensationalising this each for their own purposes? And Macron did not support the caricatures, he supported people's right to draw and distribute those caricatures; that's not the same. Is 40,000 people protesting in a Dhaka, a city with over 20 million inhabitants, a massive backlash?
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 17:06
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    @gerrit (I am conscious that making this statement may be controversial. As far as I am concerned, terrorists of the kill-happy type are the clearest argument for capital punishment, which I otherwise oppose). But my understanding is that Paty was acting in his capacity of a government-paid teacher when he showed the caricatures in his class. That in no way excuses any of the atrocities afterwards, but it does show more (indirect) government involvement than just not preventing people's rights to their free speech. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 18:06
  • I should comment here for further context. Currently it is the 3rd month of the Islamic calendar (Rabi-al-awal) which is the month when Prophet Mohammed was born. This entire month is holy and widely celebrated by Muslims, making them a bit more sensitive than usual to what's happening. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 20:35
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    @FixedPoint: I'm not sure it's relevant, though. Is there any month during which those caricatures would not cause a massive backlash in the muslim world? Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 21:27

2 Answers 2


Grandstanding is a big part of politics

Making outrageous or impossible demands is a time-honored way to curry favor with the public. Pick some issue near and dear to their hearts, take a hard line on it, and be as loud about it as you possibly can.

Your demand will, of course, be ignored. But that almost doesn't even matter.

It helps your negotiating position.

In older times, nations would sometimes manufacture casus belli this way: issue an outrageously ostentatious ultimatum in response to some legitimate but relatively minor grievance. Calculate it to be so odious it could not possibly be accepted, then attack once it is inevitably refused.

That's not so common anymore, but the other big use for this still is: as an opening position in a negotiation. Ask for the sun, the moon, and the stars then negotiate down to what you intended to offer all along.

It often helps your popularity and hardly ever hurts

Unless you are very transparently bad at doing this, it's easy for you to tell people that you went out there and fought for what they cared about. You know your complaint wasn't going to go anywhere. When it doesn't, you make hay out of that fact and use it to demonize your opponent.

Heads I win, tails you lose

Insofar as they demand Macron do anything it's plausible he might actually do, the person making the demand wins either way. If he does it, they win points politically. If he doesn't, the same deal.

Insofar as the demands are unrealistic or literally impossible, they're either intended to give the issuer an excuse to escalate - or they're being made because the issuer knows Macron is unlikely to retaliate in any meaningful way to the mere issuance of a demand. Talk is cheap.

  • This is a nice big-picture comment on governments’ motivations here, but doesn’t answer the actual question at all, which was What concrete demands, if any, have governments made? Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 12:55
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    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine: That's basically all there is to it, though. Western democracies consider freedom of speech to be non-negotiable, which includes the right to make tasteless, offensive jokes towards religion. Theocratic states consider respect towards religion to be non-negotiable. The leaders of both sides cannot back down and are expected to stand their ground. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 15:50
  • @EricDuminil: How does that answer the question? Where in this answer, or in your comment, does it say what concrete demands Muslim governments have made from France? This answer gives lots of useful context about what such demands would mean or signify, and as such I quite agree it’s valuable, but I don’t see anywhere that it says what such demands (if any) have actually been made. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 16:09
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    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine: To put it bluntly, the demand basically is : "Be tolerant towards our intolerance". Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 18:52
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    While the point is valid, this does not really answer the actual question asked, which is whether there were any specific requests/demands from other governments. Whether they are sincere or plausible isn't asked.
    – barbecue
    Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 0:18

TL;DR: They mainly want Macron to apologise, and to stop targeting Islam/Muslims in the name of freedom of speech.

I am a resident of the 4th largest Muslim country. Although our government is silent about this issue, there are big rallies and widespread boycotts going on everywhere. People are participating en masse for we_love_mohammad_ﷺ_challenge on Facebook.

When the teacher was murdered, many in the Muslim world condemned the murder. There was condemnation from major countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. However, the situation changed dramatically when the drawings were projected on French buildings. After this point it was considered that not only some individual magazines, but also the French government is part of this mockery of Islam. I saw countless posts regarding how there are cartoons mocking our prophet on the government buildings.

That is when the protests and calls for boycotts started. In essence, the boycott is going on against the French government, but not in support of Abdoullakh Anzorov (the killer). Macron and France were generally disliked by Muslims from various regions for actions including, but not limited to: banning the burqa, targeting so called "Islamic separatism", banning burqini at the beach, racism against Muslims, colonialism and neo-colonialism. These issues had a snowball effect.

Now, political leaders are probably trying to garner popularity by inciting the crowds as Macron is doing in France. One of the things that the protestors demanded directly is an apology. However, there are some indirect demands. The PM of Pakistan used this opportunity to ask Facebook to ban Islamophobic content. The Communications Director of Turkey tweeted about "dog whistle politics of offensive caricatures, accusations of separatism against Muslims, and mosque raids". The FM of Iran warned about opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech.

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    Charlie Hebdo caricatures had spared no religion, infuriating every religion they targeted. I think really the topic of France and Islam needs to be separated from the Charlie Hebdo issue because it often leads to people conflating terrorism with Islam. I'm sure no Muslim in their right mind supports murdering someone because of some (albeit offensive) pictures but it is completely understandable to object to France banning burqas as targeting a specific religion. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 14:05
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    Also: yet another beheading happened this morning in France bbc.com/news/world-europe-54729957, with the suspect endlessly repeating 'Allahu Akbar'. I don't think that Macron will apologize about anything, nor that it would be a good start. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 14:42
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    -1, if I could, for this biased answer. From the Freudian slip ("condemned the teacher"), to a "good start", to the "so called Islamic separatism". How else could you explain that a born-and-raised young French person would behead a teacher over a drawing? Every religion had its fair share of problems in the past, but those problems are not going to solve themselves if merely mentioning them could be the reason for a brutal death. Some principles of Islam are in direct opposition to the French constitution, and you cannot blame the politicians for defending the latter. Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 19:06
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    "mocking the prophet" is a fundamental right when you have freedom of speech. Nothing is sacred: with free speech one can discuss, mock or debate anything. Something sacred to a person may be a joke to another person. In a country where freedom of speech is a central tenet, you cannot expect respect of things Muslims hold dear. Secularism and freedom of speech are central to the French culture, religion has a lower importance and can't override these values.
    – Thomas
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 22:20
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    Some good factual answers but even the hint that there's any justification whatsoever for such attacks renders this answer offensive and disgusting.
    – barbecue
    Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 0:22

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