Thousands of Muslims protest against France in Dhaka on Nov. 2. They called for a boycott of French products and slammed French President Emmanuel Macron for his comments over cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)
A leading Catholic bishop in Bangladesh has strongly criticized French cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad and hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims across the globe in the name of freedom of speech.
“We acknowledge people have the right to freedom of speech, but it should not be devoid of values and ethics. There are so many topics for caricatures, but we as Christians cannot support what French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has done. It has committed an unforgivable injustice by publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam,” Bishop Gervas Rozario, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB), wrote on his Facebook page on Nov. 2.
The bishop of Rajshahi, who is chairman of the CBCB's Commission for Justice and Peace, said it was more frustrating that French President Emmanuel Macron and French citizens have supported the cartoons and even projected them.
“We should not attack the religious faith of anyone. Pope Francis has been calling for a world based on humanity and fraternity, and we condemn such deplorable acts. We also strongly condemn all kinds of violence. Let us learn to respect each other's religion,” the prelate added.
Protests have been raging in the Muslim world since the recent publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo. In 2015, the magazine’s 11 staff members and a policeman were shot dead by suspected Islamic terrorists who stormed its office in Paris.
The magazine decided to republish the cartoons this year to coincide with the start of the trial of those charged with the attack.
Things turned violent as Samuel Paty, a French teacher, was brutally decapitated on the street by an alleged Islamist terrorist on Oct. 16 for using the cartoons to teach students the values of freedom of speech. The brutal killing sparked street protests in France and calls to uphold the nation’s secular values.
President Macron, who earlier said that “Islam as a religion was in a crisis,” took the populist line and vowed to “never give up cartoons” and condemned “Islamist separatism” in the country.
His statement sparked massive uproar in the Muslim world with heads of several states including Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly criticizing him.
In the aftermath, an alleged Islamist terrorist killed three Christians in a knife attack in a Catholic church in the French city of Nice on Oct. 29 and an Orthodox priest was shot by another alleged terrorist in Lyon on Nov. 1.
Massive street protests drew thousands in Muslim-majority countries including Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Middle East. Strong calls for a boycott of France and French products have also gained momentum.
In Bangladesh, hardline Islamists have staged large rallies in capital Dhaka and elsewhere to condemn the defamatory cartoons and President Macron.
Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League government has so far remained silent on the issue.
On Nov. 1, Hefajat-e-Islam, a hardline Islamic group, marched with thousands of supporters denouncing France and President Macron. They also demanded the Bangladesh government sever diplomatic ties with France and immediately shut down the French embassy in Dhaka.
Mufti Ainul Islam, an Islamic scholar and imam of Hizbul Bahar Central Mosque in Dhaka, condemned the French cartoons and violence in the name of religion.
“I strongly deplore what has been done with Prophet Muhammad in France. Not as a Muslim but as a human being, I believe tarnishing the image or defaming any religion is not a sign of mental wellness. The French president has done a bad thing by supporting those who defamed Islam and Prophet Muhammad,” Islam said.
“Violence in the name of religion is unexpected and condemnable because no religion teaches violence. Protesting peacefully is a duty of any Muslim of good faith. There might be a conspiracy involved, so everyone needs to be vigilant and patient.”