Oct 29, 2020
A Saudi man attacked the French Consulate in Jeddah Thursday as the conflict over freedom of expression and religion continues between France and the Muslim world.
The Saudi perpetrator was arrested in the Red Sea city after stabbing a security guard at the consulate. The guard was wounded in the ordeal, Reuters reported.
In the French city of Nice, another attacker killed three people with a knife in a church, beheading one of the victims. The assailant shouted “God is great” in Arabic before being arrested, according to the state-owned France 24 news outlet.
The tensions involving France and some Muslims began earlier this month, when a student in France beheaded a schoolteacher named Samuel Paty. The late teacher had shown images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of expression. Many Muslims consider images of the prophet extremely offensive.
French President Emmanuel Macron defended Paty following the murder and refused to disavow depictions of Muhammad. The debate over images of the religious figure is old in Europe, with the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten provoking an uproar with controversial caricatures of him in 2006. France has a long tradition of secularism dating back to the French Revolution.
Macron’s comments have prompted a strong backlash in the Muslim world. On Wednesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that freedom of expression does not apply to matters that offend so many Muslims. Supermarkets in some Gulf states are now boycotting French products.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular has tried to position himself as a defender of Muslims against secular France in relation to the conflict. This week, Turkish prosecutors launched a probe into the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has also infamously published images depicting Muhammad. Turkey and France had already been in disagreement over several issues, including the conflict in Libya and Turkey’s energy exploration plans in the eastern Mediterranean.
Macron is not backing down despite the violence France is now being subjected to. In a speech from Nice, the French head of state said, “France will not give up on our values,” and called the assault an “Islamist terrorist attack.”
Not everyone in the Middle East is against France on the issue. Some Kurdish commentators have called for calm and defended France as a country, the Iraqi news outlet Rudaw reported.