DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Hundreds of activists from an Islamist political party protested in Bangladesh’s capital on Wednesday against the French president’s support of secular laws that deem caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as protected under freedom of speech.
The protesters from the conservative Islami Oikya Jote party carried banners calling President Emmanuel Macron “the world’s biggest terrorist” and burned and beat an effigy of him.
They also criticized the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, saying it should condemn Macron and France. Hasina has yet to officially comment.
The party supports the introduction of Islamic law in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation, which is governed by a legal system largely based on British common law.
Wednesday’s protest at the national Baitul Mokarram Mosque in downtown Dhaka came a day after about 10,000 Muslims from another Islamist group, Islami Andolon Bangladesh, demonstrated in Dhaka to call for a boycott of French products.
Muslim-majority countries across the world have been outraged by Macron’s refusal last week to condemn the publication or display of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In Islam, any depiction of the prophet is prohibited. The issue has come to light again in recent days following the gruesome beheading near Paris of a French teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The 18-year-old Chechen refugee who carried out the attack was later shot dead by police.
The teacher, Samuel Paty, has been heralded as a symbol of France’s staunch secular ideals and its rejection of religious intrusion in public spheres. Macron and members of his government have vowed to continue supporting such caricatures as protected under freedom of expression.
Muslim politicians, religious scholars and everyday people have condemned such depictions as a form of hate speech and view them as sacrilegious and insulting to Islam.
Abul Hasnat Amini, acting chairman of the Islami Oikya Jote, said they would not hesitate to call themselves terrorists if they are so accused for favoring Islam.
“If speaking for Islam and the prophet is considered terrorism, 90% of the Muslims in Bangladesh will identify themselves as terrorists. We are prepared to become terrorists in order to protect the honor of our Prophet Muhammad,” Amini told his supporters.
“Various Arab countries have boycotted French products, we ask our government to ban all French products in Bangladesh,” he added.
Bangladesh is governed by a secular constitution but dozens of groups, including Islami Oikya Jote and Islami Andolon Bangladesh, have long demanded the introduction of Islamic Shariah law.