In recent days, Iran’s religious, political, and military leadership, state-run-media, and propaganda apparatuses have severely criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for his support of the publication in France of derogatory caricatures mocking the Prophet Muhammad and condemning radical Islam. All Iranian officials spoke unanimously and linked Macron’s remarks to Israel (Zionism), Europe, and the United States, which leads the battle against Islam in the face of their imminent collapse. They also cited Western intolerance for Holocaust denial to argue that the West discriminates between Jews (Zionists) and Muslims in advocating human rights and the freedom of speech.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei tweeted in English and French: Why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust? Why should anyone who writes about such doubts be imprisoned while insulting the Prophet (peace be upon Him) is allowed?”
He also addressed “Young French people”: Ask your President why he supports insulting God’s Messenger in the name of freedom of expression. Does freedom of expression mean insulting, especially a sacred personage? Isn’t this stupid act an insult to the reason of the people who elected him?”2
On October 26, 2020, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the French chargé d’affaires to Tehran, Florent Aydalot, to object to the French president’s conduct. “Tehran totally rejects any insult and disrespect to the Prophet of Islam by any person in any position. The Iranian foreign minister also emphasized the “unwise response by French authorities to the publication of cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted: “Muslims are the primary victims of the ‘hate cult’ – empowered by colonial regimes and exported by their own clients. Insulting 1.98 billion Muslims – and what they hold sacred – for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech. It only fuels extremism.”3
The Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Judiciary Chief, Ebrahim Raisi, and the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, all condemned Macron’s remarks. Ghalibaf said: “Muslims and believers of monotheistic religions condemn the shameless hostility of France’s stupid and stubborn leaders.”4 Shamkhani declared, “Macron’s irrational behavior in public and his anti-Islamic opinions testify to his primitive political views. I suggest that he reads more history and does not draw encouragement from the United States and Zionism support.”5
“Muslims Will Give an Appropriate Response”
Senior members of Iran’s security establishment criticized Macron’s remarks. The Iranian Army and Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) issued a special statement on October 27, 2020, condemning the publication of the abusive cartoon against Prophet Muhammad, saying they saw it as “a sign of the declining West and Zionism facing collapse.” Their statement also criticized France for linking the actions of one person (the murderer of the teacher who presented the cartoon in class) to the nature of the religion of Islam as a whole.6
The IRGC statement on their website warned, the “IRGC sees Macron’s statement as the manifestation of the failed anti-Islamic project, which nonetheless will speed up the inevitable fall of the United States and the Zionist regime.” Furthermore, the statement said: “The anti-Islamic satanic script that has entered a new phase through the anti-Muhammad cartoon in Charlie Hebdo and the French president’s unwise and adventurous support of this and similar publications, point to the inherent contradiction in the West, especially in Europe, when it comes to freedom of expression.”
The statement referred to the street protests and boycott of French products in several countries around the world and warned that Muslims would give “an appropriate response to the condescension of the world rulers and the Zionists … the main supporters of violence and extremism.”7
Meanwhile, in Iran, journalist Habib Abdolhossein reported, “Instagram has blocked the official French language page of Iran Leader @Khamenei_fa after he issued a message questioning why desecration of Prophet Mohammad is deemed as freedom of speech while raising doubts about the Holocaust is a crime.” Abdolhossein said, “Khamenei’s English age is still running.”8
Iran’s Response: A Cartoon Contest to Challenge the Existence of the Holocaust
Following the remarks of the president of France, Iran’s Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization (IIDO) announced on October 26, 2020, that it intends to organize another exhibition of cartoons related to the Holocaust. Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, who heads the organization’s visual arts department, said that “France has ignored the rights of more than 1.5 billion Muslims and that it is clear that Muslims are facing Islamophobia, incitement to hatred, and racism”.
According to him, IIDO plans to publish “a series of works objecting to the Holocaust narrative. Ten cartoons challenging the Holocaust will avenge every single cartoon that was published against Islam. These cartoons will be published on social networks and other virtual media. This way, Macron’s and others’ tolerance for freedom of expression will be challenged.” Massoud Shojai Tabatabai intends “to respond through words and caricatures.” IIDO has previously organized two international competitions challenging the occurrence of the Holocaust, two international “International Trumpism” cartoon contests that dealt with American hegemony, capitalism, and the issue of identification with the Palestinian people (“‘Palestine Is Not Alone’ International Cartoon, Caricature, and Poster Contest.”
French President Macron’s comments dominated the headlines in the Iranian press. Some of the newspapers portrayed him as the “Satan from Paris” and the “evil one.” The conservative newspaper, Kayhan, which generally reflects the opinion of the Iranian president, called for the expulsion of French diplomats from Iran. Other newspapers called for boycotting French products. The Tehran Times, the leading Iranian newspaper in English, also portrayed French President Macron as a devil who defends human rights at the expense of the Muslims’ rights.
As early as September 2020, with the opening of the trial of those involved in the murder of 12 members of the Charlie Hebdo editorial board in Pares, the Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the French magazine that re-published the cartoons from 2015, which mocked the Prophet Muhammad. Iran’s Foreign Ministry defined the publication as an “anti-religious move.” A ministry spokesman said that “the publication of the cartoons ostensibly in the name of the freedom of expression, shows disrespect for the values and beliefs of over a billion Muslims around the world, and this is unacceptable.”
Even then, Iran sharply criticized the “indifference” of French President Macron, who, following the re-publication of the cartoons in early September 2020, defended the freedom of expression and freedom of the press in France. Tehran claimed that while France saw the Mohammed cartoons as freedom of expression, it defined Holocaust denial as a crime. The news agency website Alef claimed that France makes a distinction between Jews and Muslims and that anyone accused of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial is a candidate for a trial.
The paper cited the case of French Communist author Roger Garaudy, who was convicted and fined for Holocaust denial, and the case of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. The site also criticizes French policy, which expands the definition of anti-Semitism to include anyone who insults Israel and Zionism and considers it a crime. Alef’s article addressed Macron and wrote: “If you have red lines regarding freedom of expression, then they should apply to everyone … Why do they apply them only to Israel and anti-Semitism but not to Muslims who are victims of anti-Islamism and on whose back you teach a lesson of liberty and freedom in France?10“
For Iran, Macron’s remarks and the publication of the offensive cartoons are an opportunity to present itself as leading the fight against those who harm Islam and protect them from the “Crusades of the West.”
In this context, Tehran competes with Ankara, Turkey, which has also responded belligerently and called for a boycott of French products. Furthermore, Tehran looks at the attack on Islam in the broader context. Tehran points out that Macron’s reaction is actually a part of the Western axis – Israel, the United States, and Europe – policy against the Prophet Muhammad, the martyrs of Islam, and their supporters. Thus, the planned cartoon exhibition that challenges the Holocaust was declared to provoke international media noise that will, it hopes, reveal the hypocrisy of the West and its biased attitude toward Israel and Zionism.
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1 https://twitter.com/khamenei_ir/status/1321494146989907969 ; https://twitter.com/Khamenei_Fra/status/1321490775436386304; https://english.khamenei.ir/news/8051/France-s-double-standard-in-freedom-of-expression
2 https://twitter.com/khamenei_ir/status/1321492632183472128 ; https://twitter.com/Khamenei_Fra/status/1321490241514020864