DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Tens of thousands of Muslims marched in the streets of Bangladesh's capital on Monday in the country's largest protest yet against the French president's support of secular laws that allow caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The protesters, organized by the Hefazat-e-Islam group, a network of teachers and students at thousands of Islamic schools, gathered outside the main Baitul Mokarram Mosque in downtown Dhaka. They chanted “Down with France” and “Boycott French Products” and burned effigies of French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I ask the French government to apologize to the 2 billion Muslims in the world. I also ask the world’s Muslims to demonstrate their faith by boycotting French products and terminating diplomatic relations with France,” Nur-Husain-Kashemi, a leader of the group, told the protesters.
“I ask the government to shut down the French Embassy. It’s a shame that they haven’t passed a resolution of condemnation in Parliament,” he said.
Monday’s protest was the largest in a series of anti-France demonstrations in Bangladesh since last week that have called for the closure of the French Embassy and for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to condemn France. Hasina has yet to officially comment.
Hefazat-e-Islam and other Islamist groups and parties support the introduction of Islamic law in Bangladesh, which is governed by a legal system largely based on British common law.
Muslim-majority countries across the world have been outraged by Macron’s refusal to condemn the publication or display of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In Islam, any depiction of the prophet is prohibited. The issue reemerged 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.