Islamabad, Pakistan – Empty shelves of French cosmetic products at a Kuwaiti supermarket following a call for a boycott on French goods, in Kuwait City, on October 25, 2020.

Pakistan on Monday summoned the French ambassador in Islamabad, a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan accused French President Emmanuel Macron of attacking Islam by defending the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Morocco has also condemned the caricatures.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the French ambassador in Islamabad had been summoned to be given a diplomatic protest against Macron’s “irresponsible remarks”.

The summons followed statements by posted by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Facebook and Twitter, decrying Macron’s reaction to the murder last week of a French teacher by an Islamist.

“This is a time when Pres Macron could have put healing touch and denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarization and marginalization that inevitably leads to radicalization,” said Khan in a Twitter thread.

Khan’s comments Sunday came after Macron paid tribute to Samuel Paty, a French teacher who was beheaded by an Islamist radical for displaying cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on freedom of expression.

The Moroccan foreign ministry also condemned the beheading, but added that “freedom of expression cannot, for any reason, justify the insulting provocation and the insulting offense of the Muslim religion”.

Macron has defended the right to display the caricatures and French media have republished them; in some places, they were even projected on buildings.

Supermarket shelves stripped of French products in many Arab countries

France has a long tradition of caricatures taking on political and religious authorities. But recent comments by French politicians, such as a compleaint by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin about religious food aisles in French supermarkets, have sparked controversy in many parts of the Muslim world.

France has faced a backlash over the cartoons, including boycotts of French products with the hashtag #BoycottFrenchProducts in English and “for the Messenger of Allah” in Arabic trending on Twitter over the weekend.

The backlash was likely fueled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks Saturday, when he said the French president needed “mental checks” for treating “millions of members from different faith groups this way”.

Erdogan’s comments prompted France to recall its envoy to Turkey.

The Turkish leader doubled down on Sunday, again contending that Macron “really needs to have checks” and this time also accusing him of being “obsessed with Erdogan day and night”.

France calls for end to boycott

On Sunday, France urged Arab countries to stop calls for boycotts of French products.

“These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority,” the statement said.

France’s largest employers’ federation on Monday urged companies to “resist the blackmail” over the product boycott.

The head of France’s MEDEF employers’ federation said the boycott, which he described as “foolishness”, was clearly bad news for companies already hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

“But there is no question of giving in to blackmail,” Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux told broadcaster RMC. “It is a question of sticking to our republican values.

“There is a time to put principles above business.”

He said MEDEF supported the government’s stance and urged companies “to resist this blackmail and, unfortunately, to endure this boycott”, which he said remained “fairly localised” for now.

A religion ‘in crisis’

Days after Paty’s gruesome murder by an 18-year-old Chechen extremist, Macron vowed that France would never give up cartoons such as those that in 2015 triggered a deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and which Paty showed to his class.

Macron hailed Paty as a “hero” for representing the secular, free-thinking values of the French republic, which include a long-cherished right to mock religion.

“He was killed because Islamists want to take our future,” Macron said at a memorial for Paty. “They will never have it.”

Several suspected Islamic radicals have been arrested in dozens of raids since the murder, and about 50 organisations with alleged links to such individuals have been earmarked for closure by the government.

Earlier this month, Macron unveiled a plan to defend France’s secular values against a trend of “Islamist separatism”, and described Islam as a religion “in crisis”.

France has in recent years been forced to take a hard look at its core values, perceived by many to be threatened by Islam following a string of attacks that have killed over 240 people since 2015.