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France says stance on radicalism distorted, not anti-Islam during Doha visit

Macron is defending France against accusations of Islamophobia [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 December, 2020

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France has defended itself against criticism over Islamophobia.

France's foreign minister said during a visit to Doha on Thursday that his country's policies against extremism had been misrepresented and were not Islamophobic despite facing fierce criticism.

Paris has faced criticism for draft legislation presented as clamping down on Islamist radicalism that tightens rules on religious-based education and polygamy following a spate of attacks blamed on extremists.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said that following the attacks, "our positions and statements (on combatting extremism) were largely distorted and misrepresented as part of a campaign against our country".

"(Our position) might have been misunderstood by believers who might have felt their beliefs were being disrespected," Le Drian, in Doha for a one-day official visit, said at a media briefing.

"We have the utmost respect for Islam."

Tensions flared between France and Muslim countries over remarks by President Emmanuel Macron in October defending cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, forbidden by Islam, and calling Islam "in crisis".

While Qatar did not directly criticise France, some prominent Qatari retailers have instituted boycotts of French products in response to the comments.

Qatar's foreign minister, who spoke alongside Le Drian, said that "violent extremism is not connected or linked with any religion".

"We must stand firmly against Islamophobic speech just as the world stands against all forms of racist rhetoric," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

Muslims worldwide have protested Macron's strident defence of secular values and the right to mock religion after a French schoolteacher who showed his class the cartoons was murdered in October.

The French government on Wednesday defended draft legislation clamping down on Islamist radicalism as a "law of freedom" after a torrent of criticism from Muslim countries and expressions of concern from the US.

"This bill is not a text aimed against religions or against the Muslim religion in particular," Prime Minister Jean Castex told reporters Wednesday after the cabinet approved a text to present to parliament.

Analysts have said the long-term impact of the controversy would depend on France's next steps.

Dozens of prominent French brands are active in Qatar, including construction companies, retailers and luxury labels like Louis Vuitton, beloved in the wealthy gas-rich nation.

French showpieces in Qatar include the Jean Nouvel-designed National Museum in Doha, the signalling system on the new metro railway, and an outpost of the Galeries Lafayette department store.

Qatar is also an important buyer of French military hardware with its order for 36 Rafale fighter planes worth 8.7 billion euros, according the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance survey.

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