Thousands of people marched through the streets of Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal on Thursday to protest against France’s tougher stance on radical Islam and President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in order to champion secularism.
Muslim protesters led by Bhopal’s Congress MLA Arif Masood gathered at the historic Iqbal Maidan, holding placards that said ‘Prophet Muhammad is our Honour’, ‘France is heading towards self-destruction’ and stomped on pictures of the ‘devil’ Macron that were scattered on the ground.
Police booked Masood and 200 others under section 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing during the protests.
Macron has faced backlash from Muslims worldwide for his comments on Islamic separatism, and for speaking out after a teacher was beheaded earlier this month for showing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Paying tribute to the teacher, Macron said France “will not give up our cartoons”, and has called it fundamental to freedom of speech.
Muslims in France – and elsewhere – are also furious at what they claim is a heavy-handed government clampdown on their communities in the wake of the killing 11 days ago of the high school teacher Samuel Paty.
Protesting against the perceived affront, protesters gathered at the ground in Bhopal and listened to ‘Ulemas’ (religious heads) for two hours as the leaders eulogised the Prophet Mohammad ‘Nabi’.
Masood told the jam-packed crowd that a “rebellion will be raised from the city”, even as he clarified that Islam has always been against terrorism and so it will be in the future. “…Islam and its followers have always been against the weak and we could never side with the tormentor,” he said.
The Congress MLA was also instrumental in organising protests to oppose mob lynching linked to cow vigilantism, law to criminalise triple talaq and the demonstrations against CAA-NCR in the city. During the protests over CAA-NRC earlier this year, Masood had launched the ‘We will not show papers’ campaign.
In 2001, an armed mob led by Masood, then a youth Congress leader, had vandalised Lilly Talkies in the old city for screening blockbuster film ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’. The then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh had expelled him from the party only for him to return a few years ago.
Besides Bhopal, the only mass protest against Macron in India was organised in Bhiwandi in Thane, Maharashtra, on October 26 by Raza Academy, which issued a ‘fatwa’ against the French President urging Muslim-majority nations to immediately expel French ambassadors to teach Macron a lesson.
The academy had handed a memorandum to Additional Commissioner Mumbai Dayneshwar Chauhan seeking that an FIR be filed against Macron, and also urged Muslims to boycott French products and register a protest on Eid-e-Milad. The academy also had trended a twitter hashtag #MacrontheDevil while a section On social media trended #IStandWithMacron.