FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron believes that “Islamists want our future”. He had no qualms about saying this in public as he vowed not to “give up cartoons” though he knew full well how incendiary his remarks could prove to be. Such loud sentiments are appalling. They follow the killing of a teacher who is reported to have shown his students controversial depictions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

There can be no justification for murder but neither can the extremist actions of a few be made the basis of tarring an entire community — by a national leader no less. Where is the healing touch that is so sorely needed to curb the “tyranny and fanaticism” that Mr Macron spoke of? Surely, the idea is to overcome divisions and to lay the ground for a peaceful coexistence that is so necessary in a multicultural milieu. The law should always follow its course, but communities must not be pitted against one another.

Read: Imran accuses Macron of maligning Islam

The best course for the French government would be to defuse tensions between religious groups. The provocative remarks are exactly the tonic that extremists need to propel their ideological war. And this is precisely what the Pakistani leadership has been trying to convey across the din of protest that Mr Macron’s words have created.

For centuries, France has led nations across the world in their quest for a better world, for liberty, equality and brotherhood. From the intricacies of art to the pursuit of revolution and politics, Mr Macron is the custodian of one of the world’s richest historical legacies. It is the betrayal of this heritage that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign office are talking about when they question the French president’s remarks, and call his words an “encouragement to Islamophobia”. Mr Khan said this was the time the French leader could have provided a “healing touch and denied space to extremists”.

Mr Khan and other Muslim leaders would do well to launch a drive to find allies who can help build up a strong defence against forces of extremism, going beyond the exercise of force. With the passage of time, a growing number of politicians all over the world have been swayed by the power of faith-based sentiment. This has increasingly threatened those who want to keep religion out of politics. A holistic campaign to fight extremist thought and action could well be worth the effort, both abroad and at home.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2020

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