Iran Says 'Insulting a Prophet' Encourages Violence After Macron Defends Muhammad Cartoons

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned that French President Emmanuel Macron is encouraging violence by defending cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

The French president has become mired in accusations of Islamophobia and racism amid a debate over free expression and blasphemy in France. Macron has taken a traditional secularist line, refusing to condemn those accused of blasphemy and promising to push back against conservative Islamic sentiment.

Iran is among the Muslim nations criticizing Macron. "In today's world, peace and stability will be maintained in our society only when we respect each other," Rouhani told a cabinet session on Wednesday, according to the state-backed Mehr News Agency.

"Insulting a prophet is nothing but an encouragement to violence and an immoral act," he added "If the West is sincere about his efforts for peace and security, it should stop interfering in internal affairs of Muslims."

"It is a surprise that those countries who claim to respect freedom, rights, and law are encouraging people to insult each other and major figures. Westerners should understand that the Prophet of Islam is a love of all Muslims and freedom-seekers of the world," the president said. "Insulting the Prophet equals insulting all Muslims, all prophets, and all human values."

Tensions have been simmering in France and across the Muslim world over cartoons published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has a history of publishing inflammatory cartoons mocking religion, including Islam. Charlie Hebdo's office was attacked by Islamic militants claiming allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2015, with 12 people killed.

Fresh controversy erupted when Charlie Hebdo re-published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad—something considered deeply offensive and blasphemous by many Muslims—ahead of a trial for alleged accomplices in the attack.

Macron refused to condemn the move. "It's never the place of a president of the Republic to pass judgment on the editorial choice of a journalist or newsroom, never. Because we have freedom of the press," Macron said.

Earlier this month, Macron condemned what he called "Islamist separatism" and said Islam is "in crisis all over the world today," prompting anger from across the Muslim world. Two weeks later, school teacher Samuel Paty was murdered after showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

After Paty's murder, Macron said France would continue "the fight for freedom." he added: "We will not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others back down."

Macron awarded France's highest honor—the Légion d'honneur—to Paty posthumously, condemning the "disastrous conspiracy" and "hatred of others" that led to the teacher's death. Macron said Paty "embodied the Republic."

Macron is facing widespread anger across the Muslim world, with several retailers and institutions imposing a ban on French products and events. As well as Iran, Turkey has spoken out against Macron's government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Muslims to boycott French goods, adding: "What is the problem this person called Macron has with Islam and Muslims? Macron needs mental treatment."

Emmanuel Macron, Islam, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, cartoons
A Muslim man stands over a picture of French President Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration in Karachi, Pakistan on October 27. ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty