JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Saturday strongly condemned terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that were deemed offensive toward Islam and the global Muslim community.
Widodo, the leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told a televised news conference from the presidential palace in the capital, Jakarta, that his government strongly condemns the recent vigilantism in France against a teacher who was beheaded near Paris and a knife attack at a church in Nice that killed three people.
Flanked by religious leaders and Cabinet ministers, Widodo also condemned comments made by Macron at an Oct. 21 national memorial for the teacher as an insult to Islam. Macron had said that the teacher, Samuel Paty, "was the victim of a conspiracy of stupidity, hate, lies ... hate of the other ... hate of what we profoundly are.”
“The comments could divide the unity of the world’s religious communities at a time when the world needs unity to curb the COVID-19 pandemic,” Widodo said.
He said that freedom of expression that tarnishes the honor, sanctity and sacredness of religious values and symbols could not be justified and must be stopped.
“Linking religion with terrorist acts is a big mistake,” Widodo said. “Terrorism is terrorism, terrorists are terrorists, terrorism has nothing to do with any religion.”
Widodo’s comments come after France was shaken by the two recent attacks. In a Paris suburb on Oct. 16, Paty, who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to pupils in a class discussion on free speech, was beheaded. The 18-year-old Chechen refugee who carried out the attack was later shot dead by police.
In the Mediterranean city of Nice on Thursday, a young Tunisian man armed with a knife and carrying a copy of the Quran attacked worshippers in a church and killed three.
Paty has been heralded as a symbol of France’s staunch secular ideals and its rejection of religious intrusion in public spheres. Macron and members of his government have vowed to continue supporting such caricatures as protected under freedom of expression.
Muslim politicians, religious scholars and everyday people have condemned such depictions as a form of hate speech and view them as sacrilegious and insulting to Islam.
In Indonesia, home to more than 270 million people, the vast majority of them Muslims, Macron’s statement has sparked strong disdain from grass-roots Islamic organizations.
In response to the outrage, the French Embassy in Jakarta issued a statement on Tuesday.
“President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that there was no intention at all to generalize, and clearly distinguished between the majority of French Muslims and the militant, separatist minority that is hostile to the values of the French Republic,” the embassy's statement said.