We've grown accustomed to thinking that most Muslims hate the US. Not only because of its support for Israel, but also because it is perceived as a symbol of modern Western imperialism and imposes (according to the Muslims) American values on the Middle East. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of democracy undoubtedly reinforced these sentiments, but the Muslims' hatred toward France has much deeper roots.
The publication by a satirical French weekly of caricatures mocking the prophet Mohammed led to the reemergence of the traditional hostility toward France in the Muslim world. Now that this resentment has boiled over, it will be difficult for the French to turn back the clock.
In an unprecedented move, France temporarily closed 20 embassies and cultural centers worldwide for fear of Muslim attacks following Friday prayers. This whole mess is the result of the French weekly's decision to purposely provoke Islam in the name of freedom of the press. Caricatures insulting the prophet have been published before, but their publication never led to such extreme security measures in France.
Since the revolution the French nation has considered itself a champion of "liberty, equality and brotherhood." Most French people regard free press as a basic condition for the existence of the Republic. French nationals residing in Muslim countries told Le Monde they do not feel threatened. Some of them called the Mohammed cartoons embarrassing and unnecessary, but they did not criticize the publication of the caricatures per se.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front party, took advantage of the mounting tension to criticize the French government for allowing the massive and illegal Muslim immigration and permitting Muslims to organize public prayer sessions on streets in France. She also slammed the government for allocating state funds to mosques, in contrast with the republic's principle of secularism. Le Pen warned that the "Arab Spring" may threaten France's security.
Muslims are particularly sensitive to insults to Islam when they emanate from France. In Islamic history, France is remembered for blocking the Muslim army's invasion of Europe through Spain in the beginning of the 8th century.
Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt and the expedition to the Land of Israel toward the end of the 18th century proved that France had not given up on its imperialist aspirations in the Middle East. Despite Napoleon's failure, his expedition contributed greatly to the promotion of the idea that eventually shattered the Muslim empire – the idea of nationalism.
In the 1950s the entire Arab world supported Algeria's war of independence against the French, which claimed some 700,000 lives. In addition, the Muslim world has not forgotten France's support of Israel's security until 1967- mainly through the delivery of Mirage fighter planes to the Israeli Air force and the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona in 1957. The rise to power of the Alawites, who are butchering thousands of Muslims in Syria, is a direct result of their recruitment to the army during the French Mandate.
France's insistence on upholding the principle of freedom is admirable, but it must ask itself if by publishing the anti-Islam caricatures it is not violating the third principle of the revolution – brotherhood – as the cartoons insult the Muslim minority in the country.
Insulting the Semite (Jewish and Muslim) minorities in the name of freedom has become a legitimate weapon in the hands of European anti-Semites. The ban on the circumcision ceremony in Germany because it 'causes bodily harm' to male newborns, as well as the caricatures mocking Jews and Muslims published by the French weekly and Le Pen's call for a public ban on the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippa in the name of equality, are just some of the results of this worrying trend.
Dr. Yaron Friedman is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the Galilee Academic College. His book, the Nusayri Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria, was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden.