Dian Septiari, Jakarta – Vice President Ma'ruf Amin has expressed concern over the perpetuation of an Islamophobic narrative that challenges the promotion of moderate Islam, a spokesman said on Tuesday, in response to French President Emmanuel Macron's recent denunciation of radical Islamists.
"The Vice President regrets the statement made by President Macron that generalizes that all Muslims [are alike], without examining the different teachings or whether those who interpret Islam may be in the wrong," Ma'ruf's spokesperson Masduki Baidlowi told The Jakarta Post.
Masduki, in quoting the Vice President stressed that the version of Islam that is found in Indonesia is one that is peaceful, moderate in practice and allows for people of different faiths to live side by side.
However, he also acknowledged that Islamophobia continued to take hold in Europe and in the Americas, and that there were "campaigns" to reproduce the assumption that Islam is a harmful religion.
"This is a challenge for us in promoting a peaceful and just Islam – an Islam that is tolerant, can coexist with an array of differences and one that recognizes human rights and democracy," the official said.
"This is what needs to be introduced to European society – not that they need to have it introduced, at least at the grassroots level," he added.
The comments come as France was shaken by the gruesome murder of history teacher Samuel Paty on Oct. 16, allegedly for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to pupils in a class discussion on free speech, news agencies have reported.
Macron hailed Paty as a "hero" for representing the secular, free-thinking values of the French Republic, which include a long-cherished right to mock religion. He declared war on "Islamist separatism", which he believes is taking over some Muslim communities in France.
In response, a number of Muslim and Muslim-majority countries have called for a boycott of French products.
In Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, the statement has sparked intense discussions among social media users and strong disdain from grassroots Islamic organizations, including the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), whose deputy chairman Muhyiddin Junaidi demanded an explanation from the French.
"The MUI demands that the foreign minister immediately summon the French ambassador to Indonesia to clarify at length the idea behind President Macron's statement," Muhyidin said on Monday, as quoted by tribunnews.com.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah said that French Ambassador Olivier Chambard had been summoned on Tuesday.
"In the meeting, the Foreign Ministry expressed condemnation of the statement made by President Macron, which demeans Islam as a religion," he said.
Macron's statement also provoked a strong response among House of Representatives members, especially those from Islamic-based parties, including Bukhori Yusuf of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who said Macron was being aggressively hostile to Islam.
Meanwhile, United Development Party (PPP) lawmaker Muhammad Iqbal from House Commission I, which oversees foreign affairs, said that Macron's statement bordered on the very dangerous for its spreading of hatred.
"While we do not agree with such vigilantism against the teacher, the French government should also punish anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad," he said. The politician called on the government to reconsider its cooperation with France.
In response to the outrage, the French Embassy in Jakarta issued a statement on Monday clarifying that it defended the national position in favor of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the rejection of calls to hate.
The embassy underlined that the statement was made during a ceremony to commemorate a French teacher who was beheaded for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class.
"[Macron's] statement was aimed against radical Islamism, which was issued jointly with the French Muslims, who are an integral part of society, history and the French Republic," the embassy said in the statement.
It went on to say that Macron's strategy against separatism only targeted radical Islamists.
"All democracies, especially France and Indonesia, are fighting this [...] radicalism, which is the cause of terrorist attacks on their respective territories. 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," it said.