KUALA LUMPUR – After summoning the charge d’affaires of the French embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian foreign ministry has expressed its concern over alleged hate speech and defamation of Islam.
The ministry summoned French diplomat Gilles Barrier to a meeting on Wednesday evening as several Muslim-majority countries have denounced remarks by French president Emmanuel Macron in recent days.
“The Ministry reiterated Malaysia’s position to strongly condemn any inflammatory rhetoric and provocative acts that seek to defame the religion of Islam,” the ministry said in a statement Wednesday night after the meeting.
Malaysia joined the chorus of Muslim-majority countries that have criticized Macron’s words in defense of freedom of speech and in reference to the murder of a French teacher for showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
The foreign ministry said it was “concerned about growing hostilities, hate speech and defamation of Islam” but promised to defend freedom of expression “as long as these rights are exercised with respect and responsibility in order to not infringe on or violate the rights of others.”
Before the meeting, Kuala Lumpur and the French embassy had expressed their different positions in separate statements.
The embassy in the Malaysian capital said on Wednesday that “freedom of religion is protected by the French Constitution and legal system” and defended Macron’s speech by arguing that the government “did not target the Muslim community in France at all but only an ideology radical Islamism that should be isolated and fought.”
The embassy defended the concept of French secularism and, in a conciliatory note, said it was “heartened by the assurances given to us by the Malaysian authorities that the Malaysian government does not condone such appeals” to boycott French products launched by some countries.
These calls for a boycott and condemnation of the French government came after Macron said on Wednesday that France would “not give up our cartoons” after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty for having discussed with his high school students Charlie Hebdo cartoons during a class on free speech.
Depictions of Prophet Muhammad are seen as taboo in Islam, and offensive to Muslims.
In 2012, 12 people were killed in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris for publishing cartoons caricaturing the prophet of Islam.