Islamophobic content on Facebook is to blame for a rise in ‘extremism and violence’ around the world, Pakistan’s Prime Minister has said, as he called for it to be banned.
In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Imran Khan hit out at ‘rampant abuse and vilification’ of Muslims online, calling for a ban similar to the one recently introduced this month for Holocaust deniers.
Among several examples, Khan spoke about the publication of ‘blasphemous’ cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in France, which he said would lead to the marginalisation of Muslims and encourage violent extremism.
The letter was published just hours after Khan directly accused Emmanuel Macron of ‘attacking Islam’ in the wake of a terror attack in Paris which saw a teacher beheaded for showing Mohammed cartoons to his students.
Imran Khan has blamed Islamophobic content on Facebook for causing a rise in violent extremism and called for it to be banned
It came hours after Khan accused Emmanuel Macron of ‘attacking Islam’ as he defended a teacher who was killed after showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to children
Pakistan confirmed on Monday that the French ambassador has been summoned to explain Macron’s remarks, condemning what it called ‘a systematic Islamophobic campaign under the garb of freedom of expression.’
Paying tribute to teacher Samuel Paty after the attack, Macron said France will ‘not give up cartoons’ and that Paty ‘was killed because Islamists want our future.’
In a series of tweets, Khan said: ‘It is unfortunate that [Macron] has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists.
‘Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet [peace be upon him].
‘By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world.
‘The last thing the world wants or needs is further polarisation. Public statements based on ignorance will create more hate, Islamophobia & space for extremists.’
In a follow-up letter to Facebook, published late on Sunday, Khan again attacked what he called the ‘polarisation and marginalisation of Muslims in France’.
Macron said France will ‘not give up cartoons’ as he paid tribute to Samuel Paty (coffin, pictured), saying the teacher was killed because ‘Islamists want our future’
Macron’s remarks have sparked outrage in the Muslim world, with protesters take to the streets of Istanbul showing images of a foot on his face – a highly offensive gesture in Islam
‘How will the French distinguish between radical extremist Muslim citizens,’ he wrote,’ and the mainstream Muslim citizenry of Islam?’
‘We have seen how marginalisation inevitably leads to extremism – something the world does not need.’
He said a ban on such content would be fitting, after Facebook said this month it was updating its hate speech policy to ban content that denied or distorted the Holocaust.
‘One cannot send a message that while hate messages against some are unacceptable, these are acceptable against others,’ Khan said, adding such a stance was ‘reflective of prejudice and bias that will encourage further radicalisation’.
In response, a Facebook spokeswoman told Reuters the company opposed all forms of hate and did not allow attacks based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
‘We’ll remove this hate speech as soon as we become aware of it,’ the spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that Facebook had ‘more work to do’.
Facebook’s last transparency report for the six months to December 2019, showed that Pakistan was the source of the second highest number of requests to curb content after Russia.
A source with direct knowledge of the issue at Facebook told Reuters that the most requests for the removal of content relating to Islam came from Pakistan, exceeding other Muslim-majority countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also hit out at Macron’s remarks, suggesting the French leader needs ‘mental health treatment’
Facebook traditionally complies, as not doing so would be to break Pakistan’s laws, the source said, adding that authorities would often send dozens of links at a time and demand they be taken down.
Khan’s comments about Macron follow a similar broadside by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, after which France recalled its ambassador to Turkey.
Pakistan and Turkey share strong ties, while Khan and Erdogan have developed a close relationship – particularly on the topic of Islamophobia.
Khan’s letter to Facebook and comments on Macron come as he faces pressure from a newly formed coalition of opposition parties seeking to oust him.
The cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, first published in 2005 by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, have long been a sensitive topic among Muslims, stirring protests in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Tens of thousands of people protested in Pakistan last month when the cartoons were republished by the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
Khan’s government has subjected a number of social media apps to intense scrutiny and banned some for content authorities deemed obscene or immoral.