World Politics

Turkish leaders blast Charlie Hebdo as 'incorrigible French rag' over cartoon mocking Erdogan

Key Points
  • "We strongly condemn the publication concerning our president of the French magazine, which has no respect to faith, the sacred and values," Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
  • The cartoon, whose defenders argue is an expression of free speech, depicts Erdogan lifting up a woman's Islamic dress as she carries wine glasses and laughs, with the caption: "Erdogan: In private, he is very funny."  
  • The cartoon came after Erdogan encouraged Turks to boycott French products over the Charlie Hebdo cartoon controversy. Macron has recalled France's ambassador to Ankara.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the extended meeting with provincial heads of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10, 2019.
Adem Altan | AFP | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The growing acrimony between Turkey and France took an artistic turn as French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, drawing sharp criticism from Turkey's leaders. 

"We strongly condemn the publication concerning our president of the French magazine, which has no respect to faith, the sacred and values," Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

The aim of publications like Charlie Hebdo, Kalin claimed, "is to sow seeds of hatred and animosity. To turn freedom of expression into hostility towards religion and belief can only be the product of a sick mentality." 

The cartoon, whose defenders argue is an expression of free speech, depicts Erdogan lifting up a woman's Islamic dress as she carries wine glasses and laughs, with the caption: "Erdogan: In private, he is very funny."  

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The cartoon came in response to Erdogan's attacks on French President Emmanuel Macron for France's decision to project Charlie Hebdo drawings of religious figures, including the Prophet Muhammad, onto government buildings in Paris over the weekend. Erdogan has called on Turks to boycott French goods, and major retail chains in Qatar and Kuwait have already done so.

Macron defended the cartoons' display, which has triggered rage and condemnation from many Muslims worldwide, as an expression of free speech and defiance following a terrorist beheading of a French teacher who showed the Prophet Muhammad cartoons to his students as part of a lesson. Depicting images of the Prophet Muhammad is forbidden in Islam.

Erdogan accused Macron of Islamophobia and said he needed "mental checks." Macron in turn recalled France's ambassador to Ankara.

Turkey has vowed to take "legal, diplomatic" actions in response to the cartoon, and according to state media the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's office will be "investigating" Charlie Hebdo's managers over the cartoon. Insulting the head of state is a crime in Turkey with a penalty of up to four years in prison.  

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay called Charlie Hebdo an "incorrigible rag." He said via Twitter: "I condemn this incorrigible French rag's immoral publication concerning our president," and called on "the moral and conscientious international community to speak out against this disgrace."

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a press conference with Latvia's Prime Minister (unseen) after their meeting on September 30, 2020 in Riga, Latvia, during Macron's official visit to Latvia and the Baltic region.
GINTS IVUSKANS | AFP via Getty Images

Turkey and France have come up against one another in a number of foreign conflicts and tension points of late, including in Libya's civil war and territorial and resource disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean. France has condemned Turkey's military actions in Syria and its involvement in the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ankara has also drawn increasing ire from Gulf states the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the latter of whom can be said to be carrying out an informal boycott of Ankara. U.S. officials have also threatened sanctions on NATO ally Turkey for its reported testing of the Russian S-400 missile defense system earlier this month.

The animosity and growing international tensions add to investor concerns, which are already high amid a sinking economy and a plummeting national currency. Turkey's lira hit a new low on Tuesday, hitting a record 8.2 lira to the dollar.