A Greek consulate worker and a Saudi security guard were wounded when an explosive detonated during a remembrance event in Jedda, Saudi Arabia on November 11 2020. The ceremony occurs annually in a non-Muslim cemetery and is attended by a diverse group of foreign diplomats and staffers. This year was relatively similar, with staff from several foreign consulates, including the French, in attendance. Saudi police were quickly on the scene, deciding to close the surrounding area. An investigation into the attack is underway, but the perpetrator remains unknown.
An advisor to French Citizens’ abroad, Nadia Chaaya, recounted the event, telling CNN that, “The consul general was making his speech [and] we heard this explosion… at the beginning we didn’t really understand what had happened… there was panic, and we were worried there would be a second explosion so we ran out into the street.” Chaaya, like many others, believes that the French were the original target.
The French Foreign Ministry, who likely shares this belief, described the attack as “cowardly” and “unjustifiable,” calling on the Saudi authorities to investigate and prosecute those involved. The Remembrance Day blast is now the second attack involving French diplomates in Jeddah in two weeks. On October 29th, a man was arrested after attacking a guard at the French consulate with a sharp object.
Saudi’s relationship with France has been wrought with tension recently. Anger at the French and President Emmanuel Macron specificity has been intensifying in the Muslim community following a resurgence of French publication cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Any images depicting the Prophet are considered blasphemous. However, this situation dates back years. Many remember when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the shocking events that followed in 2015. Over the course of three tragic days, seventeen people were killed as punishment for the publication. The event, felt all over the world, spurred long-lasting tensions over Islam, secularism, and the freedom of expression in France.
This tension was renewed when a 47-year-old French schoolteacher showed the same cartoons during a class on freedom of expression. The teacher had previously warned his class and encouraged those uncomfortable to be absent from the class. However, news of the cartoons broke out. The teacher was decapitated on his way home from school by a man claiming to have executed one of “Macron’s dogs of hell.” President Macron publicly paid a supportive tribute to the teacher and claimed that “[he was killed because he was teaching students freedom of speech [and] the freedom to believe and not believe.” A series of other incidents prompted Macron to elaborate further, vowing to tackle extreme Islamism and outlining that France will not give in to terrorism.
The Remembrance Day incident confirms that this tension is not confined within France’s borders. The Saudi Government, who condemned the cartoons’ publication, has not called for any defensive action against France. However, this has not stopped some of its citizens from taking matters into their own hands. While the morals and ethics involved in this conflict leave some puzzled, one thing is clear— the violence must end. The cemetery attack destroyed a day of honour for fallen soldiers and resulted in two injuries unrelated to the conflict. Unless something changes, tension will continue to fester, and further tragedy will follow.
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