Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday drew a direct line between Holocaust denial and cartoons deemed insulting to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, questioning why the former was a crime while the latter is not.
“Why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust? Why should anyone who writes about such doubts be imprisoned while insulting the Prophet (pbuh) is allowed?” he wrote on Twitter.
The Iranian regime has a long history of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.
The country regularly sponsors a widely condemned Holocaust cartoon contest, and has hosted a symposium meant to raise doubts about the genocide of the Jews.
Khamenei also called French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad a “stupid act” and an “insult” to those who voted for him.
“Ask [Macron] why he supports insulting God’s messenger in the name of freedom of expression. Does freedom of expression mean insulting, especially a sacred personage?” Khamenei said in a message to “French youth” on his official website.
“Isn’t this stupid act an insult to the reason of the people who elected him?” he added.
Khamenei’s remarks follow a chorus of criticism directed at Macron by top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, who warned that insulting the Prophet may encourage “violence and bloodshed.”
On Tuesday, a senior French diplomat in Iran was summoned to protest the “unacceptable behavior of the French authorities.”
Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are seen as offensive by many Muslims, but in France such cartoons have become identified with a proud secular tradition dating back to the Revolution and the issue of freedom of expression.
Macron has strongly defended secular values and the right to mock religion following the murder of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, vowing that the country “will not give up cartoons.”
France has been targeted in a string of jihadist attacks that have killed over 250 people since 2015 and led to deep soul-searching over the impact of Islam on the country’s core values.
Some of the attackers have cited the Muhammad cartoons as well as France’s ban on wearing the Islamic face veil in public as among their motives.