Rightwing French leaders have condemned as “sacrilege” a decision to allow a provocative Muslim rapper to play the Bataclan concert hall in Paris where jihadists massacred 90 people three years ago.
Singer Medine, who caused an outcry when he attacked hardline secularists in a controversial 2015 song, Don’t Laik, a week before the Charlie Hebdo killings, is to play the Bataclan for two nights in October.
French opposition leader Laurent Wauquiez said he was shocked that “someone who sings about ‘crucifying secularists’ and calls himself ‘Islamo-scum'” would appear at the venue “less than three years after Islamist barbarism cost the lives of 90 of our compatriots.
“It is sacrilege and dishonours France,” the leader of the Republicans party tweeted.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said that “no French person can accept that this guy spew out his rubbish at the Bataclan”.
“We have had enough of complacency and worse, of this incitement to Islamist fundamentalism,” she added in a tweet.
An online petition organised by her National Rally party, formerly the National Front, calling for the concerts to be banned had more than 17,000 signatures by Monday evening.
However, fans of the rapper took to social media to dismiss the politicians as “buffoons” who had misread his lyrics and were “incapable of understanding a simple quotation”.
Medine himself later hit back in a statement to AFP saying, “Can we let the extreme right dictate what concerts go on and our freedom of expression?
“For 15 years I have fought all forms of radicalisation in my albums which has led to me being attacked by the extreme right and their supporters, who twist the meaning of my songs,” he added.
The Bataclan’s co-director Jules Frutos did not comment on the matter.
But the former leader of one of the Bataclan’s victims’ groups, Emmanuel Domenach, sent stinging replies to both Wauquiez and Le Pen’s tweets: “It’s crazy for you to use the victims of terrorism for your sterile controversy.
“What level of dishonour does that put you in?” he asked.
Victims’ group Life for Paris also defended the Bataclan, saying it was against censorship and that the venue should be free to book who it wanted.
“We will not let anyone use the memory of the victims for political ends, as is the case here,” it said in a statement.
The bearded Medine, who comes from the northern port of Le Havre and is of Algerian descent, has denied that he is an Islamist, comparing himself to “a bomb disposal expert who has been mistaken for someone who plants them”.
His fans pointed out that his song Jihad, which former interior minister Brice Hortefeux said he would have brought charges against Medine for releasing, was, in fact, a cry against violence and war between religions and cultures.
Medine, 35, also co-authored a 2012 book Don’t Panik with a leading French academic which they said was an attempt to take the heat out of the French culture war over Islam.
His record company also sells a line of T-shirts bearing the legend: “I’m Muslim. Don’t panik.”
But he became the bete noire of hardline secularists after 11 people were killed in a jihadist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015, only a week after his Don’t Laik song was released, a play on the French word for secular.
In it, he said, “Let’s crucify the secularists like at Calvary… put fatwas on the heads of these idiots.”
The rapper later admitted that “he went too far” in the song.
Medine said the song was to “secular fundamentalists what Charlie Hebdo cartoons were to religious fundamentalists”.
“Provocation is only useful when it provokes a debate, not when it triggers an iron curtain,” he told an academic conference on rap, the music magazine Les Inrocks reported.
However, Aurore Berge, an MP from French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party, said having him headline a concert at the Bataclan was an “insult” to the victims of the slaughter.
Bruno Retailleau, the leader of the opposition Republicans in the French Senate called on the government to prosecute the rapper in the same way as firebrand comedian Dieudonne, who was convicted of glorifying terrorism in 2015.