From a Jewish-American boycott of Nazi Germany to the campaign against Apartheid South Africa, activists have often used economic power to take a stand.

French officials seem to be in a state of panic as a boycott movement begins to spread across the Muslim world in response to comments made by President Emmanuel Macron.

The French leader has claimed the religion is in ‘crisis’ across the world and has accused Muslims in his own country of ‘Islamic separatism’.

His country is planning to introduce a raft of new measures to target the Muslim community, to add to a number of existing restrictions on the faith, such as the prohibition on wearing headscarves in schools, a ban on face veils, and restrictions on who can practice as an imam in mosques across the country.

Tensions have boiled over after the murder of a school teacher after a row over the display of offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in his classroom during a lesson on free expression.

The French president has responded by displaying the cartoons on buildings across the country, to the ire of Muslims across the world.

A resulting boycott campaign has gone viral, with shops across the Middle East and other majority Muslim ares withdrawing French products from sale.

France has responded by hurriedly dispatching diplomats to convince Muslim leaders to ban shops from pulling French products and reports said the French ambassador in Egypt had approached the Grand Mufti of Al Azhar Ahmed Tayeb in an unsuccessful attempt to lobby him against the boycott.

The use of boycotts as political protests are nothing new in recent history, as the following five examples demonstrate.

The Anti-Nazi boycott of 1933

Jews were quick to realise the dangers the fledgling Nazi government in Germany posed to the world order.

Adolf Hitler had made no attempt to disguise his hatred of the Jewish people and upon taking power in Berlin in 1933 immediately set about enacting policies that would lead to the Holocaust.

By the 1930s, the Jewish population of the US had reached more than four million, and the majority of those were people who had fled European anti-Semitism.

Jewish leaders at the time, warned that government were “unaware” of the dangers Hitler posed and the boycotts that started during this period were just as much about raising awareness, as they were about hitting the pockets of the Nazi treasury.

However, sentiment in favour of the boycotts was not universal among Jews. Many in the community feared that the Nazis would respond in kind or in an even worse manner.

Their fears materialised in the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses shortly after the anti-Nazi boycott began.

Hitler would rapidly increase oppression against the Jews of Germany, and later Europe, resulting in the Holocaust during World War II, which killed at least six million European Jews.

Militant banners carried by a group from the Jewish Anti Nazi Federation of Detroit threaten a boycott of Nazi goods on March 14,1937 in Detroit. (AP Photo)
Militant banners carried by a group from the Jewish Anti Nazi Federation of Detroit threaten a boycott of Nazi goods on March 14,1937 in Detroit. (AP Photo) (AP)

Anti-apartheid boycott (1959)

While the Jewish boycott of the Nazis did little to deter Hitler from carrying out the horrors of the Holocaust, the international movement that built up around punishing Apartheid South Africa for its racist policies towards Black South Africans proved ultimately successful.

Started by exiled South Africans in London in 1959, the boycott movement soon attracted support from celebrities and local governments across the globe.

The movement had the support of the UN General Assembly but struggled for decades as Western powers, such as the US and UK, refused to exert economic pressure on the Apartheid regime.

Additionally, many countries, including most in Africa, Asia, Turkey, and the Soviet Union, among others , refused to establish any ties with the Apartheid regime.

However, the boycott succeeded among ordinary people and institutions, with trade unions, local councils, and universities cutting off ties with their South African counterparts.

Activists succeeded in making the regime a pariah government, resulting in its ban from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and eventual expulsion from the International Olympic Committee in 1970.

The pressure succeeded in forcing the gradual collapse of the Apartheid regime by 1993.

South African President Nelson Mandela conducts the singing of a nursery rhyme by school children carrying Welsh flags, who were on hand to greet him on his arrival at Cardiff Castle Tuesday, June 16, 1998. The Welsh, proud of organizing small local boycotts when Britain and the rest of the EU refused to impose punitive trade embargos on apartheid South Africa, gave Mandela the freedom, or key, of their capital. (AP Photo/Louise Buller, WPA POOL)
South African President Nelson Mandela conducts the singing of a nursery rhyme by school children carrying Welsh flags, who were on hand to greet him on his arrival at Cardiff Castle Tuesday, June 16, 1998. The Welsh, proud of organizing small local boycotts when Britain and the rest of the EU refused to impose punitive trade embargos on apartheid South Africa, gave Mandela the freedom, or key, of their capital. (AP Photo/Louise Buller, WPA POOL) (AP)

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)

Taking a leaf from their South African counterparts, the BDS campaign is a grassroots non-violent Palestinian-led boycott campaign to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land and its abuses against those living under military rule.

The movement has borrowed much of its strategy from the successful anti-Apartheid movement, such as academic boycotts and encouraging local authorities to break off trade relations with Israel.

After a string of notable successes, the Israeli government has labeled the movement an “existential threat” to the state’s existence, and is lobbying lawmakers in allied countries to ban those who call for boycotts.

Amazon boycott (2019)

It’s not always countries that are targeted by activists but also companies accused of using unethical business practices.

In recent years, activists have targeted the online giant, Amazon, for tax avoidance and the treatment of its employees.

The company has become notorious for enforcing often unattainable targets and firing employees for infractions, such as missing shifts for being sick.

A worker in a face mask walks by trucks parked at an Amazon facility as the global coronavirus outbreak continued in Bethpage on Long Island in New York, US on March 17, 2020
A worker in a face mask walks by trucks parked at an Amazon facility as the global coronavirus outbreak continued in Bethpage on Long Island in New York, US on March 17, 2020 (Reuters)

Boycott of China produced goods (2020)

Another burgeoning boycott movement is targeting China over its treatment of its Muslim Uighur population.

China says that it is running training centres to retrain Uighurs to help them find jobs but Uighurs say that these are actually concentration camps where they are forced to drop their religious beliefs and cultural symbols.

In March, the Washington Post said that companies, such as Nike were having their products made in factories where Uighurs may have been used as forced or coerced labour.

This led to a boycott of companies believed to be sourcing products and raw materials from China.

Hong Kong protesters rally in support of Xinjiang Uighurs' human rights in Hong Kong, China, December 22, 2019.
Hong Kong protesters rally in support of Xinjiang Uighurs' human rights in Hong Kong, China, December 22, 2019. (Reuters)
Source: TRT World