Anti-Islamic comments made by French president Emmanuel Macron and a speech he made offer previews of his rhetoric in preparation for a presidential election that is two years away.
“Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country,” he said during a speech introducing a law to strengthen France’s state ideology of militant secularism known as laicite. Under the country’s apparent growing anti-Islamic fervor, religious symbols, such as headscarves are banned from schools and educational institutions and women who wear the face veil are subject to fines and prosecution.
An Ifop poll released recently by Le Journal du Dimanche and Sud Radio revealed that the right wing National Rally political leader Marine Le Pen would be neck and neck with Macron in the first round of the presidential election well ahead of other candidates.
A recent ForeignPolicy.com headline said: “Macron’s Not Worried About Islam. He’s Worried About Le Pen.”
Macron is sounding more like Le Pen and her party’s anti-Islam message and “keeping France for the French” position, observed Foreign Policy. Macron argued a minority of France’s estimated six million Muslims could form a “counter society,” and that Islam was facing a “crises” all around the world before unveiling his plan to tackle what he considered a “parallel society” in France, according to Foreign Policy.
In 2015, 60 heads of state “gathered in Paris, arm-in-arm. As medical school student Claire Guerini told the Guardian, ‘This isn’t a demonstration, it’s a rally to show solidarity and unity.’ ”
These world leaders, along with French President Macron, were responding to the killings of staff members of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) and others after insults to Islam’s holy prophet via caricatures of him in a demeaning racist manner were published.
The 17 brutally murdered people, which included eight journalists employed by Charlie Hebdo, were praised as martyrs.
Fast forwarding to 2020, we find similarities where a French schoolteacher, 47-year-old Samuel Paty, showed his Freedom of Speech class the same demeaning cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. The teacher was allegedly murdered by an 18-year-old Muslim immigrant.
In all of these cases, the indefensible killings were provoked, according to a counterpunch.org piece titled “Insulting Islam: an Encore for Charlie Hebdo.”
Throughout the Middle East, Muslim scholars, and clerics denounced the brutal attacks and the satirical publication’s depictions of Prophet Muhammad. The French Council of the Muslim Faith referred to the killings as a “barbarous act,” and an attack on “democracy.” Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said, “terrorism has no religion or nationality and no excuse can be given for it.”
French President Macron has picked fights with the American media about anti-French “bias,” America’s obsession with racism, and French “views on terrorism, our reluctance to express solidarity, even for a moment, with his embattled republic,” wrote New York Times media columnist Ben Smith.
Macron has taken to challenging the “anglo” press where criticism of France’s anti-Islam polices are concerned. His challenge has resulted in publications like the Financial Times and Politico, a first for the publication, removing the criticism from their pages.
Farhad Khosrokhavar, director of studies at EHHS, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in Paris, wrote a piece titled “The dangerous French religion of secularism” that was removed from Politico. He argued France’s moderate secularism has been replaced by a “civil religion.”
“It is a belief system that has its own priests (government ministers), pontiff (the president of the republic), acolytes (intellectuals) and heretics (anyone who calls for less antagonistic attitude towards Islam is rejected and described as Islamo-leftist,” he said.
According to counterpunch.org, “The problem with the present French position is that it gives wide latitude to people who care little or nothing for cultural awareness.”
On the one hand you have the “anglo-American” press as called by Macron and his cronies that deceptively claim multiculturalism, anti-gender bias, equality and an objective press whereas Macron masks his racism and his country’s anti-Islamic postions in laicite or “secularism.”
The Times media columnist argued “Macron appears likely to face the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Mr. Macron didn’t initially campaign on changing the country’s approach to its Muslim minority, but in a major speech in early October denouncing ‘Islamist separatism,’ he promised action against everything from the foreign training of Imams to ‘imposing menus that accommodate religious restrictions in cafeterias.’ He also called for remaking the religion itself into ‘an Islam of Enlightenment.’ His tough-talking interior minister, meanwhile, is using the inflammatory language of the far right.”
What France rests upon is a colonial history that includes the continued taxation of 14 of its former African colonial possessions. In addition, this history includes denial of citizenship to Arab and Berber natives unless they renounced their Muslim faith and dropped any association with aspects of Islamic cultures, such as the Arabic language. This became the fate of Algerians seeking French citizenship as the consequence of annexation until independence in 1962.
With the French economy in shambles and the coronavirus pandemic on the increase anti-Islamic positions are one area where Macron, in upcoming elections, can draw votes. It also, however, increases tension and major fractures in French society.
(Follow @jehronmuhammad on Twitter.)