Some of Europe’s most influential faith-based institutions and human rights groups have urged French President Emmanuel Macron to become a unifying figure and resist the temptation to malign Islam.
Twenty-four organisations with decades of experience in inter-faith work and building bridges between communities across Europe raised concerns about Macron’s handling of the violent incidents that has rocked France over the past few weeks.
In their open letter to Macron appealing for “wisdom” and “”leadership”, the groups urged Macron not to “malign Islam” and Muslim citizens of France. He faces a stiff challenge to his re-election bid from the far-right next year. The signatories include Britain’s Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), the Muslim Women’s Collective in the Netherlands and the Muslim Association of Ireland Youth.
“This is a moment in which French citizens looked up to you to provide strong moral leadership,” said the groups. “Yet, unfortunately, there has been neither wisdom nor moral leadership in your response.”
The letter condemned the clampdown on France’s Muslim community following the horrific murder of Samuel Paty and the deadly attack on a church in Nice. Both were carried out by apparently lone killers and were denounced by Muslims in France and abroad.
“Maligning Islam and your own Muslim citizens, closing mainstream mosques, Muslim and human rights organisations, and using this as an opportunity to stir up further hatred, has given further encouragement to racists and violent extremists,” the groups warned. They pointed out that the security clampdown undermined the open and free society which France aspires to be. “Your own words and actions go against the principle of laïcité, as well as the French Constitution of 1958 which states that ‘all citizens regardless of their origin, race or religion are treated as equals before the law and respecting all religious beliefs [or lack thereof]’.”
Macron’s use of state mechanisms and the security services of the French State to spread “unfounded defamatory” accusations, raid civic organisations, close mosques and shut down legitimate organisations is symptomatic of the “underlying malaise” in France’s political institutions, the letter said. “It goes against the fundamental principles of Égalité, Liberté and Fraternité.”
Denouncing Macron’s response as “opportunistic”, the letter suggested that the French President was undermining “the principle of the rule of law.” The closure of religious associations and institutions, the groups claimed, was “based on political motivations and without sound legal procedures, and is a direct violation of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights concerning freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
In closing, the groups warned Macron against repeating Europe’s horrors of the not too distant past. “Adopting the policies of xenophobes and pandering to bigots serves only to further the divisions in France between communities and undermine her long-standing democracy.”