Emmanuel Macron’s fierce campaign against Islam and Muslims has not come out of nowhere. It is the product of racism rooted deep within the French psyche. It is a crisis of French values not of Islam.
As a supposedly secular state, France does not want to recognise Islam as a religion, even by separating it from the state, as it did with Christianity in 1905. The French regard their Muslim fellow citizens as a problem; they are intruders who cannot and should not be integrated into French society or its culture. The state prohibits the appointment of Muslims in various state institutions, regardless of their qualifications and competence, and despite there being more than six million French citizens from a Muslim background.
Many French Muslims were born and raised in the country, the children and grandchildren of those whom France used in its conquests of the countries it colonised, and who defended it during two world wars. They went on to be housed in isolated and impoverished ghettos on the outskirts of the major French cities, to be treated with hateful racism when it came to employment, healthcare and education.
French racism and white supremacy prevail in society and is manifested across the political spectrum, from the extreme right to the progressive left. There is barely any difference between them. Remember, for example, Jacques Chirac, the former socialist President of France. In 1991, he consoled white workers who lived among the Arab and African immigrants, and wondered how they could bear their unpleasant odours and disturbing noise. These racist and offensive words were met with great popular support; the first to applaud Chirac’s words was the leader of the racist right-wing National Front at the time, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In fact, the president’s words were not very different to what was said by the far-right Minister of the Interior, Gerald Moussa Darmanin, when he expressed his annoyance and shock recently at the presence of special sections for halal food products in stores across France, but is not bothered by special sections for kosher food. He pointed out that, in recent years, the Macron government has closed 358 Muslim institutions, including mosques, and deported 480 foreigners. His grandfather was Algerian, by the way, hence his middle name. The minister has clearly been assimilated so successfully that his own ancestors mean nothing to him.
France’s issue with Islam, therefore, is not new, and has not just appeared with the murder of a school teacher who mocked Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. As an educator, he would reasonably have been expected to consider the beliefs of his teenage students when planning his lessons, but apparently decided to talk about and show the offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons yet again. It was reported that he told his Muslim students to leave the classroom if they were going to be offended. Where was the equality and equal access to education in doing that?
This is a deeply rooted problem in French society and the foolish young colonist Macron expressed this when he challenged the Muslims around the world and reiterated that he would re-publish the caricatures and not let them go. He is determined to humiliate Muslims and incite people against them in France, and possibly elsewhere, creating a hostile environment. The little-reported stabbing of two women wearing hijab near the Eiffel Tower and the call to burn down mosques are just two manifestations of the French president’s hateful racism.
The French authorities have used the incident to their advantage, launching frenzied security, political and media campaigns against Muslims. Civil society groups have been targeted, including the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which monitors Islamophobic crimes. It also provides legal support to the victims, meaning that attacks on ordinary people can continue more or less sanctioned by Macron’s government and with nobody there to defend the victims. In addition to right-wing violations against French Muslim citizens, we have seen mosques, schools and shops closed under the pretext of combating “Islamist” terrorism.
Macron announced at the beginning of this month — well before the teacher’s murder — the enactment of a law to create a “French Islam” to fight what he called “Islamic separatism”, imposing conditions on associations and citizens to ensure their secularism. Conspiracy theorists might say that the teacher’s killing was a false flag operation plotted behind closed doors to “prove” Macron’s thesis about Islam being in “crisis”. That could explain why the young Chechen responsible was killed instead of captured and arrested, and put on public trial, when the truth would come out. With him out of the way, we have no option but to swallow the security services’ version of events.
It is worth comparing the French incident and response to what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand last year, when a young extremist named Brenton Tarrant shot the worshippers at Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre, killing and wounding more than 100 Muslims. The police in New Zealand apprehended and arrested the perpetrator; he went on trial and is now in prison serving a life sentence. In France, the killer was eliminated immediately, and the truth died with him, creating the perfect atmosphere for politicians to make outrageously provocative statements against a large segment of the population. Macron obviously knows that his popularity is waning due to his domestic and foreign policy failures, so he is appealing to the extreme right for its support in the next election.
Let us also compare Macron’s foolishness in fuelling hatred and intolerance within society, with the way that New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern contained her country’s crisis wisely and rationally. She earned the respect of people all over the world, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, for her humanity in the way that she cared for her citizens and respected their faith.
Islamophobia is deeply rooted in French society, and politicians nurture it under fake slogans such as liberalism, freedom of expression, human rights, an affirmation of “the values of the republic”, and the application of secularism, as well as the greatest myth of all: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. The essence of this ignores and even encourages discrimination and racism against Muslims and other marginalised minorities. Macron may preach about freedom of expression, human rights and the values of the republic, and yet he rejects any expression of Islamic identity by French Muslim citizens.
France has a history of truly terrible violence in the Arab and African countries that it colonised. The details don’t need to be recounted here; the French may deny it and try to whitewash their history, but many are still alive who witnessed France’s terrorism at first hand. The reality behind the glossy façade and eloquently deceptive reasoning is that France has never been a civilised country, but a place of intolerance, injustice and darkness. Its Museum of Mankind, which is adorned with the skulls of Algerians and others executed by France, is testimony of the extent of its brutality and criminality. If France is crying today about terrorism, it is because, as the late Malcolm X once said about America, the chickens are coming home to roost.
It fell to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remind France of its shameful past. He is the only president in the Muslim world who defended Islam and Muslims, and warned Macron about insulting the faith of more than a billion people. Erdogan also said that Macron’s talk about reshaping Islam illustrates his lack of knowledge and his French counterpart should “have a mental check”.
The words of Turkey’s Erdogan seem to have calmed the hearts of millions of Muslims at a time when their own rulers have let them down by failing to defend Islam and the Prophet, peace be upon him. Their leaders did not utter a word in response to the statements by this vengeful fool who appears to desire a religious war. He should be careful what he wishes for.
The French thinker Michel Onfray says that we are living in a time of post-Christian civilisation. Hence, the crisis in France, and Macron’s real crisis, is that he wants to resurrect his secular republic’s Christian heritage to confront Islam. The irony will be lost on him, but he must know that Islam defeats, it is not defeated, by the Will of God. And that whenever forces against it become stronger, it expands and spreads. Foolish Emmanuel Macron will discover that he is tilting his lance at windmills.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.