On February 18, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the French city of Mulhouse, which has a sizable Muslim population, and where a large new mosque is currently being built with foreign funding, mostly from Kuwait and Qatar. During the visit, Macron outlined his government’s new strategy to fight Islamic extremism and separatism in France. The strategy calls for curbing a program that allows foreign countries to send imams and teachers to France to operate exempt from all oversight by the authorities, and to replace them with French-speaking imams trained in France who do not spread extremist ideas.
In an op-ed titled “Macron and Muslims” in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, senior Saudi journalist ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily and former director of Al-Arabiya TV, defended Macron’s recent statements about Muslims in France who refuse to conform to the basic values of the French republic. While expressing reservations about some of Macron’s comments, ‘Abd Al-Rashed wrote that he fully supports his struggle against extremist and separatist Islamic movements hostile to French society and French law. Macron, he stressed, is right to combat these groups, which have ties to dangerous elements in the Middle East and are directed and funded from abroad – especially by Istanbul, which he called “the extremism capital of the world.” Criticizing Europe for allowing these movements to exploit Western freedoms to operate against freedom itself and against their host countries, he concluded that “banning these groups will save Muslims in the West, and the West from itself.”
‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (Source: aawsat.com)
The following are excerpts from Macron’s statements during his February 18, 2020 visit to Mulhouse, followed by Al-Rashed’s op-ed:
French President Macron: We Will Not Allow Islamic Separatism And Extremism In France; Turkey Is The Only Country That Refused To Cooperate With Our Efforts To Oversee Islamic Education
During his February 18, 2020 visit to Mulhouse, a city with a considerable Muslim population, Macron outlined his government’s new strategy to fight Islamic extremism and separatism in France. He said:
“…For several decades now, we have felt in our country – and this feeling is justified – that rifts have taken hold… We also feel that parts of the Republic want to separate… in the name of Islam… The Republic must demand that all its citizens… respect the law… For several decades, in the name of religion, in addition to religious observance, there is a desire to no longer respect the law… Our enemy is therefore separatism, meaning the phenomenon that we have been witnessing for decades: a desire to leave the Republic, to no longer respect the laws…
“In the Republic, we cannot accept that some should refuse to shake hands with a woman just because she is a woman. In the Republic, we cannot accept that some should refuse to be treated or educated by someone because she is a woman. In the Republic, one cannot accept that one should quit school for religious reasons. In the Republic, one cannot demand a certificate of virginity in order to marry. In the Republic, one must never accept that the laws of religion should be considered superior to the laws of the Republic…
“This strategy of fighting Islamic separatism must be built around four guidelines. The first is to regain control and fight against foreign influences, especially at schools and in places of worship… The second is to promote better organization of Muslim worship in France, with respect for secularism, and to ensure compliance with all the laws of the Republic. The third guideline is to fight with determination against all manifestations of Islamic separatism… And the fourth guideline is to reinstate the Republic everywhere it has somehow given up…
“We have more and more teachers who do not speak French, who don’t speak it at all, and we have more and more teachers over whom the Ministry of Education has no oversight… and neither do we have control over the programs they teach. Which is a problem… And here, for example, in the Haut-Rhin district [of France], we have more than 2,000 pupils… who are interested in learning Turkish, and 14,000 in the whole country… [The lessons] are given here by teachers from Turkey designated by the Ankara government, and we have no oversight over them… And so, we proposed to all of these nine countries from where we receive teachers of foreign languages and cultures to transform the ELCO programs [unsupervised teaching of foreign languages and cultures] into EILE programs [French-supervised teaching of foreign languages]. We have been successful with all these countries except for Turkey…
“What I can tell you with great clarity and strength today is that from the start of the new school year in September 2020, teaching in the language and culture of origin [ELCO programs, as opposed to the French supervised programs] will be terminated everywhere on the soil of the Republic….
“I am aware of all the difficulties that were encountered with the construction of the An-Nour mosque, a few kilometers from here… Concerns about its funding gave rise to… controls that are underway today… We regularly import, every year, imams who are appointed and trained by other governments. We have this relationship mainly with three countries, Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey, who send us these people who are going to officiate… Those who arrived in 2020 will be the last generation to be so numerous [300 imams], and we will gradually stop bringing in new ones…”
‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: After Allowing Extremist Islam To Spread In Its Territory, Europe Has Finally Realized Its Mistake And Begun To Fight It
In a February 18, 2020 op-ed published following Macron’s statements in Mulhouse about efforts to curb Islamic extremism and separatism, Saudi journalist ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed expressed his support for the French president’s opposition to extremism:
“When dealing with disruptive, potentially dangerous individuals or groups within society, the dilemma lies in differentiating between the sheep and the wolves. This is what President Emmanuel Macron is trying to do in France.
“Muslim citizens in France are not the problem – the extremists are. The same applies to the wider population of the country; there are extremist, hostile racist groups in other sections of French society, but the peaceful majority of people from these communities are not subject to suspicion and persecution to the degree that Muslims are.
“Macron visited a mosque last week, where he addressed the Muslim community and made comments that did not appeal to some. He said he would not allow separatist movements to flourish in France, as the country is one Republic and everyone should coexist and accept its laws. He denounced, for example, those who refuse to shake hands with women, who shun modern medical treatments or who will not allow their children to study in public schools, describing these acts as cultural separatism.
“The truth is that some behaviors are personal choices. The state cannot force any man to shake hands with women, for example, but it does have the right to take action against parents who try to limit their children’s education or keep them at home. The authorities can intervene in this type of cultural separation, backed by the force of law, and punish parents for it.
“Like many European politicians, Macron is in favor of respecting freedom of religion and worship as these rights are enshrined in the constitution. However, he complains that some groups are trying to mobilize the large Muslim community in France to achieve political goals. Some French Muslims have suffered from intellectual and religious extremism, in the same ways that Muslims in their countries of origin suffered. These are not merely extremist ideas that spread as people move from country to country, or are transferred through travel and mixing with others; they are mostly organized activities directed by groups with political agendas and goals in mind.
“Macron in particular issued a warning to Turkey, accusing it of being a source of financing, support and organization of extremism. This is indeed part of the problem; Istanbul is the world capital of extremism today. It is the official destination of choice for Islamist groups fleeing from Egypt, Gulf nations, Sudan, Syria and other countries.
“The true problem, however, lies not with Turkey but Europe. It has allowed these groups to exist and create legal, economic and political entities, even when it became evident that they are affiliated with dangerous groups in the Middle East, and operate according to a political agenda that is hostile to the regimes that harbor them.
“The concept of Western ‘freedom,’ which these groups use as a cover under which to operate, contradicts their core beliefs. The founder of one of these groups stated publicly in London that the West is like a toilet in which he takes a dump.
These groups were established easily, taking advantage of the freedoms of expression that exist in countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Now they have become a source of concern and a security threat to Europe, which is faced with a complex problem: How can it prohibit the expression of objectionable ideas while still sanctifying the concept of freedom?
“The second problem is that Europe has other groups to deal with that are no less dangerous to society. These include far-right fascists, Nazis and left-wing extremists. How can Europe ban Islamist organizations when their members have learned the rules of the legal and political games and enjoy the rights of acquired citizenship?
“What makes these extremist groups affiliated with Islam more dangerous than other extremist organizations is that they are against society as a whole. They target Muslims with their messages of change and use them, almost isolating them, leaving them at their mercy.
“In addition, these groups are backed by overseas benefactors with huge financial resources, and are also managed and directed by foreign interests. So how should we view them: As puppets under the control of others, or as dissidents in their new host societies?
“After a long slumber, Europe has awakened to the problem and started to take action, very slowly, either as a result of electoral pressures or shocking information such as that published by the French press about the people and financiers behind these groups.
“Banning these groups will save Muslims in the West, and the West from itself.” 
 Le Parisien, February 18, 2020.
 France24.com, February 19, 2020.
 According to Le Figaro, “during his visit to Mulhouse, Emmanuel Macron will avoid the An-Nour mosque under construction, [as it is] managed by the Association of the Alsace Muslims, close to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Le Figaro, February 17, 2020.
 Arab News (Saudi Arabia), February 22, 2020.