Macron’s efforts to combat Islamism will fail, but at least he’s trying



In my previous column, I wrote that it was time for Europe to admit that there exists the possibility that Islam may not be a religion (or culture) capable of integrating itself with the continent’s values.

I was goaded into these words after the beheading of a French teacher on the streets of Paris, but to support my argument, I have the Charlie Hebdo attacks; the Belgium subway bombing; the Manchester Arena bombing; the man who drove a truck down a Nice boulevard; the beheading near Saint-Quentin-Fallavier; the stabbing to death of a police officer and his wife in Magnanville; the Westminster attack of March 2017, and the London Bridge atrocity several months later; the Barcelona attacks of that same year; the Madrid Train Bombings; the shootings in Toulouse in 2012; the murder of Theo van Gogh; and the events of 7/7 in London in 2005.

I added to this the organized sexual assaults of German women on New Year’s Eve of 2015/2016, the increased numbers of rape in Scandinavia, and the organised grooming gangs of Muslim men who preyed on English girls in Rochedale. You’ll note, I hope, that I have gone no further east than Germany – I assure you, it’s purely so that I meet my word count obligations.

Parishioners react near Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica church, October 29, 2020. EPA-EFE//SEBASTIEN NOGIER

I neither expected nor wanted to receive more ammunition within the space of a week, and take no satisfaction in having my point proved by yet more violence committed in the name of Islam – and once again in France. The question remains over what France – and despite this being a problem affecting most of Europe, France is centre stage at the moment – will do about it.

Emmanuel Macron has been careful in his wording. Understandably, he dare not be as blunt as I and clearly state that Islam is the very opposite of a religion of peace, or point out that Sikhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism all manage to coexist within Europe without setting off bombs at metro stations or gunning down people at pop concerts. Instead, President Macron talks of ‘radical Islamism’ and his plans to fight ‘Islamic separatism’.

The response to his words from the Muslim world has not been one of ‘A valid point, Mr President – we probably do need to try and tackle the more extreme elements of the faith’. Instead, videos have gone viral of Muslims (mostly men, it seems to me) holding placards and banners of Macron and then smashing them all to bits, which I don’t see does much for the image we’re expected to believe that Islam is a peaceful faith and Muslims are the most saintly folk who walk this planet (although the joke, really, is on the people breaking and trampling their signs and banners – after all, they paid for all that paraphernalia with their own cash).

President – or, as he’d rather be, Sultan – Erdogan has waded in on the debate with his usual tactful, measured and informed opinions. “What is the problem of this person called Macron with Muslims?” he wondered. Well, the person called Macron is the President of the Republic; his problem is that Muslims seem to be killing his people in the name of their faith. It is not, really, all that complicated.

Turkey has gradually – and deliberately – alienated itself from the West, with recent examples being the only country not to call for peace in the Caucasus, active support for Islamist groups in Syria, and continued refusals to condemn terrorism carried out against Europeans. As long as Erdogan remains in power, and continues to gradually sweep away the Kemalist secularism of Ataturk, Turkey will not deviate from this course.

Armed police patrol in front of Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral as the bells ring at 3pm to pay tribute to the victims of the church attack in Nice, October 29, 2020. EPA-EFE//IAN LANGSDON

But the issues of what to do with Turkey and how best to tackle European Islamic extremism, while related, are naturally rather different. Macron’s strategy – translated and reprinted by The Spectator – runs as follows:

  1. A set of measures of public order and public service neutrality, which constitute immediate, firm responses to observed, known situations that are contrary to our principles.
  2. Associations must unite the nation and not fracture it. We will therefore strengthen controls, put into law the principles under which it will be allowed to dissolve associations and assume that, by virtue of our republican principles and without waiting for the worst, we can dissolve associations of which it is established that they carry these messages, that they violate our laws and our principles.
  3. Schools: This is what ensures that our children are completely protected from any religious symbol. On the course of personnel, the educational content of lessons, the origin of funding, it is legitimate for the State to strengthen controls.
  4. We intend to lead in finally building an Islam in France which can be an Islam of the Enlightenment. We must help this religion in our country to structure itself to be a partner of the Republic in terms of the affairs that we share.
  5. Finally, and this is the fifth axis on which I wanted to emphasise. If the Republic must be feared by applying its rules without weakness and restoring force to the law, if it is necessary to reconquer the essential axes that I have mentioned, we must also make it loved again by showing that it can allow everyone to build their life. We have at bottom a duty of hope. This implies in effect re-entering the Republic into the concrete of lives.’

Of course, all of this is fine in theory, but it remains to be seen exactly how the French authorities will go about it all. The fourth point, though, is the one that particularly caught my attention. The idea, of course, is admirable: Islam for the 21st century, a religion that – like Christianity – will comfortably sweep all of its fire and brimstone calls for violence under the rug to be forgotten and ignored. It reminds me of a Facebook post I saw from a BLM activist of my acquaintance, who was sharing photos in his city of young Muslim women wearing colourful burqas and niqabs, his point being that Islamic female dress was not as offensive and degrading to women as right-wingers like to claim. I showed the pictures to a friend from Iran to ask his opinion – his only doubt was if it would take the Tehran police five or twelve minutes to arrest women wearing such garments.

Still, unrealistic as the idea might be, it isn’t as though President Macron has many choices: and of course, if he is not seen to try anything at all, he risks losing support to Ms Le Penn – and what her Front National would do to France’s Muslim community given half the chance raises…uncomfortable speculation. And to be fair, at least Macron is giving it a go: there was nothing worse than seeing David Cameron, in the aftermath of one of the terrorist incidents in Britain (and the fact that I’m struggling to remember which one surely speaks to their frequency), stare with steely-eyed resolve into a BBC camera, condemning the attack while declaring ‘Islam is a religion of peace!’. I hate to record it, for I like to think well of Cameron – who, in my opinion, generally tried to do the right thing – but I believe that that moment was the most theatrical of his entire political carer.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) and Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi (C-R) visit the scene of the knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, EPA-EFE//ERIC GAILLARD

France’s efforts to bring Islam into the Republican light are undoubtedly doomed to fail – quite frankly, the religion is simply (and demonstrably) not malleable enough. However, even if Macron’s project does not succeed, what would give it weight and gravitas if every other European country came together and decided to copy the model. This would, at the very least, put the searchlight on Islam – and after all, the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Germany have all had experiences of their own in the recent past that any action they take could be justified as a preventative measure.

It would also serve as a strong display of solidarity, a public and international declaration that European secularism and the values of the Enlightenment will not be cowed by a desert religion whose history is more bloodstained than that of any European empire. But I take leave to doubt that any leader will have the courage to follow Macron’s example – I just wonder how many more Europeans will need to be murdered until they find their resolve.




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