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From French secularism to Islamophobism

27th Nov 2020
From French secularism to Islamophobism

The French president Emmanuel Macron (Credit:

The legacy of the French Revolution is not only found in monuments commemorating the destruction of tyranny but in its ideals of liberty, equality and justice that still inspire modern democracies.

More ambitious than the American independence revolutionaries of 1776, the French in 1789 were fighting to establish principles that would lay the basis for freedom everywhere.

The country became staunchly secular and as such the latest controversial comments by President Emmanuel Macron can be put into context that has prompted a backlash from Muslim countries all over the world.

Europe’s history is littered with religious conflict. As a consequence, revolutionary France launched its war to spread its secular values that led to the creation of the first modern totalitarian dictatorship. During his ‘Reign of Terror’ Napoleon Bonaparte tried to justify the claim that only an authoritarian regime could guarantee social order.

During his presidency, Macron has made several pronouncements about religion, the state and the past. These have included defending French magazine Charlie Hebdo reprinting blasphemous and provocative cartoons under the guise of the right to free speech.

Last month, the French President set himself in direct conflict with not only Muslim governments but with Muslim people everywhere by trying to deflect the blame on Islam, claiming that it was the religion that was “in crisis.”

He is hardly endearing himself to the sizeable Muslim population in his own country by introducing a new law designed to “liberate French Islam from foreign influences.”

As expected, under the country’s revolutionary principles, he aimed to defend “the republic and its values and ensure it respects its promises of equality and emancipation.”

His threat includes strengthening a 1905 law that separated church and state and giving local officials extra-legal powers to combat extremism while investing money in education, particularly towards Islamic culture and civilisation.

“Our challenge is to fight against those who go off the rails in the name of religion … while protecting those who believe in Islam and are full citizens of the republic,” Macron rhetorically said. By placing mosques under greater state control, he is effectively reliving the original revolutionary war against Christianity, mainly the Catholic Church at the time.

The President is acting like a secular supremacist even though he is a Catholic baptised schooled by Jesuits. Macron’s suggestion that Muslims develop an enlightened reading of their faith, fully compatible with the laws of the republic, is in effect dictating how followers of another faith should interpret their religion is beyond self-righteous.

Those condemning the French President have included Amnesty International, criticising his rhetoric as “shameful hypocrisy” and accusing the country’s Government of not being the “champion of free speech that it likes to think it is.”
Arié Alimi, a lawyer with the French League of Human Rights, has also called for something “wiser, something more balanced” from Macron.

“Morning and night we hear calls for new actions against Muslims,” he warned. French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, has gone even further, speaking of France fighting a “civil war” and even threatening to deny Muslims food by closing ethnic food aisles in supermarkets.

France may have suffered more from so-called “Islamist terrorism” than most countries in Europe but seising the terminology and thought patterns of the hard-right provides no answers to breaking the cycle of reaction and counter-reaction which creates more extremism and more violence.

Macron instead needs to return to a much more sensible and considered approach to France’s relationship with its five million Muslim citizens whom he admits have been let down by successive governments.

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