Currently, it is rare for politicians to talk straight and admit when they and their country have a problem. That is why it was so surprising to hear Emmanuel Macron not only talk about the problem of radical Islamists within France, but also admit that the French establishment has played its part in creating this problem.
On Friday 2 October, Emmanuel Macron gave a long-awaited speech, highlighting how he plans on preventing radical Islamism from furthering its ‘infiltration’ into French society. The plans mentioned within the speech included training imams and curtailing home-schooling, with the exemption of children with medical conditions, as well as the curbing of foreign influence on the Muslim population. All of these will be included in a draft bill that is expected to be presented in December.
Macron added further weight to his plans by announcing that local authorities will be given new powers to disband groups which they feel act in ways that are contrary to ‘republican ideals’, and that Islamic organisations that receive state funding will have to sign a ‘secular charter,’ to confirm that they are adhering to France’s values. Macron also stated that Arabic lessons will be taught in public schools to draw children away from ‘unregulated teaching’ in mosques. On top of this, around 10 million euros will be invested in teaching and research in Islamic culture.
The aim, as Macron stated in his speech, is to encourage the development of a more Westernised form of Islam, an ‘Islam of Enlightenment’ that would be more reflective of the values that underpin French society. This it is hoped would be more effective in reconciling what it means to be both French and Muslim.
In light of the attacks that France has experienced at the hands of radical Islamists, be it at Charlie Hebdo or at the Bataclan or outside the old offices of Charlie Hebdo, Macron’s plans may well come as a welcome sign to those who may desperately want this issue resolved in a peaceful and civilised manner. But no plan to curtail the growth of radical Islamism within France can be successful without acknowledging the role that the state has played in the growing appeal of radical Islamism to France’s Muslim youth.
To his credit, Macron did acknowledge this.
In his speech, Macron acknowledged that whilst France may officially be colour-blind, it is in practice highly ghettoised. As Macron said within his speech, “We built a concentration of misery and difficulties, we concentrated populations according to origin and social milieu,” these ghettos have become synonymous with a toxic mix of racial segregation, unemployment and crime.
As Macron himself said, these ghettos never saw the promised land that the Republic was supposed to be. Therefore, was it any surprise that radical Islamism became one of the tools through which young people sought to fill the void.
Macron’s speech is perhaps the first time a French government has been self-aware enough to recognise that combatting radical Islamism requires a two-pronged approach. But the reaction to his speech suggests that the damage done by things such as the headscarf and burqa bans may have reduced the willingness of some of France’s Muslim population to play ball.
Some of France’s most prominent Muslim organisations have called out the speech and the planned law as furthering the stigmatisation of Muslims, as they feel it puts forth a direct link between Muslims, terrorism and radicalisation. Linked to this concern over stigmatisation is the fear that it could increase Islamophobia throughout the country, especially as France’s Interior Ministry recorded a 54% increase in Islamophobic incidents in 2019.
This is a valid concern when one considers that in September, a journalist in France associated a young woman making online cooking video tutorials with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 all because she appeared in a head covering.
Macron set out his plans for tackling what he views as a serious problem within France, something that is his right as the country’s president. His plans appear detailed and thought through. Though, he does need to be careful to avoid falling into any traps that may link all Muslims to radicalisation and terrorism as that will make it harder for French Muslims to feel like they can engage in good faith with his plans and proposals. An interesting few months are ahead for France.