France’s President Emmanuel Macron is currently fighting a battle against radical Islam, but it could well be lost if he does not take action soon. The President is still trying to master the situation on two fronts. However, this two-pronged attack could be the very trap into which the Islamists are trying to lure the French leader.
At the National Assembly, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is manning one front line. He has introduced a law there to “strengthen the principles of the Republic”, a de facto a reorganization of the famous law on religious worship of 1905. The relationship between the state and religions has been redefined in 70 articles, albeit without explicitly mentioning Islamism.
When French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded, the headline of a New York Times report was “French Police Shoot and Kill Man After a Fatal Knife Attack on the Street.” Thus Macron will have to face heavy criticism from the mainstream US media, something he has been trying to avoid at all costs. French daily Le Monde has denounced the “disconcerting American blindness when it comes to jihadism in France” but this blindness will no doubt prevail with Joe Biden being elected as US president.
In France, the population which adheres to Islam has expanded in recent years. The rise of Islam can be seen in recent figures: Young Islamists, some of whom were born or socialized in France, refer to the Quran in their acts of violence, and 57 percent of young Muslims in France now prioritize Sharia law over the laws and principles of the republic.
A number of books, including scientific studies, about the “conquered territories of Islam in France” or about the infiltration of radical Muslims in administration, sports and cultural associations, as well as ghetto formation with quasi-assumption of sovereign rights and of course uncontrolled immigration have intensified this unease and has led to a shift in consciousness that has been putting pressure on politics.
According to an IFOP poll, 89 percent of French voters considered the terrorist threat to be “high,” 87 percent thought that “secularism was in danger,” and 79 percent that “Islamism has declared war on the nation and the Republic.” These respondents are clearly not all “far-right” National Rally voters.
Macron is going to have to deal with the issue if he wants to be re-elected, and it will not be Americans voters keeping him in the Elysees for another term. With the law, the state is supposed to regain control, in a certain sense, sovereignty over life in France.
The law, however, makes no distinction between mosque, church and synagogue. The churches, on the other hand, have revolted and have rejected control of the prefect, i.e. the state, in self-administration including bookkeeping. The chairman of the Episcopal Conference, the Archbishop of Reims, Eric de Moulins Beaufort, makes it clear: “The law of 1905 is a law of freedom. But with the new law it threatens to turn into a control, police and repression law.”
The Protestants are also alarmed and are standing up against the law. The chairman of the Union of Protestants of France, Francois Clavairoly, told the Senate: “Freedom of religion itself has been attacked. I would never have believed that I would ever have to defend freedom of worship in France.” The Grand Rabbi Chaim Korsia also warned of the collateral damage caused by the law: “Religions that behave in an exemplary manner must not suffer from stricter controls.”
Protestants, Catholics and Jews fall under the law of 1905. But more than ninety percent of all mosque associations fall under the much more liberal law of 1901 and hardly need to fear the tightening of controls. It is to be expected that the law will be greatly changed, with more than 2 500 amendments already on the table of the President of Parliament. The first vote should take place in mid-February. Then it goes to the Senate, which is dominated by conservatives, where further changes are to be expected.
The second front line being drawn in the battle, is the state versus the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman – CFCM, or French Council of Muslim Cults. Its eight members are supposed to sign a Charter for Islam in France. The Charter provides, among other things, that Muslims recognize freedom of conscience (including converts and ex-Muslims), the equality of all people, including men and women, and furthermore condemn anti-Semitism and reject all forms of violence. That goes against the essence of Islam. Nevertheless, five of the eight associations have signed. Three have refused, however.
Above all, there are two postulates: No interference from abroad and rejection of a political Islam. This is indirectly directed against Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, who dominate these three unruly associations. But these “non-negotiable” (Macron) principles of an Islam in France must be submitted by all associations and imams. The key point: These principles are controllable, all other concessions (equality of men and women, freedom of conscience, rejection of violence, etc.) are proclamatory only and a matter of personal conviction.
The three unruly Muslim associations, which represent around 15 percent of the seven million Muslims in France, want to negotiate. They do not accept the primacy of republican laws over the Quran and they say so openly.
The Turkish influence on around 270 mosques – a good tenth of all mosques in France – must be stopped. It is radical Islamic, nationalist and fundamentalist in character. The General Secretary of the Turkish association Milli Görüs, who incidentally is also active in Germany and has been observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution for several years, linked the Charter with the law before parliament.
He protested against the fact that everyday practices such as wearing the headscarf, which is mentioned in the law but not in the Charter, are viewed as political activities. And of course he cited the fear that Muslims could come under general suspicion, described by the catchphrase “Islamophobia”.
Macron initially wanted to continue negotiations. And that could be the trap. Because if the law is weakened on its way through Parliament and the Senate and entire passages – for example about education at home (home-schooling, which is allowed in France) or about wearing religious clothing and scout uniforms – are omitted, the Islamic associations will insist on equal treatment and shout “discrimination” if not. Then the Charter can no longer be adhered to in its current form.
That is why the maneuvre of the three Islamic associations is clear: They are playing for time. If Macron cannot induce or force them to give in before the law is passed, or even allow a lex Islam, he will be a loser, barely a year before the presidential elections.
The Charter may solve one problem, but the even bigger problem has not yet been addressed: French Islam also feeds on uncontrolled immigration. Therefore, the mainstream parties (The Republicans) and the National Rally (RN, formerly National Front) are calling for a constitutional amendment to accompany the Law on the Principles of the Republic, in which the principle is enshrined, according to the Republicans, that “no person or group can refer to his or her origin or religion in order not to have to observe general rules and laws”.
The chairwoman of the RN, Marine Le Pen, wants to rule out the wearing of a Muslim headscarf in public spaces and also ban ideologies that contradict the rules of the Republic. That corresponds to a lex Islam that would surely find favour with the population. The RN also wants to make it more difficult for foreigners to obtain citizenship and to introduce stricter laws against illegal immigration. Such plans also meet with approval from the population.
Macron has gone further with the Charter and the law than any government before him. But it’s not enough. The problem of Islamism is a question of identity. Or as Eric Zemmour – currently the best-known publicist in France – puts it: “France must decide whether it wants to remain France or whether it wants to become a constitutional state among many.”
Macron wants to force religious radicals into the Republican circle. To do this, he has to make hard decisions and make them as soon as possible. It’s obvious that any Muslim association that does not sign the Charter must be banned. But will Macron have the guts to do so?