Emmanuel Macron, who emerged as a political alternative to France’s growing far-right, seems to be morphing into the far-right.
French President Emmanuel Macron has run afoul of his proclaimed centrism in his latest statements, in an apparent move to win French hearts and minds ahead of the 2022 elections.
In the upcoming elections, nobody doubts that Macron’s main opponent will be Marine Le Pen — the leader of the National Rally, which is the new name of the old National Front, France’s far-right movement — in the face of weakening of centre-right, Republican, centre-left, and Socialist parties.
According to recent polls, Macron is in a virtual tie with Le Pen, ringing alarm bells for the French president.
“We will not give up cartoons,” Macron said after a school teacher, Samuel Paty, was killed by a young Chechen-origin Muslim living in France, referring to the depictions which insult the Prophet Mohammed according to Islamic belief and sentiment.
“He (Paty) was killed because Islamists want our future. They will never have it,” Macron claimed, staking his claim to a traditionally far-right narrative. For a long time, far-right movements across the world have claimed that Muslims, with their growing populations, will eventually replace them.
One of the main far-right movements, the Identitarian movement, originated in France’s New Right, which emerged out of the post-World War II environment. It has long claimed that Muslims are waging a cultural war against white Europeans defending a “separatist” agenda.
Macron has not hesitated to repeat those far-right themes, describing his country’s 6 million-strong Muslim population as a “parallel society” or a “counter-society”.
“The idea feeds a very simple falsehood: Muslims are in Europe to engage in a culture war to overturn European values, and white Christians have to fight to save their civilization,” wrote H.A. Hellyer, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is also the author of Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans.
These are the same kind of theories promoted by far-right politicians like the Dutch Geert Wilders who has been convicted in the past for insulting a group and inciting discrimination.
“It’s a wild theory, but its respectable form, which is all about 'Muslim separatism,' moved from the fringes to the mainstream a long time ago and has infected the left and the right in French politics and beyond,” Hellyer observed.
Renaud Camus, a French writer, who is one of the godfathers of the Identitarian Movement, created some of the main themes of far-right movements, which is coined in his controversial book The Great Replacement, inspiring a wide range of fascists from Brenton Tarrant, the culprit of the New Zealand Christchurch attack to Austrian racists.
A new direction
Murat Yigit, an academic studying post-colonialism and France’s Africa policy at Istanbul Commerce University, who was educated in France, agrees with Hellyer, believing that populist movements with racist themes have begun dominating the political mainstream for some time across the world.
“With the rise of populism, the difference between the right and the left has appeared to lose its meaning as we could observe from the course of the French politics,” Yigit told TRT World.
Macron’s party claims to represent the centre, not identifying itself directly with the right or the left. But Anne-Christine Lang, a member of Macron’s so-called centre party, attacked a Muslim hijabi-wearing student during her parliament visit, saying “I cannot accept that someone comes to participate in our work at the National Assembly wearing a hijab.”
“They see the upcoming wave. Le Pen has a chance to win the French elections, riding on strong social support. Both leading leftists and centre-right politicians have already been liquidated in the French politics,” Yigit says.
He thinks Macron’s recent anti-Islam statements are clear indications of how Macron could appeal to Le Pen’s extremist base.
“Macron is trying to steal Le Pen’s political role by the way of garnering support from her expanding base. For an outsider, it looks like there are two right-wing parties, [competing for power],” Yigit says.
“Listening too closely to the siren songs of the far right can lead the French Republic into dangerous waters. There is after all a limit to how many hard-right policies you can appropriate before you become a hard-right party yourself,” wrote Faisal Al Yafai, a writer and expert on the Middle East.
Hellyer quoted a French expert in his article, Rim-Sarah Alouane, who is an academic at the Toulouse 1 Capitole University, on the rise of anti-Islam sentiment across France.
“Anti-Muslim bigotry is a business model in France: It boosts audiences on 24/7 news networks, and it allows politicians to be more visible. The far-right might not be in power in France, but its spirit definitely is,” Alouane said.
Yigit sees a serious threat across France, pointing out that the harsh far-right attitudes are not only dominating the political sphere but also the streets.
“Several Muslim hijabi women at the bottom of France’s iconic Eiffel Tower were attacked right after the recent incident [Paty’s beheading]. Three mosques were attacked in the meantime,” Yigit recounts.
“We have arrived in a period, where moderate Muslim foundations could be closed down,” he adds. The French interior ministry has indicated that it is monitoring more than 50 Muslim institutions on their alleged ties to the recent attack and extremist movements.
Yigit thinks that hardline policies against Muslims in the country leaves two options for French Muslims: assimilate in a way where you might lose your Islamic identity or resist.
Macron’s moves signal that the French government may radicalise its Muslim population, according to Yigit. Islam is the second biggest religion in France, which practices a strict version of secularism.
“‘Let’s provoke them in a way that they would be radicalised [without any other acceptable choices]. Then, we can tell everybody that you see we were right about them,’ the French government currently thinks in my opinion,” says Yigit.
Macron’s latest moves, which included raising banners that were insulting to the Prophet Mohammed across the country, appear to confirm Yigit’s account.
Macron also gave a long interview to a far-right French magazine, Valeurs Actuelles, which loves to describe Muslims as savages. According to the French president, the publication is “a very good magazine.”
That emerging line from the French government could also be a sign of the country’s failed integration policies.
While France has gone through several political stages in its turbulent history since the 1789 French Revolution, the country has not addressed its problematic colonial past, according to many experts.
This “unresolved colonial history” has created various tensions with its Muslim-dominated populations, who are mostly originated from North Africa, revealing an uncomfortable fact that it cannot adequately integrate its Muslim citizens.
In a recent statement, the French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has clearly shown that the country’s colonialist past has not ended at all in terms of its thinking and understanding of others.
After using a colonialist term, ensauvagement, a popular far-right/racist theme, which means savages, to apparently describe Muslims to separate them from the civilised French, the interior minister received mild criticism, but that just made his hardline rhetoric even tougher.
“Personally, I use the word ensauvagement and I repeat it,” insisted Darmanin, indicating how heavily the colonial mentality still hovers over the Republic.
It was another indication that French politics is on the brink of radicalism, despite accusing Muslims of being “radical”.