Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the French president’s main policy priority appears to be placing new restrictions on the country’s Muslim community.
French President Emmanuel Macron has once again offered his unsolicited opinion on the purported ‘crisis’ within Islam.
The comments by the French leader come on the back of previous attacks against the Muslim community in the country, with Macron earlier criticising members of the faith for ‘separatism’.
“Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country,” the French president said in a speech introducing a new law to strengthen France’s state ideology of militant secularism, known as Laicite.
Under the existing regime, religious symbols, such as headscarves are banned from schools and educational institutes and women who wear the face veil are subject to fines and prosecution.
The policies stem from the central government, as well on the local authority level, meaning regional politicians can enforce their own hardline interpretation of Laicite.
In such instances, Muslim businesses have been forced to shut down because their owners did not want to sell produce that conflicted with their religious beliefs.
But even this system of restrictions on Islamic practice is not enough for Macron as he prepares a new round of measures.
French Muslims and other critics were quick to respond to his comments, with some questioning why the president had chosen this moment to launch his assault.
“French Muslims must be pretty flattered that in a middle of global pandemic and even a European Council, Emmanuel Macron has taken the time out to tell them all how they should stop becoming Islamist separatists.” Wrote the journalist Mehreen Khan on Twitter.
The political scientist, Bruno Macaes, said: “It’s stunning to watch this. I don’t think any Western leader has ever spoken of Islam like this. There was always a careful distinction between Islam and fundamentalist movements.”
Like many other states across the globe, France is facing its worst economic crisis in decades as the coronavirus pandemic causes havoc within the country.
Continuous protests by the Yellow Vest movement, as well as by minorities protesting police brutality, have further contributed to the instability within the country.
Deep rooted anti-Muslim hatred
Macron’s latest salvo against Islam comes amid the backdrop of traditional French Islamophobia, as well as the realpolitik of contemporary European states.
French colonialism in the Middle East and Africa was justified with overt anti-Islamic reasoning.
In Algeria, French imperialists enforced the removal of the veil and banned native Algerian Muslims from obtaining citizenship unless they dropped their belief in Islam and their use of the Arabic or Amazigh languages.
The culmination of such policies was the brutal war against the Algerian independence movement, which ended in 1962 with the French withdrawal but only after the deaths of at least a million Algerians.
In more recent times, across the US and Europe, anti-Muslim rhetoric has been a powerful tool to win over the electorate and distract from more day-to-day issues, such as unemployment and rising poverty.
In a 2019 report, the Brookings Institute scholar Shadi Hamid wrote: “Demographic fears- even if they don’t correspond to reality- are difficult to ignore in democracies, where the changing ethnic or religious composition of the population can shape and even determine whether a party can win on the local or national level.”
Macron no longer hiding his feelings about Islam. No longer radical Islam, now it’s just Islam that is the problem https://t.co/ljRK3LuNMM— Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) October 2, 2020
As things stand, both Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen are polling at 25 percent for the presidential election set for 2022.
As Le Pen’s platform is almost entirely defined by her anti-Islam platform, observers believe Macron is trying to boost his credentials among those who hold anti-Muslim views.
On his Twitter account, the journalist CJ Werleman summarised: “Macron’s political future is in crisis today and he’s turning to the never fail election campaign strategy of inflaming anti-Muslim animus.”
Curiously, The French president has chosen to partner with the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to work on establishing his brand of ‘moderate’ Islam.
Macron’s definition of radical Islam stops at French Muslims speaking in Arabic or other languages or wearing headscarves and other religious clothing. It does not extend to regimes in the Middle East who commit massacres, murder journalists or imprison dissidents for tweets.