The French president allies himself with Arab autocrats who subvert democracy at home, and keep Muslims out of Fortress Europe.

As many Muslims across the world vent their anger at the incendiary actions of Emmanuel Macron including defending derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo, one might wonder why the French president would pick this specific battle.  

The easy answer is that Macron is doing so out of some kind of misguided defence of ‘secularism’ in the face of the brutally unjustifiable murder of Samuel Paty, whose Salafi-jihadist killer was motivated by the teacher’s decision to show the cartoons as an example of triumphant French secularism. 

But how then how does one explain Macron’s deliberately inflammatory remarks long before that on October 2, when he announced a new Orwellian law against so-called ‘Islamic separatism’, obtusely opining that Islam ‘is in crisis all over the world today’?

In the face of flagging support in the polls and a crushing defeat for his party in the municipal elections in June, it’s perfectly plausible that Macron could be cynically attempting to garner electoral support by appealing to what is one of the most Islamophobic electorate in Europe. This is the country where the choice in the last presidential election was between the Islamophobic Neo-Nazi Le Pen and Macron.  

However, to see the full picture, one must look at the new fault lines that have emerged in the Middle East and North Africa since the so-called Arab spring.

It’s of no surprise that Macron’s biggest detractor in this saga has been Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Macron has hitched his wagons firmly to the UAE-Saudi axis in the region, an axis that pits itself not against ‘Islamic extremism’, as is the code word, but rather any form of political consciousness – Islamic or not – that has quarrel with brutal tyrannical, autocratic order they represent.  

The main detractors of the UAE-Saudi order has been forces that believe in what can be described as Islamic democracy, including many groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The UAE and Saudi have both went on a rampage against these groups, not because they represent ‘Islamic extremism’, but rather because they endorse moderate democratic reformism with Islamic values. 

The AK Party represented something of a model for these forces, while Turkey under the governance of the AK Party has for its own reasons supported democratic forces in the Arab spring era.  

This has amounted to Turkish support in Egypt for the democratic government of the late Mohamed Morsi as it was overthrown by the President Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi, sponsored by the UAE.  To this day, its relations with the Sisi regime are basically non-existent.  

In Syria, Turkey has stationed its troops in Idlib, in order to prevent Assad-Iran-Russia conquering and cleansing the last liberated province, while the UAE has bribed Assad to attack Idlib with the intent of using cleansed refugees, heading for the Turkish border, to undermine the Turkish government.  

In Qatar, which finds itself besieged by the UAE-Saudi axis for the reason of it backing democratic forces in the region, Turkey has stationed troops to stop a potential Saudi invasion.

So what does any of this have to do with Macron?   

The full ideological contours of this dynamic can best be seen in Libya. The EU’s official position in Libya to back the UN-recognised Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which contains democratic Brotherhood affiliates.  

But, contrary to this, France has joined the UAE and host of foreign imperialist (including Russia) and domestic counterrevolutionary forces in backing the fascistic warlord Khalifa Haftar with weaponry, training and even special forces in his attempt to capture Tripoli and overthrow the legitimate government – the attempt was unsuccessful again due to Turkish intervention.  

French involvement in Libya has much to do with the fact that it wants to support its major ally the UAE, which is among the biggest recipient of French arms and host to a French military base. But what does it have to do with Islamophobia?

Whatever the manifold geopolitical reasons for French involvement in Libya (and its genocidal colonial history in North Africa is a major factor), its main self-justification is so-called ‘counter-terrorism’, which of course then reduces the democratic forces involved in the GNA, whose armed forces fought and defeated Daesh in Libya, to ‘Islamic terrorists’.

Migration is also a major factor, with Haftar being much more in the model of strongmen, in the Sisi model, who are willing to ruthlessly police the walls of Fortress Europe, keeping out mostly Muslim refugees. This is simply how France views the Islamic Near East – as a place that ought to be the abode of autocratic allies who offer lucrative trade deals and keep the 'savages' at bay.

This gives us a key insight into who exactly Macron, and more generally France, considers being extremists. Much like their theocratic friends in the UAE and Saudi, the enemy is simply Muslims that envision themselves free of regional autocracy – this puts them on a collision course not with Salafi-jihadists, as they want you to believe, but everyday Muslims who sympathise with the struggles against tyranny in MENA and struggles against endemic racism at home.

Though Islamophobia in France is its own animal, one that is reflected in a spectrum comprising centrists to Neo-Nazis, Macron’s attempts to ideologically and legally assault French Muslims must thus be seen through this lens.  

Charlie Hebdo, and its cartoons, are not as some would have it merely ‘satire’ or symbols of secularism, but rather reflections of racist caricatures of Muslims and Arabs in general.  

Macron is lionising a magazine that chose to ‘satirise’ the murder of over 1000 Egyptian Muslims in one day by depicting a gormless Egyptian Muslim being shot to death while holding a Quran.  

The caption on the front of the magazine read: ‘The Quran is s**t, it does not stop bullets’. This is simply just a magazine run by French non-Muslims laughing at the murder of Egyptian Muslims – ones who happened to be protesting against the counter-revolutionary forces that France supports.  

This is not ‘secularism’, which is about the acceptance of freedom of thought. This is now simply Islamophobia and religious intolerance dressed up in the language of ‘secularism’.  

If this truly were a question about legitimate secularism, there would have been marches in solidarity – like those held for Paty – with two Muslim women recently stabbed by fascist assailants in Paris.

Charlie Hebdo has come out with inflammatory attacks on Erdogan, but the most troubling accusation comes from Le Figaro, which accuses Turkey of ‘mobilising Islamists against France’. This is not only an absurd lie, but yet another clear Islamophobic provocation that pins the blame on Turkey. The UAE, which has stayed silent about the cartoons, must be rubbing its hands gleefully. 

As has been the case with anti-democratic counter-revolution across MENA, France’s actions will only seek to undermine and alienate Muslims, while giving extremists a new lease of life.  

But France’s main problem is not with extremism, but rather the radical Islamophobic Neo-Nazis that stand to gain much from Macron’s stoking of anti-Islamic sentiment.  

Macron was supposed to be the centrist alternative to Le Pen, but with his endorsing of autocrats and targeting of Muslims, the difference between the two is vague.  

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