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A comprehensive analysis of Macron's latest big speech on Islamist extremism in France by Rodrigo Ballester.
Les Mureaux, a small dormitory city 35 km away from Paris, is a charmless French banlieue of 32,000 inhabitants where 100 nationalities coexist. It is also the place where President Emmanuel Macron chose to deliver a speech on the 4th of October. The landmark intervention — one to be remembered — was a lucid, courageous, and alarming diagnosis of the corrosive impact of radical Islam in France. And for once, Macron referred to “Islamist separatism” — not as a euphemism but as a name that perfectly echoes the magnitude of the challenge that France and other Western European countries face (although some still fail to acknowledge it). The French President, this time, did not.
In Macron’s words, Islamist separatism is a deliberate political and religious project fundamentally at odds with the values of the French Republic. It is an ideology that seeks to impose its own rules, and whose ultimate aim is to create parallel societies and ultimately take political control.
Moreover, he emphasised that drug trafficking is closely intertwined with Islamist separatism, the former often financing and supplementing the latter. Beyond these security issues, Macron admitted that Islamist networks have widely infiltrated civil society, public services, and education. The examples are everywhere: Local mayors are under pressure to impose halal food in schools. Bus drivers have denied rides to women deemed “indecently” dressed. Children have abandoned schools to join clandestine flats where they solely learn the Koran. And even sports association have begun to spread Islamist radicalism. There are many more examples, too.
In order to tackle those problems, the French President announced drastic, unprecedented measures. A few examples include: the prohibition of home schooling (only justified on health reasons), reinforced controls on the activity of mosques, the creation of a system of certified French imams who speak French and teach French values, and the teaching of Arabic (and other native languages) in schools in order to prevent them being taught only by extremists.
Macron’s speech left many listeners astounded. First, because it was sincere and honest — remarkable in a country which has been in denial for decades, and where the political and cultural elites have muzzled France’s discontented middle class by accusing them of racism and xenophobia. Nevertheless, Macron’s diagnosis is, first and foremost, a chronicle of an announced suicide, the sinister portrait of a fractured nation torn apart by years of negligence and ideological blindness. Those ‘lost territories of the Republic’ (Territoires perdus de la République, the title of one of the first books to sound the alarm bell in 2002 by Georges Bensoussan) are not a hallucination of right-wing extremists or a xenophobic plot. No, they are nothing less than the plain reality of modern-day France, as told by thousands of teachers, mayors, doctors, and nurses — and ignored by the authorities and mass media.
What next? Will France be able to reverse this trend, change its ‘integration software,’ and reconquer those ‘lost territories’? Will it successfully eradicate radical Islam from the hundreds of French suburbs that this ideology has already conquered? It’s not clear.
One doubts whether Macron’s determination and the severity of his measures will suffice. Assuming the intended measures are firm enough to address the problem, he still faces countless obstacles to achieve his goal and strengthen social cohesion in France. The first difficulty will be to pass those measures through the filter of the consultative bodies that will assess their impact on civil liberties and fundamental rights. The next step is much riskier: Macron will likely have an intense struggle in the Parliament with members of his own party, a patchwork of former socialists and newcomers equipped with the shallow political conscience of teenage activists. If the French President sometimes speaks with a ‘conservative’ voice and looks at his country with perspicacity, he remains quite lonely at the top of the State apparatus and even within his own circles. What Macron puts on the table is often very different from what the French National Assembly eventually adopts.
Providing the much-heralded measures clear those hurdles, Macron will still face patchy implementation of his legislative package. This is due to a variety of factors — such as discouraged police forces, demotivated teachers, the permissiveness of local authorities, administrative inertia, and political resistances within the State, to name but a few. At best, these impediments will delay and dilute the legislative package; at worst, they will sabotage it. In case an emblematic example is needed, don’t forget that French authorities have still been largely unable to enforce on the ground the ban on burqas voted in the Parliament in 2010.
Macron can also count on media hostility. The President actually sent an explicit call for action — and some words of caution — to journalists, stressing that it is not only his responsibility to reverse these trends but also the nation’s. Was this in vain? Hopefully not. But since the media’s reporting on topics like migration, national identity, or terrorism has been consistently tainted by bias and self-censorship, it is unlikely. The French media actually carry a heavy responsibility in the collective denial of Islamism in Europe, as they spent years discrediting the few, daring voices that stood up against Islamisation, and even ridiculed anyone defending national culture and identity.
The reaction of French Muslims is an important unknown in Macron’s complex political equation. Be it the radical minority or the moderate majority, most of them will probably feel targeted and ‘stigmatized’ by the tone and substance of the President’s message. This is partly due to the high sense of grievance they have developed in the past few decades, a feeling much fueled by the identity politics of left-wing parties and civil society organizations. Such groups consistently whispered in their ears that they are a minority and, hence, are ‘victims’ — victims of the ‘systemic racism’ of a society that treats them like second-class citizens. Thus, they have been told for years that they don’t have duties, only rights; that they need not assimilate to French culture but, rather, that France should adapt to their culture.
Additionally, the concept of ‘victimhood’ — a mental poison as well as a lethal political weapon — prevents migrants from integrating and leads to isolation and detachment, even hatred, of the country that welcomed them, of the country in which they were born. This phenomenon is especially visible among the third or fourth generation of migrants who, paradoxically, are often less integrated that their grandparents who emigrated to France 60 years ago. In the shadow of identity politics and the conflicts of the Middle East, these youngsters see themselves as the victims of colonialism; they nurture anti-Semitic views; and they expect only one thing from France: apologies and compensation. They barely speak Arabic, scarcely know the Koran, but they openly profess their religion more as a symbol of their rebellion than as a sign of faith.
It’s difficult to say. But according to a 2016 report from the highly respected Institut Montaigne, 37% of them believe they are victims of a ‘plot’, while 28% of them have whole-heartedly adopted a system of values that is opposed to the French one.
Macron’s biggest challenge is to convince French society of the magnitude of the threat and transmit to them the gravity of the situation. He calls this a “republican awakening.” Is this possible in a society already lulled into feelings of guilt and self-hatred? Is it realistic, particularly in a country that has failed to create — among its new generation, including migrants — a sense of ‘belonging’ based on its glorious past and brilliant culture?
Sadly, the toxic legacy of May ‘68 has penetrated all layers of French society — especially education and media — and has seriously undermined the self-esteem of one of Europe’s greatest nations. In half a century, France underwent a silent cultural revolution that cut it off from its past, separated it from its roots, and pushed it to the forefront of progressive, ultra-liberal policies. As a result, French society today is dazed, confused, and fragmented. It suffers from an identity crisis from which Islamist separatists are capitalizing — by offering a simplistic but structured radical ideology to thousands of disenchanted youths, thereby filling the gap left by the nihilism of the French elites. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum.
The challenge that Macron and France — and maybe even Western Europe — are facing is truly colossal. This diagnosis can easily be applied tel quel to several cities in Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Austria, and, to a lesser extent, Italy and Spain — with one difference: the French President has looked into the eyes of the enemy and seems to have taken the bull by the horns. In contrast, most of his European counterparts remain in denial. Blinded by dogmas and incapacitated by progressive ideologies, they expect the storm to pass — while their societies are gangrened by Islamist separatism.
The magnitude of the challenge seems unprecedented. And I have grave doubts about France’s capacity to take back control. The barbarian murder of a teacher, beheaded on the street for showing offensive cartoons to his pupils is simply the last example of a long list. Is it too little and too late? Hopefully not; but probably yes. Nonetheless, neither France nor Europe can afford to lose this crucial fight on which the future of our civilization depends. I therefore wish President Macron the greatest success in this new endeavor. May his determination pay off. Bonne chance, Monsieur le Président.
Cover photo: Farodiroma.it ; Photos: rmx.news, Reuters