Big Promises From Macron

After years of criminal neglect, the French President promises a responsible approach to Islam.

Beset by Communist riots, the China plague, and a campaign-season spike in Trump Derangement Syndrome, Americans have rarely been so disinclined to look abroad. But despite our stateside navel-gazing, life in Europe goes on, for better or worse. Take France.

Last Friday, French president Emmanuel Macron delivered what, on the face of it, seemed to be a remarkable speech on Islam. Macron, it will be recalled, has played both sides of the fence on this one. In 2015, while serving as Minister of the Economy, he described mass immigration as “an economic opportunity" – this at a time when French suburbs were packed with Muslims who were quite obviously a huge economic liability. Macron pointedly dismissed French voters’ concern about the nation’s failure to integrate newcomers: “This is not a subject on which we must govern by the polls,” he said. “History has shown that when we sometimes follow the will of the people, especially in difficult times, we are wrong.” Of course, immigration policy in Western Europe has never have anything whatsoever to do with the will of the people.   

Two years later, Macron remained sanguine, chiding those who “confuse terrorists with asylum seekers and refugees” – as if terrorism were the only problem created by the influx of Muslims into Europe. 

But now he’s changed his tune. In his Friday speech, he rolled out a new program intended to defend French laïcité, or official secularism, from “Islamist separatism,” which he explicitly characterized as an existential threat to the Republic. “Secularism is the glue of a united France,” he proclaimed, and Islamists are pursuing “a conscious, theorized, politico-religious project” that holds Islamic laws to be “superior to those of the Republic” and that spurs Muslims, in effect, to shun mainstream society. He even said – sacre bleu! – that Islam “is in crisis” and warned of the danger posed by those who seek to establish a “caliphate.” (Note that in Europe, people who say such things are routinely characterized by the mainstream media as wide-eyed Islamophobic conspiracy theorists.) Macron also admitted that one reason why “Islamist separatism” had been allowed to fester was the “cowardice” of French authorities; while adding that France’s colonial past was part of the equation, he rejected excessively broad efforts to blame that colonialism for the situation of Muslims in France “who have never known colonization.”

By way of response to the challenge of Islam, Macron introduced a five-part program aimed at “strengthening secularism and consolidating republican principles.” First, public services would no longer agree to special concessions to Muslims – for instance, no separate swim times for Muslim women, and no tolerance for Muslim bus drivers who turn away immodestly dressed female passengers. (Interesting that this wasn’t already a firm policy.) Second, athletic, cultural, artistic, and other associations will be scrubbed of any hint of Islamist “indoctrination.”  Third, secularism will be more strongly emphasized in schools: parents will no longer be able to pull kids out of music or swim classes (both being haram), school instruction will be compulsory for everyone over the age of three, and “foreign interference” will be prohibited. Fourth, the government will abet the formation of “an Islam of the Enlightenment” in France, which will involve “the development of high-level Islamic studies in universities” and the establishment of an “Institute of Islamology.” Fifth, disaffected Muslims will be encouraged to appreciate and even love the Republic, a task that will oblige French leaders to carry out a “reconquest.”

This last word is an apparent reference to the Spanish Reconquista, the series of medieval military actions by means of which the Iberian peninsula was gradually liberated from Muslim occupiers. The government, asserted Macron, needs to “mobilize the nation for a republican awakening.“ At the same time, he promised not to “manage consciences” – a line that brings to mind the purported assertion by Queen Elizabeth I that, in promulgating the Anglican Settlement, she had “no desire to make a window into men’s souls.”   

Macron’s announcement caused consternation on both sides of the issue. Rim-Sarah Alaoune, a member of the law department at the University Toulouse-Capitole, chastised Macron for failing to address (what else?) “white supremacy.” European Parliament member Manon Aubry described Macron as being “obsessive” on the subject of Islam and charged him with “stigmatizing Muslims.” And the Turkish Foreign Ministry blasted Macron, stating: “Nobody should try to subject our sacred religion, which means ‘peace,’ to wrong and distorted approaches under the pretext of ‘enlightenment.’” (Of course, Islam doesn’t mean “peace,” it means “submission.”) Meanwhile, MP Eric Ciotti called Macron’s proposal weak, noting that, among other things, it didn’t ban veils on mothers accompanying kids on school trips. 

It’s hard not to agree with Ciotti. One would like to believe that Macron can rid public services, associations, and schools of Islamic (or, as he insists on saying, Islamist) influence, but – to put it mildly – that’s an extremely tall order. Ditto the plan to convert Muslims who hate France into ardent Francophiles. And how exactly do you forge an “Islam of the Enlightenment”? We’ve all said for years that Islam needs to undergo a Reformation, as Christianity did – but does Macron really think that Islam can be metamorphosed, by government fiat, into something radically different from itself? Will the Koran be dramatically abridged, à la the Jefferson Bible, with the Medina verses omitted and perhaps a couple of nice doggy stories added in an attempt to eradicate Islamic cynophobia?

To be sure, Macron is far from the first European leader to float the notion of an Islam 2.0 for twenty-first-century Europe. Tariq Ramadan – the Muslim Brotherhood front man, serial rapist, and self-described bridge-builder who, for a while there, had a massive following among his coreligionists in Europe – made “Euro Islam” the center of his vision of a happily Islamized continent. But secular Islam looks more and more like a pipe dream; the political scientist Bassam Tibi, who pushed the idea for years, wrote in 2016 that he’d given up on it. “There will be no Euro-Islam,” he pronounced, observing that European Muslims were increasingly “isolationist” and that “the parallel society has triumphed over integration.” I guess Macron didn’t get the memo.

Then again, when you take into account Macron’s intended expansion of Islamic education and his determination to beef up the teaching of Arabic in the public schools, the whole thing starts to look not like a program for the secularizing of Islam but, rather, like a blueprint for propping up public laïcité while actively promoting private Islamic observance – a blueprint born, one imagines, of pie-in-the-sky hopes that, when the Muslims take over, they won’t replace the Napoleonic Code with sharia law.

Let’s face it. Muslims make up roughly 10% of the French population. In a generation, that will more than double. No Western country has been more victimized by large-scale and horrific acts of Islamic terrorism. The suburbs of major cities are constantly expanding no-go enclaves and the traffic in urban centers is routinely blocked by armies of praying Muslims. Aggressive bullying in the schools is endemic, as is barbaric Muslim gang crime. (In his 2013 book La France Orange Méchanique, Laurent Obertone described his country as besieged by “a new type of ultra-violent crime” that he characterized as a “violence of conquest.” Things have only gotten worse since then.)

Macron’s speech only hinted at some of the myriad ways in which Muslim refusals to cooperate, and Muslim demands for accommodation, cause administrative nightmares for schools, sports teams, youth clubs, and other community groups. As long ago as 2005, a document known as the Obin Report catalogued in frightening detail the systematic hobbling of instruction in French schools by recalcitrant Muslim parents and children. That report should have led, fifteen years ago, to comprehensive action of the sort that Macron now proposes. But nothing happened then, and it’s hard to imagine anything happening now.

So no, I can’t get excited about Macron’s speech. If, during his years in power, he’d exhibited some remote hint of a Trump-like readiness to take on massive, stubborn, deep-seated, hot-button challenges on a nationwide scale, one might respond to his latest initiative with at least a degree of enthusiasm. As it is, one needs to remind oneself that the French, who love high-flown rhetoric, are good at making stirring speeches that vow sweeping transformation and that ultimately come to nothing. One must also remember Angela Merkel’s 2015 statement that multiculturalism had turned out to be a “sham” – an admission that soon enough was dropped down the memory hole. I fervently hope I’m wrong about this, but Macron’s big plans seem likely to end up in the same place.   

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