By Clara Didier
What the Article I of the 1958 French Constitution has never been that threatened in decades and even more recently with the beheading of the French teacher, Samuel Paty. The Article I is at follows: ‘France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.’ In this article, we are going to analyse how France is fragilized between respecting all religions and denouncing religious extremism. For this purpose, a survey has been conducted, regrouping 24 answers from 87.5% being students both French or English, between 20-30 years old, 57.1% of woman, all from different religious backgrounds or none.
The three simultaneous terrorist attacks which happened the 13th of November 2015 in Paris, killed 130 people and injured 413. But not only they have hurt people, but they also explicitly attacked freedom and freedom of expression written in the articles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. Since then, a campaign against Islamism was ordered by François Hollande, the former French president. This fight against extremism, violence, reinterpretation of Islam is now continued by Mr Macron. Nonetheless, he is being misunderstood and we can ask ourselves if his policies towards Islamism are the right ones.
President Macron has enacted several controversial laws and actions. The first law on separatism at school and the second one being the authorization – or at least letting it happen – of circulating cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in schools. It happened in a context of national mourning, with the death of the French teacher Samuel Paty, decapitated because he showed those cartoons in class. But this authorization created an outrage among the Muslim community, both French and abroad. Boycotts were implemented against France and the French President has been severely criticized by numerous leaders and populations, it involved Turkey, Bangladesh, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan etc. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even said that ‘Macron needs mental treatment’.
In this context, Mr Macron delivered an interview with Al-Jazeera, a Qatari satellite television channel. French newspaper Liberation, talks about a ‘well-calibrated clarification operation’. Not only because of the Qatar-based channel’s notoriety and extensive Arabic-speaking audience, but because it has been at the forefront of relaying anti-French criticism across Arab-Muslim countries. The interview was given a day after the attack in Nice’s church. What can be remembered from his speech is his feeling of being widely misunderstood. Indeed, the Arab-Muslim world understood that he was the one authorizing cartoons to be showed to children. The cartoons of the Prophet were not published at the initiative of the government but by ‘free and independent newspapers’, he explained. He underlined, ‘I understand that one can be shocked by cartoons, but I will never accept that violence can be justified. Our freedoms, our rights, I consider that it is our vocation to protect them.’ Translations of his speeches were incorrect and as his interviewer Salam Kawakibi explains: ‘It is a lesson that is necessary in countries where all expression is locked by power and where people cannot imagine that a newspaper publishes what it wants without a green light from above’.
Through the survey I have made, I analysed the repercussion of this interview. I noticed a clear divergence of opinion, on the one hand some people thought that the speech was ‘inflammatory’, ‘unnecessary’ or even ‘paternalist’. On the other hand, some people thought it was a ‘straightforward communication from Macron’, ‘he clearly distinguishes between Islamist terrorists and moderate Muslims who practice their faith peacefully’ and that ‘any accusations of Islamophobia regarding Macron’s speech are totally unwarranted (and unfortunately politically motivated)’. 54.2% think that the last law from the French government regarding separatism and secularity is not Islamophobic, against 41.7% who think it is. Subsequently, 62.5% do not believe that showing cartoons of the Prophet in schools is Islamophobic. Almost all of those interviewed, knew the difference between Islam and Islamism. Furthermore, 70.8% condemn the boycotts against France.
Through the analysis of this survey, it has come to my understanding that it is still unclear for people how Macron is handling Islamism in France. Answers by French individuals were more straightforward and informed contrary to English ones. So, was his interview understood by everyone? And more importantly by the Arabic world? According to Qatari newspaper, the French president’s interview was ‘a world-class media event’.
Probably one of the most spectacular reactions is from the UAE Foreign Minister, Anwar Gargash. In the German daily Die Welt, he said: ‘You should listen to what Macron really said in his speech: he doesn’t want the ghettoisation of Muslims in the west, and he is absolutely right’. He added: ‘with his attacks on France, Erdogan is manipulating a religious issue for political purposes’, Muslims ‘are in need to be integrated in a better way; the French state has the right to search for ways to achieve this in parallel with combating extremism and societal closure.’ The Egyptian editorialist Waël Qandil wrote in the columns of the Qatari website Al-Araby Al-Jadid ‘Macron: more than a step back, almost an excuse’. According to him, ‘he has completely changed his language and adopted a conciliatory tone’. This statement is to be put in contrast with his last column before the interview, calling Mr Macron an ‘obsessive racist’ who ‘shoots hate bullets’ at Muslims. This reaction from some Arab media outlets suggests that this interview did have a positive impact, even if considered as an ‘excuse’, the Arabic world (for most countries), better understand Macron’s policies now.
Nonetheless, when we look at the other end of the Arab political spectrum, with Hakem Al-Mutairi for example, one of the founding members of the Salafist movement in Kuwait, reacted on his Twitter account: ‘Macron’s retreat on Al-Jazeera is a diabolical ruse. The Islamic boycott must continue until the official stop of the exhibition of the drawings and until there is a real apology for this serious aggression against Islam’.
On Monday 7 December 2020, Mr Macron met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi. The latter told the press at the Elysée that religious values must have supremacy over human values and that ‘human rights come second’. His French counterpart replied: ‘The value of man is superior to everything’. Once again, the French president shows his determination to govern a secular country that respects everyone. However, the award of the Legion of Honour given to the Egyptian president was a sensation, once again questioning the words and convictions of President Macron.
To conclude, France is attacked on all its fronts, on all its borders and on all its values but will never stop to respect everyone.
My name is Clara Didier, I’m a 20 years old French International Relations MA student at King’s College. I would like to become a war reporter in the future and work especially in two regions, the Middle-East and South America. I’ve always been interested in war related subjects as my father taught history and geography when I was younger. And more recently, since the Bataclan’s attacks as a family member was in the front line, in terrorism. Regarding war I am particularly interested in secret wars, secrecy, hidden intelligence, what is happening backstage and the results of it, sometimes leading to dirty consequences. Regarding terrorism, it’s a human and sociological curiosity that pushed me in studying how someone (especially citizens in democratic countries) can decide to enroll, radicalise and use violence.