“What we need to fight is Islamist separatism,” Macron said, in a speech delivered in the northwestern Paris suburb of Les Mureaux. “It’s a conscious, theorized, politico-religious project that materializes through repeated deviations from the values of the republic and which often result in the creation of a counter-society.”
Motivated in part by a string of deadly terrorism attacks — some perpetrated by French Muslims against fellow citizens — Macron has talked for several years about his desire to encourage the integration and prevent the radicalization of those who practice Islam in France.
But his Friday speech went further than previous statements in its critique of France’s largest minority community. Under fire by the political right for being soft on crime, he called Islam “a religion that is in crisis all over the world” whose problems stemmed from a “very strong hardening” of positions among Muslims.
His tone perplexed even the Muslim leaders who are largely sympathetic to the call for greater integration.
“The question of ‘separatism’ does not concern all Muslims in any way. Far from it!” wrote Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the rector of Paris’s Grand Mosque, in an op-ed for France’s Le Monde newspaper.
“I would like to point out, with all due respect, to those circles that seek to establish a parallel between Islam and Islamism, to those who suggest that Islam is Islamism, and vice versa, that there is indeed a distinction to be made between the Muslim religion and the Islamist ideology.”
“You recognize that ‘radical Islam’ (still not defined) is taking root because the Republic has deserted the social question,” wrote the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a prominent Muslim advocacy group, in a statement addressed to Macron. “Instead of developing the social, you propose to impose repressive devices.”
Macron did place some of the blame for “Islamist separatism” on France itself, particularly in its unwillingness to address the bloody Algerian war and the colonial past still imprinted in what he called “our collective psyche.”
“And so we see children of the Republic, sometimes from elsewhere, children or grandchildren of citizens from immigrant backgrounds and from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa revisiting their identity through a post-colonial discourse.”
But this, he said, was “a form of self-hatred.”
The question of what to do about Islam has been a regular topic discussion in the French press and on talk shows. But calls to “reform” an entire religion have repeatedly elicited accusations of xenophobia and Islamophobia. And related policy proposals have eluded, and even embarrassed, virtually every president who has tried. Even an attempt by a left-wing president, Socialist François Hollande, to strip convicted terrorists of their French nationality failed in the French parliament.
Macron, a nominal centrist who became president in 2017, has acknowledged that legacy, including on Friday. Nonetheless, he said he was committed to a project that “consists in finally building an Islam in France that can be an Islam of the Enlightenment.”