Just over a week ago, Emanuel Macron said he wanted to end ‘Islamic separatism’ in France because a minority of the country’s estimated six million Muslims risk forming a ‘counter-society’. On Friday, we saw yet another example of this when a history teacher was decapitated in the street on his way home in a Paris suburb. Samuel Paty had discussed the free speech in the classroom and shown cartoons of Mohammed. Some parents had protested, leading to a wider fuss – and, eventually, his murder. M Paty was murdered, Macron said, “because he taught the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe.” The president is now positioning himself as the defender of French values, determined to drain the Islamist swamp.
That Macron even gave an anti-Islamism speech was itself a sign of how fast the debate is moving in France. Five years ago, when Fox News referred to ‘no-go zones’ in Paris, the city’s mayor threatened to sue. Now we have an avowed centrist like Macron warning that the ‘final goal’ of the ‘ideology’ of Islamism is to ‘take complete control’ of society. Anyone making such arguments just a few years ago would have been condemned by the left as an extremist. Macron is promising a law on ‘Islamist separatism’, restricting home-schooling of Muslims and demanding that Islamic groups in receipt of French state funding will have to sign a ‘secular charter’.
But if he’s serious, why stop there? A week before his speech, for example, there was a stabbing outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which France’s interior minister described as an ‘act of Islamist terrorism’ and a ‘new, bloody attack against our country’. It would be brave and powerful to put up a monument in memory of people who were killed by the Islamists while fighting for freedom of speech: perhaps a statue of the Charlie Hebdo team or my late friend Theo van Gogh. At the statue’s unveiling, Macron might refute the false notion — increasingly widespread today — that scrutinising Islamism and Islamists is an act of ‘Islamophobia’. Defending universal human rights is an act of compassion, not a ‘phobia’; failing to make this point only leaves an opportunity for the real bigots of the far right.
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