In early September, the infamous French satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo, republishes the caricatures of Islam’s holiest figure, the last Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). The notorious magazine historically known for its unashamed provocative history and absence of basic decency and ethics in its publication chose to republish the caricatures in anticipation of the shooting trials of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting when it first published the caricatures which led to the attack on its office resulting in the killing of 12 people with 11 injured.
The republication in early September led to the stabbing of two people which led to their injury on the streets of Paris. The stabbing attack occurred in late September as the attacker admitted to intentionally targeting the former office of the French weekly. Merely a few weeks after this stabbing episode, a French teacher, Samuel Paty, displayed the caricatures in his classroom in a school leading to an attack on him resulting in his beheading in a shocking escalating act. Following the killing, two Muslim women in the veil were attacked and stabbed by ‘European-looking’ women near Eiffel Tower. The attacking women were subsequently arrested and charged with racial stabbing.
But, after the beheading, all hell breaks loose, as tensions, domestically and in foreign relations, were escalated significantly as President Macron vowed not to give up the caricatures leading to admonition primarily in the Muslim World and Western liberal circles. As diplomatic tensions with the Muslim World arises primarily with Turkey over President Erdogan’s remark on the mental state of President Macron, the latter recalled France’s ambassador in Turkey, further escalating the issue. Moreover, President Macron vowing not to give up on the caricature lead to a boycott of French products throughout the Muslim World.
However, this context shares a background of a recent speech by the French President in which he calls for the elimination of “Separatism”. Though the speech itself was intended to be about separatism existing in all hues and colours, it was actually majorly based on the religion of Islam. President Macron even went so far as to call for “Islam of Enlightenment” by sharing his vision for the five million Muslim population in France, the majority of which were born in France.
The speech in many respects was neglectful of the marginalization of Muslims in French society. It was made for a society in which even established journalists falsely accuse someone of connection with the 9/11 terrorist attacks just because the latter is making cooking video tutorials while wearing a Muslim head covering. The speech was a moment of stoking-hatred, racism, and increasing the marginalization of Muslims as security institutions ramp-up the pressure on the French Muslim community at the onset of October just when President Macron made the speech. Across France, a mosque, two schools, and funeral home were searched by the police.
However, the issue with Muslims is important for President Macron as he prepares for an electoral contest against far-right national rally leader Marie Le Penn in the elections of 2022. Since the far-right made to the second round of the French presidential election in 2017, startling the political observers of the power of her discourse of immigration, national security, and culture bordering on xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism, French politics is increasingly becoming very toxic and shifting rightward as opposed to the toxification of the French Republic in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when the French Republic tried to reign in on the religion of Islam through penalizing Muslim dress code.
Given his declining popularity among the French public, President Macron is applying all instruments of state power to give an impression of his strength and control while pandering to the rhetoric of the far-right on issues of immigration, religion, culture, and security. In the form of the beheading of Samuel Paty and rising geopolitical tensions with the Muslim world, he is trying to salvage whatever remains of his popularity in the French public by appearing strong on security and ‘French values’. By constructing a war-like scenario through his inflammatory rhetoric and his repressive policies, he is trying to garner and attract voters from the far-right.
But singling out French Muslims for his tough, law and order political rhetoric to secure his chances for re-election is a counterproductive electoral strategy. It is a strategy of sowing further racial and religious hatred and increasing the polarization in society, inspiring more violent attacks and reprisals against Muslims who are burning an unequalled bear of the draconian legal measures of the French state which even Amnesty International is severely critical about. Muslims in France, the majority of which are naturalized citizens of the French state, are experiencing an unjustified and discriminatory French state apparatus which marginalizes them to the fringes of the French society. In his process of adopting far-right rhetoric as a political practice to win votes, President Macron is equally capable of compromising the real French values of secularism: liberty, fraternity, and equality.