Opinion, Top Story

American Criticism of Macron Becomes Hysterical

The president is accused of “flirting with authoritarianism” by journalists who don’t know France.

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron answers a question from a reporter in Helsinki, Finland, August 30, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

The American left’s vilification of Emmanuel Macron continues.

Karen Attiah accuses the French president in The Washington Post of “pandering to Islamophobic sentiment” and flirting “with political authoritarianism.”

His crimes? “Pressuring” Islamic leaders to respect “republican values”. Putting restrictions on homeschooling, including canceling a program with teachers from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. Somehow making “life miserable for innocent Muslims” — Attiah gives no detail.

The same Attiah earlier retweeted the fake news that Macron was planning to give Muslim pupils ID numbers when all French pupils have identification numbers except those being homeschooled, and a proposal to give homeschooled pupils the same IDs was taken out of the bill.

Misinformation

Attiah’s mix of hysteria and misinformation is unfortunately emblematic of a trend in American, and to a lesser extent British, media, as I’ve previously detailed here, here and here.

Macron has been accused of presiding over a “crackdown against Muslims,” “fomenting a clash of civilizations,” “whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria” and imitating the politics of Steve Bannon, a far-right agitator and former advisor to Donald Trump.

Before I speculate about the reasons why, let’s learn about the policies that have provoked so much criticism, but from France-based journalists. (Attiah incredibly accuses the entire French press of responding with “feverish fragility” to her false claims and “lashing out viciously” at foreign commentators like her, but I put more faith in the analysis of those who live, or have lived, in France and speak French.)

John Lichfield, a longtime Paris correspondent for UK media, earlier wrote in Politico Europe that Macron’s “crackdown”, following the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by an 18 year-old Chechen refugee, involved a number of arrests, closing down a mosque that was run by a radical imam and investing 51 other Islamic organizations for alleged extremist sympathies.

He reports for The Local that a proposed security law — which was in the pipeline before Paty’s murder, and which Attiah characterizes as authoritarian — was drafted in consultation with Muslim leaders, has been approved by the fiercely independent Constitutional Council and has been rejected by the far right as well as the mainstream right as too weak.

The law would not ban homeschooling but introduce stricter regulation and inspection.

The law does not altogether ban the publication of photos and videos that identify police officers — a proposal that was rightly criticized, both in France and abroad, as going too far — but it does make it a crime to publish such pictures if the intent is to put the lives of police officers at risk. Proving that will be a high bar.

Religious organizations that receive state funding would need to sign a charter underwriting the values of the French republic, including that “religions are not political movements.” Organizations can opt out, but then they would no longer receive taxpayers’ money.

Veils that completely cover the face are already banned in France. So are Islamic headscarfs, and other religious symbols, in the public sector. The new law would extend that ban to government contractors.

It also contains additional safeguards against forced marriages, tougher punishments for virginity tests and seeks to ensure that men and women inherit equally. (Under Sharia law, women inherit half the amount of men.)

It has yet to be approved by the French National Assembly and Senate.

Radical

If these proposals smack of authoritarianism to you, I’m not sure what to tell you.

To me, they seem like a proportionate response to the violence France has suffered at the hands of radical Islamists — from the eight employees of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo who were killed by fanatics claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda in 2015, to the 130 Parisians who were killed in coordinated attacks on the Stade de France, Bataclan theater and various cafés and restaurants by Belgian, French and Syrian Muslims claiming affiliation with the self-proclaimed Islamic State later that same year, to the 86 residents of Nice who were killed when a Tunisian migrant plowed his truck into a Bastille Day celebration on the Promenade des Anglais in 2016, to the three worshippers who were stabbed to death in the Notre-Dame de Nice by another Tunisian migrant six weeks ago.

Attiah seems to consider all these deaths proper blowback to the “countless atrocities” France still commits “in the name of imperialism all over the world.” (Again, no detail on what those “atrocities” are. I’m starting to wonder about The Washington Post‘s editorial standards when it will ruin the life of a woman with no public profile for a poor attempt at humor but allow entire nations to be smeared without any evidence whatsoever.)

I think these terrorist attacks are an outgrow of the segregation of France’s Muslim youth in depressing banlieues. Mix high-school dropouts with poor job prospects, a sense of social isolation and stigmatization, and fanatics praying on such young men (they are almost always men) and you will breed at least a few homegrown, lone-wolf terrorists.

The process of radicalization isn’t unique to France. It isn’t unique to Islam. The circumstances are similar for white nationalists, like Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, or Dylann Roof, who killed nine worshippers in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

If I were to make a criticism of Macron’s policy, it would be that it’s heavy on suppression and light on prevention.

Macron recognized earlier this year that France has let down its ethnic minorities by confining them to suburban ghettos. He promised new policies for the banlieues. Where are they?

Lens

That has barely been mentioned in the English-language media, much less analyzed.

The mistake Attiah and other American critics, who may never even have set foot in France, make is to interpret events in the country through the lens of their own politics.

(Not seldom would these same commentators insist that non-Western cultures must be judged in their own context. France may be judged on American terms, but France judging Islam on French terms is imperialist and racist. It’s a double standard we’ll leave for another day.)

Attiah points out there is racism in France, which is true. The neglect of the banlieues is proof enough. But when she draws a parallel between discrimination against the descendants of former colonial subjects in France and the historical marginalization of black people in the United States, she is comparing apples and oranges.

Metropolitan France didn’t have slavery. It didn’t have Jim Crow. America didn’t have colonies.

France has a tradition of fierce secularism that demands the assimilation of migrants, who in turn are treated equally by the state regardless of ethnicity or religion. French statisticians are forbidden from tracking either, which is why we don’t know exactly how many Muslims live in France. (Estimates range from three to four million.) Americans are obsessed with skin color and asked to declare their race and national origin every ten years in the Census.

Rights groups claim French police discriminate against men of color, and there have been recorded instances of police violence. Which made the proposal to ban photos and videos in which police officers are identifiable not just wrong, but outrageous.

But there is no comparison with the United States, where police are responsible for one in every twelve violent deaths.

American police killed 1,146 people in 2019, a rate of 3.5 per million, which puts it in the range of such countries as Iran, Mexico and Sudan. Black men are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by American police than white men.

French police killed 26 people in 2018, or .4 for every one million, which is a little above the European average but still low by global standards.

Nevertheless, The New York Times framed Paty’s murder through the lens of American anxieties over police violence, initially headlining its story “French police shoot and kill man after a fatal knife attack on the street” before changing it to “Man beheads teacher on the street in France and is killed by police.”

Which still avoided any clue about the young man’s identity or motive.

The fact that a terrorist was shot and killed after beheading a teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils was a bigger story in America than the beheading itself.

Yet the same reporters think they can lecture Macron on how to cope with the problem of Muslim radicalization in his country.

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