Macron’s Grandstanding and why he is offensive to Muslims
As has been the norm in Europe and especially France in the last decade, there is another round of tensions between some European states and their Muslim subjects.
The trials of the accomplices of the Charlie Hebdo attackers in 2015 started in September 2020 in Paris. To demonstrate its defiance and resistance, the magazine reprinted some of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that led to the attacks in 2015. Some radical Muslims, offended by the magazine, attacked the publication once more and injured several people.
Macron defended the right of the magazine to caricature the Prophet and even went so far as to suggest he would reform Islam because it is a religion “in crisis”. It is these statements regarding Islam that have put Macron in the crosshairs of Muslims around the world. This time, the fallout is more extensive and is directed at the French state and its President, rather than the magazine.
Muslims are upset with Macron because he is protecting the right to caricature the Prophet, and not the general right to free speech. Macron taking this stand is meant to make him appear more powerful and strong to segments of French society, who otherwise might opt for other, direct, no-nonsense fascists.
For example, immediately after saying people have freedom to disseminate images, he proposed a new law banning the public from publishing images of certain people for ‘psychological’ security. Where is the logic in that? This is the same France that banned Muslim women from wearing face covers and forced them to strip on beaches. Where is their freedom to express themselves?
The point of these examples, and there are plenty, is to simply establish that freedom of speech is not a sacred right and that there are plenty of caveats and restrictions that are imposed on that right. There are all the laws on hate speech — which are implemented selectively. The question to answer hereafter, is what are the limits of this freedom of speech and expression. Macron denies this position and claims there can be no limits to this right and that Muslims have no right to be upset about this. It is this hypocrisy that I find problematic.
I believe the magazine was wrong to publish the caricatures it did, knowing full well how it would be received. Their behaviour is provocation, plain and simple, designed to offend adherents of the Islamic faith.
But even worse are some Muslims using violence to defend their delicate sensibilities. Nothing will ever justify murder, especially not for words uttered and pictures drawn, by anybody for any reason.
Of course, Charlie Hebdo and all others, should be allowed to publish whatever they want, as the laws permit them to do. But as the leader of a multicultural society, it is incumbent on Macron to find ways to promote inclusion instead of vilifying a section of population and proposing collective punishment. This is a cynical move to mollify some people, which risks further entrenching divisions in society, rather than encouraging more dialogue and a peaceful coexistance of society’s many subcultures.
Perhaps Macron realises that he has erred. There were some attempts on the part of Macron to simultaneously clarify himself and also dig himself further in, but the most ridiculous sign of his attempts to assuage Muslim sentiment was the recent invitation he extended to Egyptian dictator Al-Sisi and his refusal to condemn the atrocities Al-Sisi commits on a daily basis against his own citizens and Libyans by proxy.
Secularism is the excuse the French state has been using to oppress and suppress Muslims (incidently, also used by Al-Sisi to justify his dictatorship in Egypt). Secularism means freedom from state interference in religious affairs, and religious institutions influencing the state. The concept does not propose to ban the practise of religion in private, which is unfortunately how many avowed secularists interpret it.
Militant secularism and atheism, which seek to limit even the private practise of religion, are as much a threat to individuals as the Church (or any other religious power) seeking to dictate public morality and policy.
Before, the argument was about radical Muslims. Now, the focus is on Islam as a religion and that is not acceptable. Macron wants to reform Islam, an utterly ridiculous proposal.* He does not get to tell anybody how to practice their religion, and most certainly not Islam which he does not seem to understand at all. Does the French president not realise he is opening up pandora’s box which will make religious intolerance the order of the day in his country, and in other places that look up to France?
Macron would be better advised to stop the grandstanding and focus his energies on satisfying the millions of Frenchmen who have been protesting non-stop against his government for the past few years.
*I’ll deal with the movement to reform Islam in Europe in a later essay — also, the Austrians have already started attempting to implement this.