On eve of elections, Macron seeks ‘Republican Reconquest’ to counter ‘Islamist separatism’

Macron's campaign conveniently comes on the eve of elections.
Sunday 23/02/2020
French President Emmanuel Macron, delivers a speech during a press conference a part of his visit in Mulhouse, eastern France, Tuesday, February 18. (AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron, delivers a speech during a press conference a part of his visit in Mulhouse, eastern France, Tuesday, February 18. (AP)

PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron went to the Alsatian city of Mulhouse on February 18 with the announced objective of the fight against “Islamist separatism” and the start of the “Republican Reconquest.”

Macron spoke in the Bourtzwiller district, considered one of France’s 80 priority security zones. It was also declared one of 47 neighbourhoods slated for the “Republican Reconquest” programme set up by French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner at the beginning of 2018 and sadly reminiscent of the Spanish far right's anti-migrant plank of "La Reconquista."

Bourtzwiller is also one of the 17 target areas in the fight against radicalisation. Cells have been set up to counter Islamism and community withdrawal, terms that Macron seems to have abandoned for the sake of a new concept -- “Islamist separatism.”

A semantic shift

Did Macron choose the right words to name the radical political Islamism plaguing France during his trip to Mulhouse? Was it well inspired of him to pronounce his crusade against Islamism near the gigantic building site of the Mosque al-Nour, the very symbol of separatism that Macron is claiming to fight and which is managed by the Association of the Muslims of Alsace, which is close to the Qatar-sponsored Muslim Brotherhood?

Half of the funds for the construction of this huge mosque, about $15 million, came from the Qatari NGO Qatar Charity.

Macron’s visit was a few weeks before municipal elections scheduled for March 15 and 22, which promise to be disastrous for the president’s party, La Republique en Marche.

The president’s crude electoral calculations partly explain most of the indignant reactions of the French political class to this declaration of war against communitarianism, even if this war seems amply justified given the de facto control exercised by Islamist movements in these districts.

Bernard Rougier, professor at New Sorbonne University Paris 3 and director of the Centre for Arab and Oriental Studies, did not hesitate to describe, in a work published by the Presses Universitaires de France, these marginalised areas in France as “territories conquered by Islamism.”

Macron contented himself with lightly borrowing ideas contained in these kinds of writings in a typically populist fashion to appeal to public opinion just before important elections. He rejected insularity and separatism in the name of religion.

“One can be attached to a religion, have foreign origins that he holds on to and still be fully French,” the French president said. “The problem is when, in the name of a religion or in the name of belonging to some community, one wants to separate from the republic and therefore one threatens the possibility of living together.”

While taking precautions not to confuse radical Islamism with Islam and Islamists with Muslims, Macron was pursuing the same failed strategy of his predecessors.

The secular school, the cornerstone of the republican edifice, is more deprived than ever of means to combat the scourge of “separatism” and that allows the most obscurantist and close-minded currents of all kinds to try to fill the void.

Islamist Turkey, the Trojan horse of “separatism”

Successive administrations in France have been reluctant to name the currents responsible for these abuses because it often turns out that those currents are publicly supported by foreign countries. The latest of these sponsors of obscurantism and “separatism” in France is Turkey.

As indicated by Alexandre del Valle and Emmanuel Razavi in their book "The Project," “the most successful model” of these Islamist currents is embodied by the Justice and Development Party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a great protector of the Muslim Brotherhood and nostalgic for the Ottoman Caliphate.

Del Valle and Razavi claim, with supporting evidence, that the Muslim Brothers, protected and funded by Qatar and Turkey, “have openly established themselves in Europe, France and everywhere in Western societies, of which they are, however, the worst civilisational enemies.” In some cases, they receive public subsidies.

The authors concluded that this incoherence is because the Muslim Brothers passed themselves off as “moderate Islamists” and because the French state chose to capitulate to them and even enter into covert deals with these Islamists, whom it is claiming to fight today.

Another inconsistency, revealed by Macron in Mulhouse, concerns the teaching of languages and cultures of the countries of origin, otherwise known in France as ELCO.

Nine countries -- Algeria, Croatia, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey -- have been granted these privileges, implemented through bilateral agreements. The problem with ELCO is that it was intended to provide migrant children the opportunity to learn their native language with the prospect that they would be returning to their native countries.

ELCO is no longer relevant in the present context because now the goal of national education in France is integration and not preparing children for a hypothetical return home.

Another oddity of this system is that a good number of foreign teachers working in France within the framework of ELCO and paid by French taxpayers do not speak a word of French.

“The problem we have today with this system is that we have more and more teachers who do not speak French… and that we have more and more teachers who are outside the control of the National Education,” Macron said

The president promised to remove this inadequate system by next September but to replace it with what? New agreements have been established with Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Only Turkey is resisting. However, it has no choice, Macron insists, because he “will not let any foreign country nourish, on the soil of the republic, some form of separatism, be it religious, political or identity.” Really now?

From apartheid to separatism

It’s not just ELCO that nurtures “separatism.” After all, this system remains marginal and concerns 80,000 students and not necessarily from immigrant backgrounds.

In addition to measures banning the Muslim Brotherhood, it is in France’s interest to introduce a Marshall Plan to recover lost territories of the republic, not only in terms of security but especially in terms of social, economic, cultural and civil deficits in those areas.

Manuel Valls, the former Socialist prime minister, once shocked the public by describing such territories as “ghettos” governed by a system of social and economic “apartheid.”

Macron preferred the term “separatism” to speak of communitarianism and Islamism. If the terminology has changed, the situation of those territories conquered by radical Islamism, which Islam specialist Gilles Kepel in 1987 described as “suburbs of Islam,” has hardly changed. It even got worse, considering the lack of audacity and vision on the part of French authorities.