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How Macron has become the champion of the far right

The French president is trampling the rights of minority communities, fuelling Islamophobia in a bid for votes
French President Emmanuel Macron gives a televised address in Paris on 31 March (AFP)

It seems the French government doesn’t care anymore. Not about human rights or fundamental freedoms; not even about saving the appearance of a functioning democracy that respects the rule of law. 

In an unprecedented campaign against Muslim communities, human rights defenders and progressive groups, French authorities have crossed every red line they could think of, preparing for the next presidential election like Pyrrhus once prepared for war. 

French authorities prefer to dedicate their efforts to stigmatising Muslims, criminalising dissent and going on a witch hunt against anyone who dares speak truth to power

One after the other, President Emmanuel Macron’s team destroys and alienates any group or organisation that remotely cares about fundamental freedoms, communities, diversity and progress.

When human rights groups such as the Collective Against Islamophobia in France raise concerns about racism and discrimination, they are dissolved without any valid legal motive. When international experts express concerns about the situation in France, their comments are dismissed, and they are targeted by neo-republican pundits

When foreign correspondents and international journalists cover what is actually going on in the country and the way minorities - including, migrants, refugees, Roma and Muslims - are treated, Macron himself calls them to explain how wrong they are. In other cases, articles are simply taken down amid a campaign of pressure

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When French academics study racism and discrimination, or when they dedicate research efforts to colonial studies or intersectionality, they are labelled as “Islamo-leftists”. When a student association dares to organise speaking engagements for people who experience discrimination, they are accused of “anti-white racism” and stigmatised for weeks in mainstream media, before the French Senate votes on amendment to dissolve them.

And so, earlier this week, when I expressed concern over the government turning a blind eye to the rise of far-right extremists, including how they plot terrorist attacks and have neo-Nazis infiltrating the army, it wasn’t long before an official government Twitter account targeted me on social networks, spurring hundreds of insults and threats against me.

Harassing human rights advocates

In a series of nonsensical tweets resembling bots from an authoritarian regime, the office supposedly in charge of addressing radical movements, explained that there was no Islamophobia in France whatsoever. “France is against racism”, and anybody saying otherwise is “propagating fake news”. 

The account went on trolling me for several days, including insults and attacks against me, triggering a massive wave of reports to Twitter over the targeted harassment of a human rights advocate. 

Macron's Islamic charter is an unprecedented attack on French secularism
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Behind this account is a team in charge of the government’s propaganda when it comes to stigmatising Muslims, led by Christian Gravel - best known for an infamous video in which former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, apparently disappointed by the people he met in a diverse Paris suburb, asked him to bring him “more whites”.

Gravel’s new “anti-racist” beliefs must be, it seems, rooted in his personal experience, as a white man from the establishment, with no background in human rights. His mentor’s poor electoral performance might have made him feel like part of a minority. Since then, Valls has flirted with the Catalan far right, and dreams of “playing a role” in the next presidential campaign.

This institutional fiasco is not the first and, unfortunately, it will not be the last. Rather than addressing the actual threats of racism, structural discrimination and the rise of the far right, French authorities prefer to dedicate their efforts to stigmatising Muslims, criminalising dissent and going on a witch hunt against anyone who dares speak truth to power. 

Charter of shame

On one hand, the government makes a vibrant plea for colour-blind, enlightened French universalism; on the other, it designs and implements policies that specifically target Muslim citizens, who now have to demonstrate their loyalty to the Republic if they don’t want to be criminalised. 

A recent example is the Eyyub Sultan mosque in Strasbourg, a €32m ($38m) project led by Milli Gorus France (CIMG). In its quest for the far-right vote, the government has attempted to block a municipal subsidy to the project, claiming the CIMG supports “political Islam”. Why? Because the organisation, like most mosques and Islamic groups, has rejected a “charter of republican values” ordered for Muslims by the government, which denies the existence of systemic Islamophobia in France and contends that hate crimes are “isolated incidents”. 

Construction proceeds at the Eyyub Sultan mosque in Strasbourg on 24 March (AFP)
Construction proceeds at the Eyyub Sultan mosque in Strasbourg on 24 March (AFP)

This unprecedented charter of shame has no legal basis, as French authorities theoretically cannot get involved in religion - an infringement on the principle of laicite. And yet, politicians have insisted on it.

These attacks on the fundamental freedoms of belief and association have been rightly identified by human rights groups, equality bodies and European institutions, but the government couldn’t care less. They are part of Macron’s grand scheme to control Muslims on all possible levels, thus securing the far-right and neo-republican votes. 

Tactical shift

But there has been a change in tactics. While observers initially thought Macron would position himself as an alternative to the far right, he is now becoming its most presentable champion

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His political proposition, when it comes to minority communities, offers systemic racism without the guilt: instead of addressing racism, let’s dissolve anti-racist organisations. Instead of documenting racial and ethnic inequalities, let’s cut funding for research

Instead of addressing structural discrimination, let’s institutionalise it and cover ourselves with symbolic, cheap and meaningless measures, such as unveiling a few “diverse” street names, or posing with famous YouTubers to appear close to the country’s youth - and then hope voters’ memory will be short enough to paper over five years of regression with a superficial electoral campaign. 

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Marwan Muhammad is a French-Egyptian author and statistician. After a career in finance, he dedicated the last 12 years to the fight against Islamophobia. He was the spokesman and then the director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), the most prominent human rights NGO in France supporting Muslims, before becoming a diplomat for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where he supported Muslim communities all across Europe, Central Asia and North America. In 2018, he conducted the first survey of Muslims in France (in which 27,000 took part), before founding the Muslims’ Platform, an umbrella organisation comprising of hundreds of mosques and Islamic organizations across France, with more than 75,000 supporters. He now works as a Human Rights consultant for international organisations.
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