Key takeaways from an eye opening speech by French President Emmanuel Macron (Les Mureaux, 2 Oct. 2020) , a couple of weeks before the current violent incidents that rocked France. It is quite comprehensive and candid and discusses the issue of radicalisation and separatism at length. It gives details about the ground level situation is schools, buses, public places etc.
- As I’ve said on several occasions, laïcité in the French Republic means the freedom to believe or not believe, the possibility of practicing one’s religion as long as law and order is ensured. Laïcité means the neutrality of the State; in no way does it mean the removal of religion from society and the public arena..
A conscious, theorized, political-religious project is materializing through repeated deviations from the Republic’s values, which is often reflected by the formation of a counter-society…
At the end of 2017, counter-radicalization plans involving all the State services were deployed in 15 neighborhoods, quietly and extremely confidentially, in order to have the most effective approaches involving cooperation by all State services, judges on the ground and the intelligence services; 212 bars, 15 places of worship, four schools, 13 charity and cultural establishments were closed, hundreds of checks carried out and millions of euros seized in those districts……
Every month, prefects close schools – or so-called schools, because they’re not declared as such, they are illegal, and are often administered by religious extremists……We know how to live with educational freedom, we are organized and things run smoothly. But when it comes to personnel track records, teaching content and the origin of funding, the State is justified in stepping up monitoring.
Finally, training and promoting in France a generation of imams but also intellectuals who uphold an Islam fully compatible with the Republic’s values is a necessary.
Ministers; members of Parliament; Mr Mayor, François, thank you very much; Mr President of the Departmental Committee; Mr President of the Urban Community; Mr Prefect; Mr President of the Court of Appeal; Mr Principal State Prosecutor; Madam Chief Education Officer; ladies and gentlemen of all ranks and positions; ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for welcoming us to Les Mureaux. It is no coincidence today that action is being taken and a discussion is being held in your town, your department, on such an important issue for our Republic. You’re a place where Republican battles are waged and you know how to wage them, a town of solutions, as you often say, and a department which is a land of contrasts, but which has always been able, through education, training and work, to face up to these challenges.
The aim of our meeting today is twofold: firstly, to define what problems we actually face, with no taboo subjects but without being simplistic either. What today, in our society, endangers our Republic, our ability to live together? And [secondly] to share with you the decisions taken as a result, which are the fruit of nearly three years of methodical work and which we’ve finalized with the Government over the past few weeks.
The problem isn’t laïcité [secularism] (1). As I’ve said on several occasions, laïcité in the French Republic means the freedom to believe or not believe, the possibility of practicing one’s religion as long as law and order is ensured. Laïcité means the neutrality of the State; in no way does it mean the removal of religion from society and the public arena. A united France is cemented by laïcité. If spirituality is a matter for the individual, laïcité concerns us all. And so true Republicans must never give way to those who, in the name of the principle of laïcité, try to stir up division and confrontation on the basis of many different issues which very often form the main part of our discussions, but not the main part of the problem. We’ve got rules on the subject; we have to enforce them firmly and fairly, everywhere, without compromising. Likewise let’s not fall into the trap of conflating issues, set by polemicists and extremists, which consists in denouncing all Muslims. That trap is what the enemies of the Republic set us; it consists in making all citizens of the Muslim faith objective allies because they are supposedly the victims of a well-organized system. Too simplistic.
What we must tackle is Islamist separatism. A conscious, theorized, political-religious project is materializing through repeated deviations from the Republic’s values, which is often reflected by the formation of a counter-society as shown by children being taken out of school, the development of separate community sporting and cultural activities serving as a pretext for teaching principles which aren’t in accordance with the Republic’s laws. It’s indoctrination and, through this, the negation of our principles, gender equality and human dignity.
The problem is this ideology, which claims that its own laws are superior to the Republic’s. And as I’ve often said, I’m not asking any of our citizens to believe or not believe, or believe a little or moderately – that’s none of the Republic’s business. I’m asking every citizen, of all religions and none, to abide wholeheartedly by all the Republic’s laws. And in this radical Islamism – since this is at the heart of the matter let’s talk about it and name it – a proclaimed, publicized desire, a systematic way of organizing things to contravene the Republic’s laws and create a parallel order, establish other values, develop another way of organizing society which is initially separatist, but whose ultimate goal is to take it over completely. And this is gradually resulting in the rejection of the freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and the right to blaspheme, and in us becoming insidiously radicalized. Nearly 170 people, to give just one example, are being monitored here, in [the French department of] Yvelines, for violent radicalization. Sometimes this goes as far as going and waging jihad. We know that 70 young people in this department left for Syria, and it’s often children of the Republic who stray down this path, even going as far as actually taking action and trying to cause bloodshed or sometimes worse. It’s also this path whose manifestations we saw again last Friday, near the premises of Charlie Hebdo.
In this respect, when I talk about all of that, I’m obviously not forgetting either the time at which at which we’re speaking or the place. The time: the trial for the January 2015 attacks, and my thoughts and heartfelt, fraternal sympathy go to the families of those injured and the victims’ families and close friends who lived through the horror in January 2015. And I also want, here, because I’m not forgetting the place, to pay tribute to all victims of terrorism and especially Police Commander Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and his partner Jessica Schneider, the memory of whom is still very much alive in Les Mureaux.
But in saying all that, in recalling each of these stages, as it were – and there’s no clear path or inevitability about anything –, I want there to be no confusion or conflation whatsoever. None of these realities should be lumped together. But we have to realize that a radical Islamism is leading to a repudiation of the Republic’s laws, to the trivialization of violence and to some of our citizens, our children, choosing the worst or believing the worst has become natural, and so to the creation of conditions for political abuses but also violent abuses, those of Islamist terrorism. Our challenge today is to fight against this abuse which some perpetrate in the name of religion, by ensuring that those who want to believe in Islam are not targeted and are citizens of our Republic in the full sense. We’ve basically been burdened with this situation for years.
If you want to tell things as they are and believe that millions of our citizens live in the Republic as full citizens and believe in Islam, you’re told “you’re naive, you’re covering up for them, you aren’t facing up to the problem. If we want to address the abuses I’m talking about, including in their most radical forms, we fall into the trap of stigmatizing a whole religion.
The path is the one I’ve just mapped out. [Let’s] isolate the problem – radical Islamism –, be aware that each of these stages can automatically support the others, and therefore not give in to any simplistic approach or cynicism, tell things as they are and also admit that we’re up against a challenge which has formed over decades in our country and that we won’t defeat it in a day. But it’s together, in a newly-awakened republican spirit, that we must oppose those who want to divide us.
There’s been a lot of very in-depth writing, description and analysis about what our country is experiencing in this regard. I’ll be humble enough not to claim to be an expert, but in a few words, to share things as I see them. Islam is a religion that is currently experiencing a crisis all over the world. We’re not just seeing it in our country, it’s a deep crisis linked to tensions between forms of fundamentalism, specifically religious and political projects which, as we’re seeing in every region of the world, are leading to a very strong hardening, including in countries where Islam is the majority religion. Look at our friend Tunisia, to take just one example. Thirty years ago, the situation was radically different in the way the religion was applied, the way it was lived, and the tensions we’re experiencing in our society are present in that one, which is undoubtedly one of the most educated and developed in the region. So everywhere there’s a crisis of Islam, which is being infected by these radical manifestations, these radical impulses and the desire for a reinvented jihad, which means the destruction of the Other. The project for a territorial caliphate which we fought against in the Levant, which we’re fighting in the Sahel, and everywhere the most radical, more or less insidious forms of it. This crisis affects us by definition too.
(The full speech can be read at https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/secularism-and-religious-freedom-in-france-63815/article/fight-against-separatism-the-republic-in-action-speech-by-emmanuel-macron)