Neither Islamism nor Macronism: Why I reject the false choice

Throughout last month and to an extent this month, we have been hearing news of Islamist terror attacks happening throughout Europe, but most frequently of all in France, where a cycle of violence has sprung up once again over the Charlie Hebdo magazine. It all started in September when a man stabbed two people outside the former headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which was previously the target of the January 2015 shooting by brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. Later on October 16th, a French middle school teacher named Samuel Paty was brutally murdered by Abdoullakh Anzorov, after the former showed his students some Charlie Hebdo cartoons from 2012 depicting the prophet Muhammad.

In response, the French government publicly defended the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and allowed one of them to be prominently displayed on a government building in solidarity with the publishers. This has prompted outrage and mass protests throughout the Muslim world and wide condemnation from Muslim leaders, with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for a boycott of all French goods. However it seems that some Muslim extremists have taken the words of Muslim leaders as reason to justify targeting French citizens for violence, and we saw this again on October 29th, when a man named Brahim Aouissaoui killed three people in a stabbing attack at the Notre-Dame de Nice Cathedral.

It is worth noting that there appears to be a cycle of violence going on, where one side of this whole controversy commits violence against the other, and each attack feeds into the other side’s narrative of jihad in the process. Some eight days before the October 29th stabbing, there was another stabbing attack in Paris. After an argument about dogs, two white French women referred two Algerian women as “dirty Arabs”, and later the two Algerian women were killed by an unknown assailant.

A false choice is being presented to the working people of France and beyond: either you support Macron or you are on the side of murderous Islamist extremists, or if not that then the reverse of this; either you oppose Macron or you stand with bigotry against Muslims. In my opinion, the ruling class in both French and Muslim societies should be held to account for deliberately escalating the tensions in France leading to the murderous cycle we are seeing as a means of distracting the citizens of their own country. I will start with the Islamists, and why I oppose them.

Although the various Muslim leaders have been quick to condemn the murder of Samuel Paty, and rightfully so, I have not seen them come out against subsequent Islamist killers. In fact, they are busy playing the antagonist of Macron’s culture war against Islam. The Turkish president Erdoğan, who as I mentioned earlier called for a boycott of French goods, said that Macron needed to get his mental health checked, seemingly coming out against Macron’s provocations. Meanwhile, Erdoğan has had a history of inciting hatred amongst Muslims towards the West, against whom he is fighting his own culture war. In the Netherlands, after Dutch ministers barred his government from addressing ethnic Turks in the country, he called the Dutch government Nazis and told Turkish families in Europe to “make not three, but five children”.

The Turkish government has made repeatedly clear that their intention is to destroy the European Union and bring Europe to its knees, and has repeatedly employed the rhetoric of a neo-Ottoman civilisation conflict between Turkey and the West, which has fed into and encouraged Western far-right extremism. Brendan Tarrant, the far-right gunman who perpetrated the Christchurch massacre, pointed to Erdoğan as the “leader of one of the oldest enemies of our people”, threatening violence against Turks in his manifesto. Tarrant and other extremists like him are the result of years of provocation by Erdoğan and other Islamic leaders, and just like now, a cycle of provocation and violence played out. Erdoğan wages culture war against the West, including openly advocating that Turks outbreed the native population of any country they reside and issuing bellicose provocations against the West, and then people like Tarrant respond by committing violence in order to accelerate the escalation of tensions, then Erdoğan responds by converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. For Erdoğan to slam Macron for escalating tensions between French and Muslim communities is, in this light, patently hypocritical.

Erdoğan is not the only one posturing against Macron while pouring gasoline on the fire. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Macron of effectively creating a space for extremists. Khan himself got into trouble not too long ago when he controversially remarked that the US had made a martyr of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden by slaying him. Khan himself has also previously refused to call Bin Laden a terrorist. Now let me ask a perfectly reasonable question: per his own logic, how is Khan not creating a space for Islamic extremists in effectively calling an Islamic terrorist leader a martyr? If he or his supporters says that there is a difference between those remarks and remarks made by Macron, then you will know that Khan is a hypocrite. Similarly we have the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. While he condemned the Nice stabbing, Nasrallah remarked that France “protected the takfiri groups and sent them to commit crimes in Syria” and that they are “paying the price for supporting the terrorist groups”. As far as Hezbollah is concerned, it’s France’s fault that its citizens are being murdered by Islamic extremists, who are clearly being egged on by remarks such as Nasrallah’s.

Then we have Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia and notorious anti-semite by his own admission. In a Twitter thread on the day of the Nice killing, he said that freedom of expression does not include “insulting other people” (which is ironic considering his long record of hateful comments towards Jews), and later on in the thread he said that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past”. This is a prominent Muslim politician calling for genocide against citizens of a foreign country, and somehow he has the nerve to blather on about how “hate speech isn’t free speech”. Again I ask, how is this not escalating tensions on their part?

To these leaders, such calls for violence are justified because of France’s refusal to censor the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. If the French government won’t do it, then they are quite content with trying to force their hand by encouraging mob violence. Evidently this isn’t working when the French government has been displaying Charlie Hebdo cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad, and their antics have managed to rally other Western countries to the side of Macron.

It has been a temptation for progressives and leftists since 2001 to leap to the side of such repugnant voices against right-wing and reactionary Western leaders such as Macron (and I will address his statements and actions later), who they suspect are stoking anti-Muslim bigotry for the purpose of distracting the working class from the anti-worker policies said leaders are inflicting on them. While it cannot be denied that right-wing governments are using the culture war as an easy distraction from their own failures and attacks on the working class, is that any excuse to turn your backs on the idea of freedom of speech/expression? Absolutely not. As I have said numerous times before, we must defend freedom of speech and expression for all members of society, even if we disagree with and despise what is being expressed, because only if we are willing to fight for everyone’s right to freedom of speech can we adequately protect our own rights.

And furthermore, we should not delude ourselves into believing that the various Muslim leaders decrying Macron are some champions of the Islamic proletariat. Khan and Mohamad both lead or have led bourgeois/class collaborationist political parties, and have imposed authoritarian measures on their own citizens. Erdoğan is essentially a fascist with revanchist aims of reviving the Ottoman Empire with himself as sultan. Hezbollah is a pack of reactionary killers whose platform is based on class collaboration against the West (not that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters mind, of course).

To ally yourself with this lot is a betrayal of left and progressive principles, and I dare say a disservice to the Muslim population that they are so concerned with. Reactionary leaders and groups such as I have described have made it very clear that they are against everything you believe as a leftist or a progressive, and should a leftist movement arise to challenge their power and deliver socialism, they will become one of their targets. Allying with reactionary Islamists has never worked out well. We saw this in Iran, where the far-left joined with reactionary Islamists to overthrow the Shah, and as thanks the new government targeted them for persecution. We cannot side with the Islamists just because we find Macron to be a hideous reactionary any more than we can support China to own America.

Now that I have covered the Islamists, I must now turn my attention to Macron, because as much as I despise the Islamists and defend freedom of speech, I don’t have much patience for Macron’s antics. In my opinion, what he is doing is a naked attempt to stymy the rise of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and preserve his grip on power by pandering to Le Pen’s reactionary voters. His calculation is that is that if he can pre-empt the rise of Le Pen’s party by taking a strong enough stance on Islam and Islamism that his party can be seen by the electorate as being strong on Islam without the overt fascist associations of Le Pen, then he can ensure that either Le Pen will be politically irrelevant, or that even if Le Pen does make it to the second round in the next presidential election, then she will lose handily to Macron just as she did in 2017.

Such a theory makes sense when you consider that prior to these events, Macron’s presidency was very unpopular. His plans to raise fuel taxes sparked the Yellow Vest movement, which he has cracked down on with the zeal of his authoritarian counterparts. Even before the Yellow Vest protests, there were demonstrations against Macron in 2017 over concerns that he as a pro-business liberal would attack workers’ rights. The fact that Macron is correctly seen as a pillar of the French political establishment has led to the return of anti-establishment sentiments in French politics, which can easily translate into gains for the far-right. Thus, Macron feels that the way to save his presidency is to single out “political Islam” as the real problem, and inviting all of French society to fight it.

So far, this plan is working. Macron remains ahead of Le Pen in the polls, and Le Pen is barely making much of an impact with her more authoritarian rhetoric because Macron has already put France on its highest terror alert level in preparation for what he describes as an “existential battle” for the French way of life. In terms of actions, Macron has also appointed as Minister of the Interior a man named Gérald Darmanin, a former member of the right-wing Les Républicains who made controversial remarks implying ethnic food aisles contribute to separatist attitudes, telling of his apparent horror at the fact that they even existed.

More recently, Macron announced a series of measures intended to combat what he dubbed “Islamist separatism” and “defend republican values”. Now let me be on record that where such separatism does exist, I oppose it on the grounds that it damages the fabric of society and creates divisions within the working class of a country. With that out of the way, how does Macron intend to address it? By giving children identification numbers to “ensure they are attending school”, and jailing the parents of children who break the law Kamala-style for six months, along with issuing large fines. It is worth noting that this policy already exists in some schools, but Macron plans to extend this to the entire country. Yes, the new generation of French schoolchildren can look forward to being treated prisoners in the name of preserving France’s “republican values”. He also intends to place further restrictions on home-schooling (and home-schooled children would also be given ID numbers), and to create a “National Council of Imams” which can issue accreditation to imams in France and withdraw said accreditation for whatever reason it feels appropriate. In effect, this means imams have to register with the French government, which will be monitoring them closely.

In response to Macron’s policies, as well as his defences of Charlie Hebdo’s right to freedom of expression, there have been some who now hail France as the beacon of Western enlightenment values. Those people are fools. This is the same Macron who blasted his predecessor François Hollande for not being authoritarian enough, calling for a “Jupiteran presidency” (which is just his way of saying “L’État, c’est moi”). Indeed we can get a good idea of how Macron’s way of combatting Islamic extremism will lead to increased tensions with the Muslim community by examining existing laws and previous policies.

For example, in France, the country which we are now supposed to believe is a champion of freedom of speech against Islamic extremism, there are laws against “defamation against government institutions and office-holders, as well as disrespecting the national anthem and flag”. Hardly what I would call a bastion of free speech, but there is more. Although insulting the French president is no longer illegal as of 2013, under Macron the French courts have targeted protestors for burning effigies of him in 2018, and two were convicted for it last year. Only two months ago, the French Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, announced that insulting a mayor will soon be a criminal offence.

The hypocrisy of the Macron government on freedom of speech is astounding, blasting Islamic leaders abroad in defence of free speech while stifling free speech at home. It has even targeted children who were critical of Samuel Paty showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons at all. Only a few weeks ago, the French police interrogated four ten-year-old children over comments it decided were justifying terrorism. They held the children for 10 hours while questioning them about their families’ religious practices, and were investigating ten other children. Whatever your political persuasion, this is outrageous and indefensible, but tragically this isn’t new for the French government. In January 2015, the French police held an eight-year-old boy in custody and interrogated him over his supposed “apology for terrorism” because he said “I am not Charlie” in class.

In what universe is Emmanuel Macron a bastion of liberty? The man has nothing but contempt for liberty. In fact, as of last week the French Parliament is debating whether or not to pass a new law which would criminalise sharing videos and images on social media which show police officers who have been abusing their power. Try to understand, if such a law had passed in America, you wouldn’t have been able to share the infamous video which showed Derek Chauvin torturing George Floyd to death, or any of the other videos which show officers committing police brutality. It would make it nearly impossible to hold corrupt police officers to account.

Given what I have just described, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a fascist government has just assumed power in France, but unfortunately this is not the Rassemblement National, or the revival of Vichy France, but the liberal En Marche Party. It’s like the French public voted overwhelmingly for Macron to avoid electing a fascist only to have elected someone who will do some of Le Pen’s policies anyway. It’s kind of like voting for Joe Biden just to get Trumpism out of power, only to find out that he is going to continue some of Trump’s policies anyway. I have to say, if these are the French liberals, I don’t want to meet their conservatives, or their fascists for that matter.

So let me see if I’m understanding the position of the Macron government correctly: are they destroying liberty in the name of…liberty? Democracy? Equality? Fraternity? Whatever the reason is, I can guarantee you that it has nothing to do with freedom. In fact, this looks more like the aftermath of 9/11 when George W. Bush used the spectre of Islamic terrorism to justify a wave of crackdowns on the civil liberties of Americans, with little resistance from the supposed guardians of freedom and democracy. Nearly twenty years later, we are seeing the same routine. Macron is using the murder of Samuel Paty and other tragedies to justify a new crackdown on French civil liberties, with either silence or thunderous applause from the same people who bill themselves as defenders of liberty, now eager to sell their souls in the name of Western civilisation, or so they will tell us.

Given that we are already seeing the French police targeting Muslim children for spurious charges of defending terrorists, how is Macron not inflaming already tensions heated tensions between Muslims and the rest of French society? It’s going to have that effect because it will be clear to Muslims that Macron doesn’t care about freedom of speech at all, not least because their children are being singled out for questioning by the police on trumped up charges, and because they themselves don’t even have any real right to freedom of speech (nor for that matter does anyone else, but I digress). This is going to create more radicalisation, and thus more Islamic extremists, not less. In fact, I think that might even be the point: increase tensions between the Muslim and non-Muslim working class, let them inevitably radicalise and start killing each other on the streets, and then swoop in and present yourself as the man to bring back law and order as you inaugurate fascism. That is why I oppose Macron, because I see his game for what it is: a transparent attempt to use Islam and Islamic extremism as an excuse to grab more powers for his ideal Jupiterean state. Those who cannot see this are rubes of the highest order.

When Muslim leaders such as Erdoğan, Mohamad, Nasrallah etc. talk about how they are at war with the West, or how Muslims are justified in killing Frenchmen, they are playing right into Macron’s hands and enabling him to push forward with his authoritarian agenda. They give Macron a credible enemy to point to, and say “this is why I’m doing this”, and he knows that they will respond in precisely a way that lets him do this. This strategy has been remarkably successful. As far as I am aware, there has been no or little serious opposition to these measures in France, and outside France it has even managed to get other Western European countries to support him. Following the Vienna shooting some three weeks ago, Germany’s Angela Merkel joined Macron’s cause, as did Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, who already had a hard stance during the time he was first elected.

But what if Macron’s grand plan fails? What if he ends up legitimising some of the worst reactionary policies of the far-right without actually earning their votes? If that happens, you will have a President Marine Le Pen in 2022 declaring the first victory for fascism in Europe since the fall of Nazi Germany, who will undoubtedly use the precedents established by Macron today and go even further in creating a totalitarian fascist state. All of that pandering will have been for nothing. He’ll have crushed the civil liberties of the populace in some attempt to pre-empt the fascists and all he gets is a lousy t-shirt.

All this can be stopped, but it requires the rise of a French left that prioritises the concerns of the French working class, defends freedom of speech against an authoritarian government that seeks to clamp it down, and defends the rights of all people regardless of creed or colour. It must resist the path of wokeness that has doomed so many other left parties, but it must also resist the temptation to pander to certain reactionary instincts. It must offer the working class an alternative to fascism and neoliberal capitalism that they can vote for, one which gives the working class real power and agency in their everyday lives, and which can offer a sense of solidarity that breaks the dividing lines Macron and Le Pen wish to erect. That vision is socialism, if only someone could take up the mantle.

In summary, we should oppose the Islamists who demand that we censor all criticism of Islam and Islamism, and fight in defence of freedom of speech and expression as one of the core values of our society. At the same time, we must oppose with equal fervour the obvious attempt by Macron to play divide and rule with the working class, and his attempts to use Islamist terror to justify a raft of authoritarian legislation that makes a mockery of the values he claims to defend. The final irony of all this is that throwing liberty itself to the pyre in the name of Western civilisation, Macron is doing exactly what the Islamists want. He is transforming France into a fascist country in order to own the Islamist fascists, and for this he will receive no opposition from the same people who have been telling us that Islam represents a threat to our Western democratic values. They made their Faustian pact long ago when they decided that either they tow the line of neoliberal governments or be on the side of Islamists who want to destroy liberal democracy. When all is said and done, I think they will find that liberal democracy will be destroyed, but not by the hands of Islamists, but by the people they thought were democrats.

Marxist Humanist. For liberty, peace, democracy and socialism.