Emmanuel Macron has accused the press of legitimising terrorist violence in France by suggesting the country is racist and Islamophobia because of his stance on extremists.
The French President called The New York Times media correspondent Ben Smith to criticise the paper’s English-language coverage of France’s stance on Islamic extremism in the wake of recent attacks in the country.
In comments published in Smith’s Sunday column, Macron argued that ‘when France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us.’
‘So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values… when I see them legitimising this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.’
In his column about their exchange, Smith said the French president had argued ‘foreign media failed to understand ‘laicite,” or secularism, a pillar of French policy and society.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron said foreign media ‘failed to understand ‘laicite,” – the French brand of secularism, which has become increasingly controversial in recent years. Pictured: Macron speaks at the Paris Peace Forum on November 12
Domestic support for a firm line on the need for all citizens, including immigrants, to embrace French national values is stronger than ever after the grisly beheading last month of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed his pupils controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson on free speech.
While paying tribute to the slain man, Macron defended France’s strict brand of secularism and its long tradition of satire.
‘We will not give up cartoons,’ he vowed.
He reiterated his point in an interview this month with Le Grand Continent, a French publication, in which he stated that, despite his respect for different cultures, ‘I am not going to change our laws because they shock elsewhere.’
‘The fight of our generation in Europe will be a combat for our freedoms,’ Macron said, adding that he believed they were being ‘overturned’.
Teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in the street of a Paris suburb on October 16 following a lesson on freedom of speech in which he showed pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. Pictured: A man walks past a tribute to Paty on the city hall in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, where he was killed [File photo]
Macron’s views have been called into question not just in angry protests across many Muslim-majority countries – a number of which have also called for boycotts of French products – but also by English-language newspapers and even international political allies.
The Financial Times published an opinion piece by a correspondent that was titled ‘Macron’s war on ‘Islamic separatism’ only divides France further.’
The paper later took down the column, citing factual errors.
Defending France’s stance in a letter to the FT in which he denied stigmatising Muslims, Macron wrote: ‘France – we are attacked for this – is as secular for Muslims as for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and all believers.’
France has been hit by several major terror attacks in recent years. Its fiercely secular state was founded on the concept of laicite, which separates state institutions – including schools – from the influence of religion.
Less than a fortnight after Paty’s murder, three people were killed at a church in Nice. Pictured: A police officer with a sniffer dog checks floral tributes to the victims of the attack [File photo]
However this policy continues to chafe with the reality of France’s multicultural population, particularly Muslims, some of whom feel they have been unfairly targeted by secularist policies including a ban on the wearing of some forms of Islamic dress in public spaces.
On October 16, teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in the street of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a Parisian suburb following a lesson on freedom of speech in which he showed pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Mohammed is extremely revered in Islam, which prohibits the depiction of animate objects including people and animals.
Visual representations of Mohammed or Allah are considered particularly egregious by some followers of the faith.
In 2015, twelve people were killed in an attack on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices over such cartoons.
Macron’s defence of freedom of speech and the right to blaspheme has sparked weeks of angry protests in many Muslim-majority countries. Pictured: Demonstrators in Karachi, Pakistan, burn an effigy of Macron on Friday
Paty was killed by an 18-year-old man of Chechen descent who was later shot dead by police.
Several people, including two students and one parent from Paty’s school, have been charged in connection with the attack.
Weeks later, three people were killed in a terrorist attack at a Catholic church in Nice on October 29. The attacker was a 21-year-old Tunisian man who had come to France just days earlier.
Attacks have also occurred in other countries amid the latest furore.
In Austria, at least four died and 23 people were wounded in
Four people were wounded, they had been attending a Remembrance Day ceremony.