The Politics of Terrorism in a Combustible Europe

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PARIS — October’s knife slayings by freelance terrorists shocked the French however haven’t led to the worldwide outpouring of sympathy for France seen after Islamist massacres in 2015 and 2016. European leaders have expressed solidarity, however the Muslim world has been convulsed with anti-French demonstrations and requires a boycott.

Beyond the magnitude of the assaults, the putting distinction between then and now has a lot to do with President Emanuel Macron’s response, which has alienated many French Muslims and generated anger throughout the Muslim world.

His authorities set in movement a broad-brush crackdown on Islamists and a few Muslim organizations, with language that appeared to conflate Islam (the faith) with “Islamism” (an ideology that has typically led to violence).

Now, searching for allies, Mr. Macron is reaching out to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, making widespread trigger with a European chief whose nation was additionally hit by a terrorist assault, final week. The two males will meet in Paris on Tuesday to debate terrorism’s problem to Europe, in line with the Élysée Palace.

After the assault in Vienna, Mr. Kurz barely induced a ripple together with his response, utilizing conciliatory phrases that intentionally sought to defuse tensions. “Our enemy is never all those belonging to a religion,” Mr. Kurz mentioned final week in addressing his nation. “Our enemy is extremists and terrorists.”

Mr. Macron, against this, even earlier than the latest killings, had sought to make a critique of Islam and Islamism a signature situation earlier than the 2022 presidential marketing campaign. “Islam is a religion that is today living through a crisis everywhere in the world,” he mentioned.

Since then, he has tried to assuage ruffled emotions and to emphasise that his “country is a country that has no problem with any religion,” as he informed Al Jazeera in an interview.

But he has additionally bridled at any trace of criticism from the Western media exterior France (inside he has acquired strong help), and brought pains to make clear his views.

“France is fighting against Islamist separatism, never against Islam,” he wrote within the Financial Times after it revealed an opinion piece that Mr. Macron mentioned had unfairly accused him of stigmatizing French Muslims for political functions. He vigorously denied doing so, and the newspaper eliminated the unique article from its website for evaluate.

Mr. Macron has additionally expressed irritation about American protection of the federal government’s response, together with in The New York Times, in line with the newspaper Le Monde, complaining in a latest cupboard assembly, “Going along with American multiculturalism would be a kind of death of thinking,” and vowing that there could be no French “alignment” with it.

But whereas Mr. Macron has insisted that he has no quarrel together with his nation’s Muslims, solely with terrorists and “Islamism,” his authorities appeared to lash out indiscriminately after the beheading of a instructor, Samuel Paty.

It mentioned it will shut down two Muslim help organizations that the authorities accused of getting extremist views; it carried out dozens of raids; and it sought to deport a whole lot of Muslims already in police recordsdata.

On Monday, the Austrian police did a lot the identical, finishing up scores of raids aimed toward members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Dozens have been arrested or introduced in for questioning on suspicion of forming terrorist networks, terrorist financing and cash laundering, the inside minister mentioned.

The Austrian authorities mentioned the operation had been within the works even earlier than final week’s terrorist assault, which it attributed to a person linked to the Islamic State.

Whether there’s a lot daylight between the 2 leaders’ positions stays to be seen. Mr. Kurz, 34, and Mr. Macron, 42, each bold and unapologetic political chameleons, provide a glimpse of the political shape-shifting in a flamable Europe, particularly because it regards terrorism and immigration.

Mr. Macron was elected because the center-left savior of liberal democracy as France’s Socialist Party imploded. He is now tacking to the appropriate, letting his ministers do many of the powerful speaking for him, to place himself for France’s subsequent presidential election in 2022, when he’s anticipated to face a robust problem from the nationalist far proper.

Mr. Kurz, a conservative, was already elected as soon as earlier than by co-opting the message of the far proper, which he then joined in a coalition that employed a few of Europe’s harshest language and restrictions towards immigrants. But since Austria’s final election in 2017, he has teamed up with the left-leaning Greens. His new coalition could be very totally different — and so are his phrases.

Early final month Mr. Macron laid out markers for what would change into his aggressive stance after the killings, within the face of what he calls “Islamists” and “Islamism.”

But there was ambiguity in his method from the start, and Mr. Macron’s delicate — typically too delicate — use of language has left his phrasing and positions open to a number of interpretations, not all of them favorable to the French president.

In his prolonged Oct. 2 speech, Mr. Macron declared warfare on what he deems “Islamist separatism” — the tendency, in line with him, for some Muslims in France to jettison republican values and to develop an “alternative organization of society.”

There are sociologists who don’t suppose the issue is as giant as Mr. Macron portrays it. They level out that an amazing majority of French Muslims merely need to be equal residents of France. And Mr. Macron himself was cautious to acknowledge the way in which the French Republic has ghettoized its Muslim residents, denied them alternative and oppressed them with the burden of France’s colonial previous.

Those caveats have been largely ignored within the Muslim world. What amplified the post-killings anger was the way in which Mr. Macron slid seamlessly from the hazards of “Islamism,” over to what he deemed a elementary drawback with Islam itself.

Early within the 70-minute speech he talked of the “ultimate goal” of Islamists, to “take complete control.” Then he spoke of the murders by a jihadist of two native law enforcement officials, of a “radical Islamism that leads to denial of the Republic’s laws.”

Almost instantly he moved on to the phrases that gave offense — in regards to the “profound crisis” in Islam. Mr. Macron informed the Al Jazeera interviewer that these phrases have been “taken out of context.”

The “context” for his critique of Islam, although, was unmistakable — Mr. Macron’s lengthy catalog of the crimes of “Islamism.”

Later in the identical speech Mr. Macron sought to deliver Islam underneath the aegis of France, to make it a French undertaking — to de-Islamize it not directly, reinforcing hints that Islam itself was alien.

A principal “axis” of his technique, Mr. Macron defined within the speech, could be to assemble ‘‘an Islam of the Enlightenment” in France — thereby incorporating Islam into a signature achievement in French cultural history, the period dominated by thinkers like Voltaire and Diderot.

After Mr. Paty’s killing, France’s far-right chief, Marine Le Pen declared, “Islamism is a warlike ideology whose means of conquest is terrorism.” The similar day Mr. Macron’s inside minister, Gerald Darmanin introduced police operations towards “the enemy within, insidious and extremely well organized.”

Two days later, Mr. Macron informed a nationwide viewers, eulogizing Mr. Paty: “I have named the evil. The actions have been decided on. We have made them even tougher. And we will carry them to their conclusion.”

In this context, the show of restraint by Mr. Kurz, who not way back was parroting the anti-immigrant message of the far proper, didn’t go unnoticed.

“He resisted the populist temptation,” mentioned Peter Neumann, senior fellow on the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College in London. “It would have been easy and probably popular with his voters to give a more polarizing speech, a speech that takes a tough line on Muslims and how Islam has to change.

“He could have held a Macron speech, but he didn’t,” Mr. Neumann added.

Meanwhile, Mr. Macron continued to fiercely defend the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, first revealed in Charlie Hebdo, within the identify of “preserving liberty.”

That place has met vast approval in France, on the left and proper, amongst intellectuals and politicians, and within the media. Prominent reasonable Muslims have additionally, in public, expressed muted help.

“It doesn’t shock me. It doesn’t touch me,” mentioned Tareq Oubrou, the imam of Bordeaux’s mosque, of the caricatures. Muslims “should receive this type of provocation with indifference,” he mentioned.

Within France, there have been only some dissident voices, in public, declaring potential flaws in Mr. Macron’s method.

“He’s the president of all the French, including the Muslims,” mentioned Jean-François Bayart, a specialist on Islam on the Graduate Institute of Geneva. “Now he’s identifying France with a position that’s not representative of all sensibilities.”

Mr. Bayart has additionally identified that the French police systematically discriminate, abusively, towards Muslims — a constant discovering of unbiased evaluate our bodies in recent times.

Calling Mr. Macron’s place on the caricatures “puerile,” Mr. Bayart mentioned pictures are supposed to “remind people that they don’t belong here, they are from somewhere else.” He added: “You’re an Arab, you’re an immigrant. You are stealing French bread.”

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