New Delhi: Western media — including but not limited to The Washington Post, Politico, New York Times (NYT) and Financial Times (FT) — has been critical of France’s “aggressive secularism” following the recent incidents of terrorism in the country and President Emmanuel Macron’s reaction to the incidents.
In episode 619 of ‘Cut The Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta dissected what is now being termed as France’s “radical secularism”. He said the term was being used, especially by American media, to point out that the French were taking their idea of secularism “too far” and this is affecting “not just their own Muslim minority, but Muslims all over, and this is being counterproductive”.
While several articles have been written on the same, it was these two that angered France the most and they were subsequently taken down.
“Is the story that Western Left or Western liberalism is now at odds with French liberalism or centrism. Or could it be that the French under Macron are being ultra-sensitive or too thin-skinned?” Gupta asked.
The Washington Post also carried an article by its Paris correspondent James McCauley, which among other things, insinuated that Macron’s government was trying to reform Islam instead of fighting systemic racism.
Macron’s angry letter to Financial Times
The Financial Times (FT) article angered Macron so much that he wrote a letter to the newspaper, which was published on their site.
“How can a paper like the Financial Times, which I respect so much, misquote, the leader of a G-7 country,” Macron wrote.
The article had quoted an earlier Macron speech where he allegedly talked about “Islamic” separatism being a problem.
“Separatism in the French context is different from how we see it in India where we see it in the sense of trying to make another country. In France, or in Europe, it will be seen more like wanting to live their own lifestyle, their own distinctive lifestyle, and follow their own laws,” Gupta explained.
But this is where Macron disagreed. He noted that he had said ‘Islamist’ separatism in his speech, not ‘Islamic’ separatism.
“There is a difference because every Muslim follows the Islamic way of life, Islamist has a political tone to it,” Gupta explained.
Macron also alleged that his words were twisted by FT to imply that he was attacking all of Islam, which he claimed he was not.
The article, authored by Mehreen Khan, the paper’s correspondent from Brussels, argued that Europe’s Muslims don’t need the government’s writ to make their Islam French, British or German.
“Which means they don’t need their governments to order them, to tell them how to be or how to make their Islam fit into their nationalism,” Gupta noted.
In her article, Khan had also argued, “All over Europe, Muslims are being asked to prove their loyalty to the state and its values. But in France, they are asked to do so while hiding visible signs of their religion for fear of offending the state. They are admonished for not condemning terrorism loudly enough and expected to bear collective responsibility for the nihilistic crimes which, in the case of recent attacks, were carried out by foreigners.”
Besides clarifying that he said Islamist and not Islamic, Macron, in his letter, also said that Islamist separatism is actually a reality.
“Since 2015, it has become clear. And I said this even before I became president, that there are breeding grounds for terrorists in France. In certain districts and on the internet, groups linked to radical Islam are teaching hatred of the Republic and calling on their children to disregard the law,” which is the French idea of separatism.
“The state is as secular for Muslims as for Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and all believers, we have complete neutrality. The French neutrality means a guarantee of freedom of worship,” Macron argued.
Politico’s article on ‘French radicalism’
US political magazine Politico also pulled down an opinion piece, for the first time ever, by French scholar Farhad Khosrokhavar stating that it did “not meet their editorial standards”.
“France’s extreme form of secularism, and its adherence to blasphemy fueled radicalism with a marginalized minority,” Khosrokhavar had argued in his piece.
“This duo of radical secularism and religious radicalism has since engaged in a murderous dance. One of the defining characteristics of this new secularism is the promotion of religious blasphemy and, in particular, its extreme expression in the form of characters like those of Prophet Muhammad,” he had noted.
Khosrokhavar had also accused French intellectuals of not giving enough thought about their words when they chose to support the idea of these cartoons and then the reuse of these cartoons as a kind of assertion of French commitment to secularism and liberalism.
Several people saw this article as justifying the terror attacks in France and even victim blaming and shaming, noted Gupta.
French view of society
Gupta also talked about an article by The New York Times media correspondent Ben Smith.
Smith had gotten a call from Macron who complained to him that the “Anglo-American media” were targeting France. He told Smith that the US media did not understand the country and were being unfair to it .
“Since 2015, more than 250 people have been killed in France, by terrorists in the name of Islam … this is more than in any other democracy in the world,” Smith noted in his article.
According to Smith, Macron also argued that France could not be called radical when one does not understand its idea of secularism. He also said that “by blaming us, you are overlooking the threat of global jihad”.
The French President added that Americans do not understand the French view of society. The French don’t believe in the American idea of multiculturism, where every community keeps its own identity. Instead, the French State believes in a ‘universalist’ society where one’s cultural identity is part of the private sphere and the government does not recognise one’s ‘distinct identity’, according to Macron.
Many argue that Macron is trying to score brownie points against Right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, ahead of the 2022 election.
But according to Gupta, it is also the “impatience of the Western Socialist Left with the rise of the centrists”. This rise was seen with the election of Macron, and more recently with Joe Biden’s election in the US.