In a confessional book, "A President Shouldn't Say That...", published in 2016, a few months before the 2017 French presidential election, France's then President François Hollande admitted that France has "a problem with Islam. No one doubts it," he wrote. He wrote as well that France has a problem with veiled women in public and with mass immigration. Then he added: "How can one avoid a partition? Because that is still what is happening: a partition".
The "partition" about which Hollande was talking was the partition of France -- one part for Muslims and another for non-Muslims.
Hollande's successor, President Emmanuel Macron, elected to office in 2017, appears to think that this risk of partition is actually the solution. Looking at what he has said and done since his election, one can say that the division of the country is in progress. Officially, of course, Macron continues to be the guardian of the Constitution, which embodies national unity. But step by step, a strategy of the partition of France appears to be at work.
The first step of this partition process was, it seems, to create a new adversary. For Macron, the adversary was not radical Islam, which some see as having murdered hundreds of people in France in recent years, but radical secularism, which has never murdered anybody. In December 2017, for instance, a few months after his election, Macron organized a meeting with the representatives of six religions (Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist) at the presidential Elysée Palace. At this meeting, Macron reportedly "critically questioned the radicalization of secularism." Not much filtered out of this meeting beyond that little quote -- presumably on purpose. In October 2016, before his election, Macron had denounced the defenders of "a spiteful vision of secularism." After his election, however, the presidential creed has never varied. According to it, political Islam is a not the problem; the resistance to it is.
In this strategy -- to isolate secularism and build it up as the new adversary -- Macron needed allies. He found one easily in the guise of the Catholic Church, which has suffered in France since a law in 1905 broke the link between Church and state. In April 2018, Macron accepted an invitation from the Conference of Bishops of France, and, in the sumptuous decor of the College of the Bernardins, in front of more than 400 Catholic personages, the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, delivered an erudite and lyrical speech, empty of any proposition apart from an allusion to "repair the damaged link" between the Church and the state. After the speech, the 400 Catholic officials jumped to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.
In June 2018, Macron revitalized his vision by visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican and accepting from him the inherited title of Honorary Canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Macron also reaffirmed his willingness "to deepen our relations of friendship and trust with the Holy See".
With this powerful Catholic ally in his pocket, Macron could launch the second stage of what seems his partition strategy: To launch a process of empowering the Muslims in France by entrusting them with the keys of "urban policy," the synonym for France's integration and assimilation policy. In the last 30 years, the French state has poured 48 billion euros into renewal projects in the poor suburbs that house millions of immigrants -- including millions of first-, second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants. The new buildings, new roads and new public transit vehicles, however, seem to have produced the opposite of the desired effect: recurrent riots, attacks on schools and police precincts, drug dealing on almost every corner, a proliferation of Salafist mosques and more than 1,700 jihadists gone to join ISIS.
In May 2018, Macron skillfully rejected the recommendation of the Borloo Report to pour another 48 billion euros over another 30 years, a policy that has already failed. Instead of continuing to buy a (shaky) social peace with billions of taxpayers' money, Macron did better: he created the "Presidential Council of the City", a political structure, composed mostly of Muslim notables (two third of the total members of the Council) and representatives of organizations working in the suburbs. Today, this body is in charge of monitoring the urban policy. There are no more billions, but there is a "Muslim advisory committee" to redirect the money from the old policy. Two agencies are involved in financing the renovation of neighborhoods in "sensitive urban areas": ANRU (National Agency for Urban Renewal) and ACSÉ (Agency for Social Cohesion and Equal Opportunities). Both of these agencies will soon be replaced by the Office of the Commissioner General for Territorial Equality. The budget devoted to the urban policy, described in the draft budget, law amounts to 429 million euros for 2018.
The idea of entrusting the keys of the Muslim suburbs to Islamic organizations is not new. It was first formulated by State Counselor Thierry Tuot in a famous report, "The Great Nation: For an Inclusive society", presented in 2013 to then-Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The main proposal in the report was to transfer urban policy to Islamic organizations, with the role of the State being reduced merely to subsidize them.
To complete this scheme of empowering political Islam in France, two legislative riders were voted in the "Law for a State in the Service of a Trusting Society", at the end of June 2018. The first legislative rider abolished the obligation of religious associations from declaring themselves as lobbying groups. This measure clearly opens the way for entities such as the Muslim Brotherhood movement to lobby Members of Parliament without leaving a trace. The second legislative rider -- in contravention of the secularism law of 1905 -- authorized all religious organizations to act as private actors in the real estate market. According to the Comité Laïcité République (Committee for Secularism of the Republic, CLR), this legislative rider would deprive a municipality or a region of the ability to appropriate land or buildings sold by a church or a mosque. "Thus, the code of town planning and the law of 1905 would be modified for this purpose" said CLR. In other words, private funding for creeds is allowed.
The third stage of partition is a work in progress. It concerns the tentative plan to build an "Islam of France" -- disconnected from the old "Islam in France." In other words, the Grand Mosque of Paris may no longer be considered as if it is the equivalent of the Algerian Embassy. "As soon as this autumn, we will give to Islam a framework and rules to be sure this religion will be exercised in a manner consistent with the laws of the Republic", Macron said. It was a surprising declaration because the tradition in France since the 1905 law -- and a tradition accepted by all religions except Islam -- is that religion may not to impose its rules on secular society. Now it seems that France has to adapt to Islam.
The Grand Mosque of Paris. (Image source: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons)
What will happen in September? The government seems to be thinking of doing what Austria did: cutting the financial ties between French Muslim communities and their countries of origin (e.g. Turkey, Algeria, Morocco); creating a tax on the halal business (which makes more than 6 billion euros annually), and then using these new tax revenues to train "republican" imams in France.
The government also appears to intend to create a kind of national agency to organize pilgrimages to Mecca. Estimated at more than 250 million euros, the business of pilgrimages is trusteed by about 40 Muslim travel agencies approved by the Ministry of Hajj of Saudi Arabia to receive their quotas of visas. Many Muslim travel agencies are rumored to operate illegally and charge exorbitant prices for bad service. So, Macron is supposed to reform and give the system an appearance of "normalcy". These are the "framework" and "laws" Macron is talking about.
The big question is: Who will be heading and managing this framework? The Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful organization, which controls more than 2,000 mosques in France? Or a young guard of Muslim technocrats close to president but with no ties to mosques, imams and the organized Muslim community in general? We will soon know. Additionally, rumors are spreading that Tareq Oubrou, an imam in Bordeaux, and known to be a prominent figure of Muslim Brotherhood, could become "Grand Imam of France".
Is it, however, the business of the secular State of France to organize Muslims and train "republican" imams? No, not even slightly. Is it a problem that two-thirds of the imams serving in France are not fluent in French? Can Islamist imams be trained the "republican" way? Yes, but for what result? The imam of Brest, in Brittany, became famous because he was filmed explaining to children that music could transform a listener into a pig or a monkey, and he filmed himself drinking camel urine; it is written in a Hadith that camel urine is good as medicine. In 2017, the same imam of Brest was graduated, "referent-secularity" – meaning, an Islamist informed about what is secularism but with no obligation to respect it -- from the University of Rennes in Brittany.
Back in 1627, Cardinal de Richelieu, the prime minister of King Louis XIII, stormed the city of la Rochelle in southwest France to bring back the Protestants to the bosom of France. Now, in 2018, Macron is providing aid to French Muslims to bring back the Muslims to the bosom of France.
Yves Mamou, author and journalist, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde. His next book, "Le Grand abandon, les élites françaises et l'islamisme," (The Great Abandonment, French Elites and Islamism) is to be published in October, 2018.