According Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, "France still does not understand the reality it is facing. It believes that it has been struck by terrorists... but it is suffering a guerrilla war that is gradually gaining momentum..." (Photo by Farouk Batiche/AFP via Getty Images)
October 29. Nice, the main city on the French Riviera. A man in the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption decapitates a woman and murders two other people while shouting "Allahu Akbar!" ["Allah is the greatest!"]
This is the second beheading in France by an extremist Muslim in less than a month. Two weeks earlier, on October 16, a middle school teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded in the suburbs of Paris after showing his students some Mohammad cartoons during a discussion on freedom of speech.
Paty's beheading came after many other recent, seemingly jihadist-inspired murders in France. They include the protracted torture and murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006; the slaughter of a Jewish teacher and three children in Toulouse in 2012; the massacre of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015 and the murder on the same day of four Jews at a kosher supermarket; the beheading of an entrepreneur, Herve Cornara, in his car in the suburbs of Lyon in 2015; a truck-ramming that killed 86 and wounded 458 people leaving a Bastille Day fireworks celebration in Nice on July 14, 2016; the murder a few days later, on July 26, of Father Jacques Hamel while he was conducting mass, and the murders of two elderly Jews, Sarah Halimi and Dr. Mireille Knoll, in 2017.
It is also the third extremist attack in France in less than two months. On September 26, shortly before Paty was killed, a Pakistani, Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud, assaulted and seriously injured two people in front of the former offices of Charlie Hebdo.
Countless attacks by young Muslims, often resulting in serious injuries, are committed daily throughout France -- according to police figures, approximately 120 times a day.
France seems to be the Western European country most affected by Islamic violence. Although the deadliest terrorist attacks have disappeared since the destruction of the Islamic State and the far-away bases from which they could easily be organized, they still occur, just on a smaller scale. They never stop.
The attitude of successive French governments every time a serious attack is carried out -- the less serious ones go unnoticed -- has been the same. The president and his ministers give speeches denouncing the danger and promising firmness; then nothing happens. On February 16, 2015, Prime Minister Manuel Valls actually instructed his countrymen that "the French should get used to living with the terrorist threat".
A few months after that, on November 14, 2015, an extremist massacre at the Bataclan Theater took place, in which 130 people were murdered and more than 360 wounded. A state of emergency was declared. For two years, soldiers were seen on the streets of France, but when the state of emergency did not prevent several more attacks from being committed -- including the assassination of Father Hamel, and the deadly July 14 truck-ramming in Nice -- the state of emergency, in view of its uselessness, was lifted two years after it was proclaimed.
President Emmanuel Macron, shortly after he was elected in May 2017, promised to do better than his predecessors and to act decisively. Three and a half years later, he seems largely to have failed.
Macron can see that French hostility towards Islam is growing. A poll conducted in October 2019 revealed that 61% of French people think "Islam is incompatible with the values of French society". He can also see also that an outspoken opponent of radicalism, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally party, is considered by many French people as more credible than he to ensure the security of the country and that she could possibly defeat him in the 2022 presidential election. He has apparently decided, therefore, to try to do more.
On October 2, he delivered a solemn speech denouncing what he calls "Islamic separatism" and promising to propose a law to fight against "Islamism". He was careful to insist that he was blaming Islamism -- which he defined as an "ideology", as distinct from Islam, which he referred to as "a religion in crisis."
The next day, the leading French Muslim associations published a statement presenting their constituents as the victims. "Muslims in France," they said, "are increasingly the target of the worst stigmatization and invective from political figures who make Islamophobia a business".
Anti-racist associations supported their statement. Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racisme, said that Macron was sinking into "a political obsession with Islam". Malik Salemkour, president of the League for Human Rights, accused Macron of taking up "the speeches of the extreme right and pointing the finger at innocent culprits, fundamentalist Muslims".
The leaders of several Muslim countries called for a boycott of French products. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned Macron's "mental health". The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation did not name Macron, but "deplored the remarks of some French officials that could harm Franco-Muslim relations".
To calm the situation, Macron sent French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Egypt to meet with Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Egypt's highest Muslim authority, After their discussion on November 9, Le Drian announced, "I have emphasized, and emphasize here, the deep respect we have for Islam."
Macron, responding to an article in the Financial Times accusing him of "dividing France further," wrote that he did not in any way want to "stigmatize Muslims," and that he had spoken of "Islamist separatism," not of "Islamic separatism". He stated that that France was "confronted by hundreds of radicalized individuals, who we fear may, at any moment, take a knife and kill people.... This," he noted, "is what France is fighting against -- designs of hatred and death that threaten its children -- never against Islam".
Since then, Macron has been even more cautious.
On the evening of Paty's beheading on October 16, Macron said that the murder had been an "Islamist terrorist attack" and denounced "obscurantism and violence". He later said that the murderer seemed to have been driven by "the fatal conspiracy of stupidity, lies, amalgamation, hatred of the other".
Just two weeks later, however, after the knife murder of three people in Nice on October 28, Macron simply asked "people of all religions to unite and not give in to the spirit of division".
The notion of Islamist separatism used by Macron does not really make a lot of sense. He criticized what he calls Islamist separatism for "claiming that its own laws are superior to those of the Republic". As the historian Mohammed Hocine Benkheira puts it, explains:
"For Muslims, Islamic law has God as its author. Any other legislator is illegitimate. When people live under laws other than this one, not only do they sin if they accept this state of affairs, but they also live under the reign of injustice and oppression. It is therefore that Islam itself that places its laws above the laws of any government."
"Islam," the author Celine Pina pointed out, "does not ask Muslims to separate, but to conquer".
"If neighborhoods have become Muslim neighborhoods, it is not because the Muslims who live there have decided to separate, but because the non-Muslims have fled from them", noted Christophe Guilluy, another author. Most non-Muslims, it seems, do not want to live in areas where the law of Islam reigns and where unveiled women are sometimes harassed or assaulted.
The idea that Islamism is an ideology distinct from Islam is, unfortunately, totally meaningless. As Erdogan, regarding the term "moderate Islam," noted in August 2007, "These descriptions are very ugly. It is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that's it." Such false distinctions, according to the British author Douglas Murray in his book , Islamophilia, are usually "used by political leaders who fear offending Muslim populations".
For Islamic organizations, anti-racist organizations, and various countries of the Muslim world, however, speaking of "Islamist separatism" or "Islamism" in France, or promising to fight against "Islamism", or saying that Islam is in crisis, is evidently a bridge too far.
The law Macron promised has been presented to the French National Assembly and is to be voted on this month. The text shows that Macron's law will not, after all, be against "Islamic separatism", but only a "law upholding republican principles". The main aim of the law, it seems, is to "combat online hate" -- which is not defined in the text. The law will not, therefore, allow anyone to "combat" anything that judges or associations might define as hate.
The new law seems aligned with another, defined as a "law to fight against hateful content on the Internet". Passed on June 24, it, too, fails to define "hateful content on the Internet."
The new law will, however, ban home schooling. As Muslim parents are not the only ones who practice it in France, the ruling will consequently affect thousands of non-Muslim families as well.
In a message Macron addressed to the CFCM, Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (French Council of Muslim Worship), an organization created in 2003 to represent the various French Muslim associations, Macron asked its President, Mohamed Moussaoui, and the various Muslim associations belonging to the CFCM, to sign a "charter of republican values". These defined Islam in France as "a religion and not a political movement," and prohibited "foreign interference" in French Islam. Although Moussaoui and the Muslim associations belonging to the CFCM immediately signed the proposal, no one is expecting their consent to mean that they are planning to change their practices. Islam has always and everywhere, for fourteen centuries, been more than a religion; it is an entire spiritual, political and legal system, and will continue to be what it is -- "Islam is Islam" -- and the French President will not be able to change that either. Islam knows no borders and no differences between countries. Muslims belong to the ummah [nation of believers] and that is a situation the French President will not be able to change, either.
The man who stabbed three people to death in Nice on October 29; the murderer of Samuel Paty; the knife-wielding assailant of two people in front of the former offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on September 25 and other assailants, all benefited from refugee status. Macron, however, does not seem interested in considering any legislative decisions aimed at examining the files of persons benefiting from that status in France.
For now, France continues to receive approximately 400,000 immigrants a year, most of whom come from the Muslim world. Macron also does not seem interested in considering any measures that might limit immigration to France.
Meanwhile, the proportion of Muslims in the French population continues to grow. Today, Muslims represent 10% of the population; estimates indicate that this figure will double by 2050. At the same time, the number of Muslims living in France who place Shari'ah above the laws of the republic also continues to grow. Currently, 57% of Muslims under the age of 25 say they would prefer to obey Shari'ah rather than the laws of the French republic should they contradict Shari'ah. Previously, in 2016, people holding those views made up only 47%.
Referring to the Mohammed cartoons reprinted by Charlie Hebdo, Macron said that France will not change the laws that guarantee freedom of expression and that he is in a "fight for our freedoms". Even so, he overlooked that in France, freedom of expression is already extremely restricted, especially when it comes to Islam; the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were an exception. A law passed in 1972 long ago condemned "incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence against a person or group of persons on account of their origin or their belonging to a particular ethnic group, nation, race, or religion". This law is still increasingly used to condemn speech regarded by some as "Islamophobic".
The journalist Éric Zemmour has been condemned several times for having made politically incorrect remarks about Muslim immigration and for pointing out that Islam has a history of bloodshed and war. Zemmour was also recently fined 10,000 euros for "incitement to hatred" after a speech he gave on September 28, 2019. What he had said was that Muslims living in France are becoming less and less integrated, that entire neighborhoods are becoming "budding Islamic republics" and that France is undergoing a process of Islamic "colonization".
The association Riposte Laïque (Secular Response), created to combat the Islamization of France, is constantly under attack in court. Its president, Pierre Cassen, has been condemned again and again for stating, accurately, that all the terrorist attacks that have marked France in the last two decades were committed by Muslims, and that Islam, throughout its history, has fundamentally been violent and bloody. In 2018, Cassen was sentenced to a three-month suspended sentence; if he is sentenced again, for "Islamophobic" speech, even if what he says is factually correct, he will spend at least a month in prison. Criticizing uncontrolled immigration to France and its consequences could be enough to earn him jail time.
Renaud Camus, the author of the book Le grand remplacement ("The Great Replacement") -- which describes the slow replacement of the French population by a Muslim population -- was sentenced in January 2020 to a two-month suspended sentence for having said that "immigration has become invasion".
At a ceremony in honor of Paty, Macron paid tribute to teachers. He noted that they bring knowledge, and promised that he would give back "to them the power of the place and the authority that belongs to them. We will consider them as they should be, we will support them, we will protect them as much as necessary".
The reality is that most teachers in France can no longer bring real knowledge to anyone. They would find themselves in danger or out of work. Twenty teachers recently published an article in which they spoke of "students running in the corridors of schools screaming Allahu akbar", "students who threaten teachers [and] humiliate them in front of their class" and who state that "there are no measures to effectively ensure the safety of teachers."
As far back as 2002, the historian Georges Bensoussan noted in the book Les territoires perdus de la République ("The Lost Territories of the Republic") that it had become impossible in the high schools of France's Muslim neighborhoods to talk about the Holocaust and certain other subjects. He added that teachers had to censor themselves or risk their lives. Fifteen years later, in the book Une France soumise ("A Submissive France"), he reported that the situation had worsened considerably. By 2017, the self-censorship that teachers had to impose on themselves was present throughout the country. The horrendous fate of Paty shows what can happen to a teacher who decides not to self-censor.
The extremist Muslim attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 cost the life of a teacher, Jonathan Sandler, and three children -- Sandler's two sons and Myriam Monsonego -- who perhaps had been inadequately protected. Although it was the first time that a teacher and children were murdered in a school in France, it was, not the first time here that Jews have been victims of Islamic anti-Semitism. The French government continues to remain disingenuously blind to Islamic anti-Semitism.
"There are strong tendencies at work in France," Alain Wagner, an expert on Islam, remarked.
"If nothing changes, in a few decades, France will have submitted to Islam, and Islamic violence will probably be even greater than today. It is already almost impossible for the country's leaders to react. They are hostages of a Muslim population that is less and less integrated and whose anger they do not want to arouse. They are under the gaze of groups that immediately denounce any criticism of Islam and under pressure from many countries in the Muslim world that France does not want to offend".
"Macron", noted the American writer Raymond Ibrahim in October, "is still not able to pinpoint the real problem because it would be politically incorrect for him to do so... This is the problem with someone like Macron and what he's saying... they can never acknowledge that what's happening is integral or a part of authentic Islam...."
"France still does not understand the reality it is facing," said the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal. "It believes that it has been struck by terrorists... but it is suffering a guerrilla war that is gradually gaining momentum..."
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.