Behind Macron's faux issues lies an ugly reality

Behind Macron's faux issues lies an ugly reality
Comment: Macron is whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment in order to cover up for his own failures: An economic crisis, rising inequality and a public health emergency, writes Mobashra Tazamal.
5 min read
15 Mar, 2021
The first round of France's next presidential election will be held in April 2022 [AFP]
In recent months, the French government has been exceptionally busy constructing faux issues and supercharging anti-Muslim discrimination in an attempt to position President Emmanuel Macron as a defender of "French values." The ratcheting up of Islamophobia ahead of the 2022 presidential elections serves two purposes: divert attention from Macron's failures as a leader and court the far-right.

The latest in this manufacturing of concerns involves the higher education minister's calls for an investigation into an alleged "Islamo-leftist" environment in French universities. In a February 21st interview on CNewsreferred to as the "French Fox News," Frédérique Vidal stated "What we're seeing in the universities is that people can take advantage of their titles and the aura surrounding them... to promote radical or militant Islamo-leftist ideas."

Vidal is so concerned about this non-existent problem that she's called for a government investigation. Raising the alarm about an entirely fictitious issue may be a strategy to shift scrutiny away from her failures as education minister. Rising inequality plagues the French education system and a recent recent survey found that students' "chances of escaping their socio-economic background are smaller in France than in any of the other 71 countries surveyed."

Constructing issues has become a favourite tactic of Macron's government, an effective measure to deflect attention from the state's failures in tackling real problems affecting French citizens. At the end of January, official figures showed that the French economy "plunged into a deep recession" in 2020 due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic, which slashed total output by nearly 10 percent, with the downturn being described as the "worst recession since World War II."

Where has Macron's government been during this? Busy engaging in culture wars launching criticism at activists, journalists, and academics

At the height of the pandemic last year, public appeals for donations were being made to fund hospitals that were struggling to keep up with the increasing number of patients. Similar to situations in the United States and the United Kingdom, French healthcare professionals did not have the vital personal protective equipment they needed.

In June of last year, tens of thousands of nurses, doctors, and healthcare aides protested years of "budget cuts that have weakened a public health system once touted as the envy of the world." To date, over 91,000 individuals have died from Covid-19 in France.

Where has Macron's government been during this? Busy engaging in culture wars launching criticism at activists, journalists, and academics who point out the French state's role in maintaining racism and division in society.

Instead of acknowledging and tackling the inequality, Macron has chosen to silence these critiques, as illustrated in the 
charter he forced imams to sign, which explicitly says that "denouncing so-called state racism" is "slander".

Read also: French anti-Islamophobia alliance calls for nationwide protests over 'divisive' anti-extremism bill

Additionally, the recent buzz about this vague pseudo-concept of "Islamo-leftism" is simply designed to wage a witch hunt against progressive academics. Ultimately, the phrase reinforces the Islamophobic narrative that Muslims are a threat, while also accusing any of those who critique the French state as adjacent to that threat.

The term ties the left's solidarity to a marginalised religious minority community, and constructs it as the ultimate 

Warning signs over "Islamo-leftism" fall in line with the government's campaign to silence dissent and/or criticism over France's counter-terror policies, which frequently violate people's human rights and effectively criminalize French Muslims.

This is exemplified in the so-called "
anti-separatism" bill brought by Macron, which carries some striking and dangerous parallels to China's genocidal measures targeting Uighur Muslims. The bill, which was recently passed by the National Assembly, is aimed at combating "Islamist separatism" but generally includes actions that extend the reach of the state and target Muslim communities.

It aims to control funding sources for organisations, restrict homeschooling, as well as extend the ban on religious symbols to parts of the private sector. Despite constant claims of protecting and ensuring "laïcité" - or secularism, the government is actually violating the concept as it seeks to take control of a religion and reconfigure it into a system it approves of.

He has decided that Islamophobia will be his election strategy: scapegoat Muslims and court the far-right in one go

One thing the bill doesn't address is the failures of the French state's security apparatus. There's no denying that France has been dealing with violent attacks, despite being under a state of emergency from 2015 until 2017. The government subsequently passed new, tougher counter-terrorism laws essentially legalizing the state of emergency powers indefinitely.

include giving local representatives powers to carry out raids and the authority to shut down places of worship and establish security zones, all with limited judicial oversight.

And yet, the authorities have failed to curb the violence. As Yasser Louati
notes, "40 years of counterterrorism has failed." The state has the tools it needs and yet it's been unable to protect the French public. When programmes fail to deliver on their intended goals, the standard practice has been to investigate and understand what led to this failure.

Trading civil rights and liberties for security never works

So no calls to address this glaring issue? The only response the government repeatedly takes is to expand its powers, encroach upon people's civil liberties, and scapegoat the Muslim community to divert scrutiny from its own failures.

As we approach the 2022 presidential elections, Macron is on the offensive. Unable to offer much as he failed to carry out his promises, he has decided that Islamophobia will be his election strategy: scapegoat Muslims and court the far-right in one go. His own interior minister confirmed this point when he accused far-right leader Marine le Pen of being "soft" on Islam, and publicly stated "I want the voters of the National Front to vote for us." 

Rather than offer a plan to tackle the socio-economic problems plaguing society, the French leader is clamping down on dissent and marking five percent of the population as the source of all of France's problems.

Such arguments are being used to vastly expand the state's reach; a dangerous turn, as trading civil rights and liberties for security never works. Despite his claims of French unity, Macron seems determined to make division the theme of this election season.

Mobashra Tazamal is a researcher on Islamophobia at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.

Follow her on Twitter: @mobbiemobes

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.