Last October, a jihadist beheaded Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb. His capital offense? While teaching a middle school class on the importance of free expression, the 47-year-old teacher showed a cartoon of Muhammad published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
A week later, a jihadist brutally murdered three people inside a Nice church.
President Emmanuel Macron responded to the violence with a rousing defense of free expression, including the freedom to blaspheme, and pledged a crackdown on “Islamist separatism.”
The United States must wholeheartedly, and without reservation, voice support for France. President Macron’s actions are both reasonable and necessary. France is our oldest ally: from our own Revolution to the War on Terror, France has stood by our side. It is now time for the US to support our friend against the evil that lurks within.
Terrorism and Islamist Separatism in France
France faces a severe jihadist menace. Since 2012, jihadists have killed more than 260 people in the country. Terrorists have attacked concerts, restaurants, police stations, churches, and a publishing office.
In 2017, France ranked first worldwide on the Global Terrorism Index for terrorist violence in western countries. It is impossible to deny the threat under which French citizens live every single day.
Islamist separatism is a major source of this violence. In certain communities, Islamist influence has subverted Republican values to create a de facto “parallel society.” Islamist separatism motivates successful petitions for gender-segregated swimming at public pools, just as it lurks behind the demand for doctors to perform “virginity tests” on prospective brides.
Islamist separatism is also what led roughly 80 percent of Muslim pupils in one school district to ignore the moment of silence commemorating the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack victims.
‘Islam of Enlightenment’
Jihadism hardly takes root in a vacuum, and President Macron keenly understands that Salafi-infused Islamism plays a major role in propagating violence.
Macron’s decision to target mosques and organizations that promote this violence is common-sense. It would be suicidal not to. Mandating that imams are trained in France is a good step towards building, in Macron’s words, “an Islam of the Enlightenment,” one that is fully compatible with a secular and pluralistic society. It is not Islamophobia. It is self-defense. There is no reason why France should continue to import Wahhabi clerics who preach hatred of western values.
Critics allege that Macron is fighting a war on Islam. That he is acquiescing to the far-right. That he is not targeting violent extremists but peaceful Muslims. This could not be further from the truth.
His actions have not targeted Islam, the peaceful religion, but Islamism, the intolerant political ideology that is antithetical to liberal values. Macron has been clear: the vast majority of Muslims are good and loyal citizens. His government’s struggle is with the small minority of extremists who seek to drive a wedge between liberalism and Islam.
The measures have been reasonable, guided not by the bigots of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally but by eminent scholars like Gilles Kepel and moderate Muslims of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.
The French public widely supports Macron’s battle: a 2020 IFOP poll found 89 percent of French citizens believed the terror threat “high,” while 79 percent agreed that “Islamism has declared war on the nation and the Republic.”
In mid-February, Macron’s proposed bill targeting Islamist separatism passed the National Assembly by a 347-151 majority, where it was supported by politicians on both the left and right. All freedom-loving peoples should support his battle.
Stand With France
The US has a duty to stand against bigotry, intolerance, and extremism, wherever they are found. Americans have long known that the cause of liberty and tolerance is not limited to one nation but the whole of humanity.
Thomas Paine, a shared son of both America and France who supported revolutionary causes in the US and Europe, wrote in the 18th century that “the cause of America is, in a large measure, the cause of all mankind.” That still holds true.
Today, France is on the front lines, defending liberty against extremism, the candle of the Enlightenment against the darkness of barbarity. Today, that obliges us to stand with France.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the free world declared “je suis Charlie.” Now, it is time to declare “je suis France.”
Zachary J. Schroeder is a graduate student at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he focuses on issues of terrorism, violent extremism, and international organized crime.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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