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Valeria Fabiola Flores Vega

Does Emmanuel Macron institutionalize Islamophobia in France?

- The crude declaration of the French president occurs in a context in which there are plenty of speeches that generally link terrorism and the entire Muslim community.

Does Emmanuel Macron institutionalize Islamophobia in France?

Xenophobic and Islamophobic discourses have increased in France in recent months, after the assassination of professor Samuel Paty, who caused controversy for displaying a graphic of an Islamic religious figure in his class. However, discrimination and hate speech against the Muslim community are not new phenomena on the streets or in politics in this country. Suffice it to mention that Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, the second force in France, has based her entire strategy on generating political capital from the spread of xenophobia and Islamophobia.

In this sense, it is to be expected that the Frente Nacional will benefit from the sensationalism broadcast by the media and that it will use the current context to strengthen its anti-immigrant and profoundly discriminatory position. Remarkably, this trend has been emulated by current President Emmanuel Macron, who, in a desperate attempt to maintain power, resorted to adopting a nationalist far-right rhetoric.

In response to the recent attack on Samuel Paty, the French president has stated that "fear will change sides", meaning that non-Muslim Frenchmen will stop fearing. It is worrying that this type of speech, so unconciliatory and aggressive, also comes from a figure like the French Head of State, since it exposes the 5.7 million Muslims who live in this territory to attacks and discrimination, since its message gives rise to to a fight against Islam.

The crude declaration of the French president occurs in a context in which there are plenty of speeches that generally link terrorism and the entire Muslim community. Which, of course, is completely wrong, not everyone who practices Islam belongs to radical groups.

Protest in Paris against Islamophobia. Photo by Lisa Bryant.

Macron's objectives are clear, he tries to appeal to the fears of the most intolerant sectors of the country since statistics point to a sharp decline in his approval rating, 59% of French citizens disapprove of his performance. [1] In this context, the force of the xenophobic right is strengthening and the risk of another government with these tendencies taking power in Europe could be imminent. In October 2020, polls indicated that 26% of citizens are inclined to vote for Emmanuel Macron, while another 25% plan to vote for Le Pen. [2]

Why is the extreme right positioning itself as a political force?

As already noted, the recent dominance of the extreme right in the political arena has been catalyzed in part by the attack in Paris and the migratory flows arriving in Europe. However, this can also be understood as a consequence of a sociocultural process that began decades ago.

The presence of Muslims in France dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. “[]When France invaded Algeria in 1930 and eventually took control of much of North and East Africa, it brought a mass of Muslims under its rule and, when they were needed to work or fight, they were driven to metropolitan soil ”.[3]

Colonialism in Africa explains why 8.8% of the population in France practices Islam, currently the highest rate of Muslim population in the entire European Union.[4] In this sense, it is necessary clarify that there is a consolidated population of Muslims who are citizens with French nationality. So if the interaction between "the native French" and the people of Africa goes back to the last century, why are there still seemingly irreconcilable differences between France and Islam?

Firstly, because the cultural and religious differences between the West and the East go back to ancient periods of history. These types of conflicts are extremely complex to resolve since culture and religion are elements linked to the very essence and identity of individuals, they shape and give meaning to people's lives, to a greater or lesser extent.

The differences in ways of life are accentuated when different cultures interact in the same space. Naturally, the traditions and customs related to Islam and Christianity are different on several levels. From the perspective of the West, the possibility of Islam dominating Europe is the source of the concerns of the most conservative sectors of France.

According to the Pew Research Center, in a zero migration scenario, the Muslim population in Europe will be 7.4% and in a high migration scenario the Muslim community is projected to represent almost 15% of the entire population in this region. [5] This type of scenario catalyzes far-right forces in France and the rest of Europe because they foresee that Western values and ideas, linked of course to Christianity, will be threatened by Islam .

Are they positions like those of Samuel Huntington, in Clash of Civilizations? those that provide greater clarity not only on the reluctance of the West to a culturally and ethnically diverse Europe, but also on the determination with which it plans to resist Eastern influence.[6]

Liberty and equality for all the French?

Despite the fact that the French constitution of 1958 guarantees equality regardless of origin, race or religion and establishes respect for all beliefs, the Muslim community has been intimidated by laws that directly attack this sector.[[7\ ]](#_ftn7) Since 2004, there has been a ban on the use of the hijab in public schools, an element that is essential for women who profess Islam.

The most recent bill, from October 2020, originally called the “Law against separatism”, now the “Bill that reaffirms republican principles” seeks to prevent the spread of Islamic radicalism by proposing a series of strict criteria for authorizing home education for children over the age of 3, increase control over mosques, supervise the funding of Muslim associations and increase the requirements to authorize the practice of imams.

Emmanuel Macron's initiative has generated controversy within this country and abroad since it was created solely to monitor and control the Muslim community. This type of legislation and the use of xenophobic and Islamophobic discourses reinforce the erroneous idea that Islam is the enemy of the Republic, of the West.

Cultural differences within the French secular state do not imply by themselves impediments to the consolidation of a French political identity. Belonging to the Muslim community does not mean a rejection of “what is French”. “[I]identities can be limiting and 'sticky' without being based on ethnic principles.”[8]

In fact, the Muslim French are the Muslim community with the most entrenchment to their national identity in all of Europe. According to data from the Pew Research Center, 42% of French nationals who belong to Islam consider themselves French rather than Muslim. These figures could be even higher if the French state adopted more conciliatory stances and embraced its multicultural past and essence. [9]

Of course, any attack or crime carried out against any individual is totally reprehensible. What must be evaluated is the position of one of the most important figures in France and the European Union in the face of the current sociopolitical climate. The right to free expression is fundamental, of course, however, as Angela Merkel herself has declared, “freedom of expression has its limits, those limits begin when hate is propagated. They start when the dignity of other people is violated.” [10]

It is widely recognized that the use of graphics of religious figures is highly disrespectful and has been a way of violating the Muslim community. In this regard, the French president's choice of words sends a very clear message: there is not the slightest empathy towards a sector of the population that has been part of the process of building the modern French state and has also suffered from the actions of a religious minority.

No matter what Emanuel Macron's motivations are, his role as a national and European leader should remind him of the need to craft speeches that are less abrupt and aim to protect all French people, not just the non-Muslim majority, and the eradication of discrimination.


    [1] Polls of Polls, “France”. (Consultado el 15-12-2020)

    [2] Íbidem

    [3] Bowen, John. 2009. Can Islam Be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State. Estados Unidos:. Princeton University Press.

    [4] Pew Research Center “5 facts about the Muslim population in Europe”. (Consultado el 10-12-2020)

    [5] Íbidem

    [6] Huntington, Samuel. 1993. “¿Choque de civilizaciones?” Foreign Affairs. 72 (3).

    [7] Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères. “Secularism and Religious Freedom”.,states%20the%20Constitution%20of%201958. (Consultado el 17-12-2020)

    [8] Cederman, Lars-Erik. 2000. “Nationalism and Bounded Integration: What it would take to construct a European Demos” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies No. 34 (septiembre): 21

    [9] Pew Research Center. «The French-Muslim Connection»,and%2016%25%20as%20both%20equally. (Consultado el 17-12-2020)

    [10] Ruptly. «Germany: Freedom of speech has ‘limits’ – Merkel» 27 noviembre 2019, video, 1min57s.

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Flores, Valeria. “¿Emmanuel Macron institucionaliza la Islamofobia en Francia?.” CEMERI, 19 sept. 2022,