French President Emmanuel Macron, poses with youths during his visit in Mulhouse during a trip on the theme of the republican reconquest and the fight against Islamist separatism in Mulhouse, eastern France, on February 18, 2020. (Jean-Francois Badias/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Macron and France’s Muslims

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, February 22

Whenever dealing with dangerous groups of individuals, the ultimate goal is always to successfully distinguish between the sheep and the wolves. This is what French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to do in regard to his country’s Muslim population. France’s Muslim citizens are surely not the problem – but the extremists among them are. The same logic applies to all French citizens, including non-Muslim groups: The loud minority always overshadows the silent majority. Last week, Macron visited one of France’s mosques, addressed the local Muslim community and said – much to the dismay of some – that he will not allow separatist movements to exist in France. The president denounced those who refuse to shake hands with women and those who refrain from modern medicine or study in government schools. The truth is that some practices are a matter of personal choice: The state cannot compel any man to shake hands with women. However, it does have the right to prosecute families who forbid their children from going to school for the sake of pious Muslim education at home. This kind of cultural segregation is certainly punishable and enforceable by law. Macron, like many of his European counterparts, is very respectful of freedom of worship and religion, which is enshrined in the French constitution. However, he is wary that some Muslim groups are trying to hijack the Muslim community for the sake of promoting their own political agenda. Macron warned Turkey against funding Muslim organizations abroad, accusing it of being the source of support for separatist groups in France. Indeed, Istanbul today is the capital of extremism in the world and has become the official headquarters of Islamic groups fleeing Egypt, the Gulf, Sudan and Syria. However, the problem is not Turkey, but Europe: The latter has allowed these groups to exist within its territory and maintain legal, economic and political entities even when it is clear that they are linked to dangerous groups in the Middle East. These groups take advantage of civil liberties in countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands to promote an illiberal agenda. European authorities, consequently, are facing a new struggle: They need to reconcile limits on free expression and association with their ultimate commitment to democracy and freedom. After a long period of apathy, it seems as if European leaders are finally beginning to act on this matter – either due to electoral pressures or as a result of shocking information that has been recently released, shedding light on the financial backing available to these radical groups in Europe. Truth be told, banning these groups is in the best interest of everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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