Macron's fight for Freedom of Speech

President Emmanuel Macron used a warlike tone following the recent terrorist attacks that have hit France. Assuring that fear would change sides, the President’s position has sparked a strong response with a call to boycott in several Muslim countries, and several communities have led ‘anti-France’ movements. 

A new path forward?

Back in July, the President gave a speech announcing a cabinet shuffle with, among others, a new Prime Minister, and a new Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin. This reshuffle was to lead France on “a new path forward” with “new measures.”

Back then, France was coming out of lockdown and felt ready to fight a potential second wave of . The cabinet reshuffle was set to lead an economic recovery and set new priorities for the two years left of President Macron’s presidency. 

However, in the last few weeks, France has returned to a state of lockdown and has suffered from three terrorist attacks, leading the country to face both a sanitary and a security crisis. 

Back to the state of emergency

Back in 2015, the previous President, François Hollande, had first declared the state of emergency in France following coordinated terrorist attacks against six public sites in Paris. Earlier that same year, the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo were the target of another terrorist attack, after the satirical newspaper had printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. A spark of solidarity had emerged all over France and social media, as people used the slogan “Je Suis Charlie.’’ (I am Charlie.) Such solidarity had mediatized French values for freedom of speech and initiated the fight of the French government against extremists on the territory.

The recent terrorist attacks that have taken place in France in the last few weeks have led to a new state of emergency putting it at the maximum level, security-wise, just as it was back in 2015. This followed the beheading of Samuel Paty, a history-geography teacher after he had shown the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet during a class about free speech. Once again, this event took over social media and where the French defended their values and freedom of rights, whilst several Muslim countries and communities had opposite reactions.

An economic risk with the boycotts

To understand the risk of terrorism in France, we must depict the issue in two different contexts. For some actors, there is a distinct emotion behind the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, whereas, for others, Macron’s stance merely depicts the importance of secularism in France.

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan are accusing France of allowing blasphemy against Islam and its Prophet and of holding a heinous campaign against their religion. Erdogan even questioned Macron’s mental sanity, as well as calling for a boycott of French goods. At the same time, anti-France movements have taken place in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Palestine and India where effigies of the French leader were burned, and boycotts were similarly called for.

As of now, forecasters have been unable to estimate the repercussions they will have on France’s economy for two reasons. With , France’s economy has been suffering, making its economy overall weaker and more subject to shocks, however, so far no clear boycotts have been enforced. Additionally, France has the support of Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and several other EU. This strongly decreases the risk of the economic threat that the boycott would have against France. With an already declared support of several EU members, France is able to fight back by requesting to the next EU council in December new economic sanctions against Turkey. This is a scenario that Turkey should want to avoid as 40% of its trade exchange comes from the EU, whereas Turkey’s trade exchange represents only 4% of the EU’s market. Such a threat makes the economic risk unlikely as it would backfire for Turkey.

A security risk and a need of communication

Discrimination against Muslims is an issue in France. To promote a better inclusion of Islam in France, new steps are actively implemented. Indeed, all children would be educated in French schools about French values and knowledge, Imams would be trained in France and not abroad, and preventive measures would be taken to prevent the rise of extremists in mosques. Finally, ten million euros are to be given by the government to support the Islam Foundation of France to develop those initiatives. 

However, some Muslim critics believe that France is the cause, rather than the victim of jihadist attacks on its soil. Controversially for some Muslims, French laws and therefore, French values protect the right to blaspheme and insult any religions. Such critics show the misunderstanding cultures and beliefs and the need to improve communication to educate both sides and for the risk to lessen and avoid the radicalization of new jihadists. President Macron took the initiative to correct the  misunderstanding and share France’s values in a reasoned and sympathetic interview to Al-Jazeera translated to Arabic. With improved communication on both sides, the risk of terrorism in France would be less likely hence lowering the fear French citizens have for terrorism. After all, since 2015, France arrested more Jihadist suspects than any other EU countries and over 250 victims have died in Islamic attacks. one study showed that around 83% of French citizens are afraid of terrorism. Therefore there is an issue of educating both sides: Muslims and French citizens and enhance dialogue to reduce the security risk. 

In the meantime, to decrease the risk of terrorist attacks France has asked for “profound” reform of the Schengen system. The President wishes to rethink the organization and intensify the common border protection with a real security police force at the external borders of the area. Marine le Pen, Macron’s rival in the last elections and leader of the far-right political party, on the other hand, has called to suspend Schengen altogether, an unlikely scenario given President Macron’s pro-EU stance since the beginning of his presidency. Instead, he plans to bring forward this new reform to the EU council in December.

 

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