Sometimes what a politician leaves unsaid tells us more than what he does say. Take the different reactions to the wave of Islamist terror attacks across Europe by Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron. The Prime Minister’s statement of sympathy with Austria over the atrocities in Vienna last night may seem at first glance to cover the bases: 'I am deeply shocked by the terrible attacks in Vienna tonight. The UK’s thoughts are with the people of Austria — we stand united with you against terror.'
But compare it to that from the president of France: 'Europe is in mourning. One of our own has been hit hard by Islamist terrorism. We think of the victims, their families, the shattered lives. France stands alongside Austria, ready to lend its support.'
The president names the adversary. The Prime Minister avoids doing so. In case you think this a one-off, let’s look at their statements about the previous Islamist atrocity to hit Europe — the murders at the Basilica in Nice, on Macron’s home soil.
Here’s the Prime Minister’s response:
“I am appalled to hear the news from Nice this morning of a barbaric attack at the Notre Dame Basilica. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.
By contrast, the president again specified that what had happened was 'an Islamist terror attack' adding:
“If we are attacked once again it is for the values which are ours: freedom, for the possibility on our soil to believe freely and not to give in to any spirit of terror. I say with great clarity once again today: we won’t surrender anything.
From Boris we get platitudinous waffle leavened only by a formal expression of sympathy. What a relief to know that Britain is against bad things. From Macron we get a precise, muscular and even defiant retort.
It should worry us all that a centrist leader of France should leave a supposedly Conservative-minded leader of Britain in the shade when it comes to defending his society, its values and its culture against Islamist terrorism.
Monsieur Macron has, it seems, embarked on a heroic venture that merits the wholehearted support of all who seek to defend the values of liberal democracy. He has recognised what the British commentator Trevor Phillips has identified as the practice of different communities living 'parallel lives' within the same society, which is a recipe for disaster and needs to be brought to an end.
And with his customary clarity, Macron has specified 'Islamic separatism' as by far the biggest danger to the Republic, rather than tap-dancing around in the pretence of merely making generalist points that could equally be applied to everything from Jainism to Yogic Flying.
With 9 per cent of France’s population being Muslims — nearly six million people — and that proportion growing fast, Macron has even gone so far as to specify the stuff relating to Islam that he considers incompatible with the French way of life.
The Islamist ambition to take complete control of France, imposing upon it alien values such as blasphemy laws and the rolling back of female emancipation, is squarely in his sights. And yet neither will he have it that an enlightened Islam, which enables its followers to take a full and proud part in French national life, is beyond reach.
In a major speech on the issue last month, the president said:
“What we need to tackle is Islamist separatism. It is a conscious, theorised, politico-religious project, which materialises by repeated deviations from the values of the Republic, which often results in the constitution of a counter-society and whose manifestations are the dropping out of schooling of children, the development of sporting and cultural community practices which are the pretext for teaching principles which are not in conformity with the laws of the Republic. It is indoctrination and through it the negation of our principles, equality between women and men, human dignity.
As the writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali noted recently in this magazine, talking a good game is one thing while putting it into action via practical measures is quite another.
Yet even for his words and his thoughts, Macron is being punished by Islamists — turned into a global hate figure to be crushed pour decourager les autres. Leaders of Muslim-majority countries have stoked this, while the further targeting of France by Islamist terrorists is surely a cold-eyed strategy rather than merely a hot-blooded or spontaneous response from the streets.
If Macron’s mission can be destroyed then, no doubt the thinking goes, other Western leaders can be contained. Islamists can trap the West within an establishment mindset that seeks to appease extremists and to continue in the pretense that so-called 'Islamophobia' is a bigger threat to a tolerant society than is Islamism itself.
The real phobia is the fear of publicly identifying Islamism as the biggest threat to a liberal way of life. Via his clarity of thought and moral courage, Emmanuel Macron has conquered his fear. The British political class lags a long way behind.