Gavin Mortimer Gavin Mortimer

Meet Macron’s nemesis: the ‘Malcolm X of French Muslims’

Emmanuel Macron is becoming quite the curmudgeon in attacking those who don’t conform to his view of the migrant crisis. The French president has said the Italian government is “cynical and irresponsible”, likened populism to “leprosy” and demanded fines be levied against EU states that don’t take their share of migrants. The Italians, increasingly exasperated with the French president, have hit back – labelling him a “chatterbox”.

There is a subject, however, on which Macron has gone uncharacteristically quiet in recent months: Islam. During last year’s presidential campaign it was the one issue on which he appeared uncomfortable when challenged by Marine Le Pen. His response was not to offer a strategy for combating the rise of Islamic extremism in France but to attack the National Front, warning that a vote for Le Pen could lead to a civil war.

In the months after the election, the silence continued. Then, at the beginning of this year, he announced that he wanted a “restructuring of Islam in France”, promising to unveil the details in April. That date was subsequently pushed back to May, then June, and on Monday evening, Gérard Collomb, France’s Interior Minister, issued a statement saying that from now until September, France’s Muslims will be consulted on the best way to “organise Islam within the framework of our Republican institutions”.

The complexity of the task means that this procrastination isn’t much of a surprise. Leaders who have tried to reform Islam – such as Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi – have run into similar problems; al-Sisi has got nowhere in two years of trying to introduce changes. While it’s prudent of Macron not to rush out a half-baked plan, the delay will fuel the view on the right that France’s president lacks the determination and the realism to defeat the Islamists’ ideology.

It may even encourage far-right extremists to take matters into their own hands.

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