December has not started off well for French President Emmanuel Macron. During a televised interview with the online portal Brut, he denied that many of his proposed reforms to tackle Islamism are designed to eradicate France’s freedoms, calling such claims “a big lie.”
Macron added that “we are not Hungary or Turkey,” hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the French leader “trouble” and urged French voters to “get rid of him as soon as possible.”
The accusations emerged after some commentaries in the English-speaking media accused Macron of targeting all Muslims in response to a spate of attacks in the last few weeks attributed to violent Islamists.
Macron Denies Picking on Muslims
Macron denies that he is singling out Muslims and insisted that politics and religion should always be separate in French society. It comes at a time when France is also dealing with increasing racial tensions and social strife.
Tensions are also brewing in France as a result of the police beating of black music producer Michel Zecler, which resulted in four police officers being charged.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced after the attack that he would completely rewrite a draft of the new security law that the French President intends to push through the National Assembly.
The original security legislation was designed to curb the right to film police officers in action after large protests at the end of November drew 133,000 people nationwide, and 46,000 in Paris alone.
A provision in the draft law referred to as Article 24, an essential measure in Macron’s plan to court right-wing voters by being tougher on law and order ahead of his anticipated 2022 re-election bid, had sparked fury among the media and the left flank of his own party.
Article 24 made it a crime – punishable by a year in prison and a €45,000 fine – to share images of the police with an “obvious intention to cause harm,” such as demanding violence.
New Security Bill Would Give Police Officers More Protection
However, the aim of the broader security bill is to provide better protection for police officers.
Though many view this security legislation as a cynical attempt to win right-wing voters, there is nothing wrong with its purpose. In an age of social media and smartphones, it is easy to undermine police officers who are trying to do their job by filming them and exposing them on the internet, even if certain footage captures them acting within the parameters of the law.
Of course, there are times when the police can break the law and smartphones can be a useful way to capture officers who are engaging in police brutality. Yet Article 24 does not prevent people from filming police officers altogether, and there is a public interest to ensure that the police respect the laws of the nation that they have been entrusted to uphold.
Macron is Trying to Defend French Values
Regarding Macron’s anti-Islamist bill — as I wrote earlier this year — local officials will be provided extra legal power to tackle extremism while money will be invested in education. This is particularly aimed at emphasizing positive and moderate aspects of Islamic culture and civilization. The bill will also focus on combating other social problems such as housing and poverty that feed into extremism. This law does not intend to segregate Muslims, and in fact it is an attempt by the French President to protect France’s values like freedom of speech and the rights of French citizens. It also aims to prevent Islamic extremism in France.
The only disappointing outcome of the French President’s anti-Islamist law is that many European nations have not jumped to Macron’s defense in response to authoritarian leaders like Erdoğan who have publicly condemned the French Government. Macron has set an example here that many Western nations should follow and they should be defending him.
These laws will be good for France in the long-term. They will uphold the rule of law and curb the rise of Islamic extremism at a time when the number of terrorist attacks in the country has increased since the last decade. If Macron wants to capitalize upon his support among conservative voters and do what is best for all French citizens he must stick to his convictions.