Will Macron’s New Laws Against Islamism Alienate Turkey Even Further?

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new law against religious “separatism” intended to free Islam in France from “foreign influences.” These new measures are intended to “defend the republic and its values” from radical Islamism and terrorism according to the President.

How Will the New Law Work?

The French President offered a carrot-and-stick approach: local officials will be provided extra legal power to tackle extremism while money will be invested in education – particularly emphasizing positive and moderate aspects of Islamic culture and civilization – and to combat other social problems such as housing and poverty.

Macron’s speech was only a broad outline of measures yet to come, which he said will be drawn up in the next two weeks for a law to be presented in December.

Other measures include placing mosques under greater control and requiring that imams are trained and certified in France.

Macron’s New Law Makes Sense Domestically

From a domestic point of view, it is understandable why the French President intends to implement this long-awaited legislation. Radical Islamism has been an issue in France since 2012. During that year, three horrific shootings took place in Toulouse and police killed the man who was behind those attacks: an al-Qaeda loyalist called Mohamed Merah.

Fourteen people have recently gone on trial over the deadly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which triggered a wave of violence by Islamic State across Europe. The defendants are accused of being accomplices to the attacks in January 2015, which also targeted a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket. This proves that the timing of the French President’s latest legislation is no coincidence.

The legislation is also proving to be popular in France. An Odoxa-Dentsu poll this month suggests that more than three-quarters of respondents supported anti-separatism legislation, even though more than half worried it might deepen divisions within France.

Furthermore, what is empowering the French Government’s argument is another recent survey conducted by IFOP, which found that some 74 percent of Muslims under 25 are more loyal to their faith than the French Republic. If these poll results are accurate, then it proves that the threat of radical Islamism has not been exaggerated by Macron.

Macron’s Proposed Law Has Angered Turkey

However, the new legislation has sparked controversy in Turkey at a time when relations between Ankara and Paris have reached a new low. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has slammed Macron’s “Islamic separatism” remarks for being what they call a distorted approach. They added that the law will crack down on migrant communities in France through the establishment of fabricated pretexts.

It has certainly been a dramatic year for the relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his French counterpart for the following reasons. Firstly, both leaders clashed over a French ship that was carrying out checks on a Turkish vessel off the coast of Libya that was suspected of breaking a UN arms embargo to the country.

In September, Macron attempted to intervene in the standoff between Greece and Cyprus on one side and Turkey on the other over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the eastern Mediterranean. The French increased their military presence in the region after naval exercises by Athens and Ankara in August. The French leader’s actions provoked Erdoğan into issuing Macron with a warning to “back off.” The situation has also caused the EU to threaten Turkey with sanctions.

The Start of a Turkish-French Cold War?

In Macron’s defense, his intention is probably not to provoke Turkey further with his new anti-extremism laws, but his timing is poor given the recent history between Ankara and Paris.

Either way, as Muhittin Ataman writes for the Daily Sabah, France has been pursuing a policy of isolating Turkey by forming an alliance with countries like Israel and Greece designed to suppress Erdoğan’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean. Paris has also been focused on working to restrict Ankara’s influence in the Middle East and North Africa. It is no wonder the Turkish President is sensitive to his French counterpart’s new anti-extremism legislation as he no doubt believes that one hidden intention behind it is to isolate Erdoğan even further.

Domestically, Macron’s new legislation makes sense and it will be interesting to see if other European nations follow his lead. Equally, Erdoğan will use it as political capital to rally support for his tough stance toward the French Government. The French President’s proposed law could be interpreted as another unintended step to provoke a potential cold war between France and Turkey.