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Across France, thousands took to the streets on Sunday to protest the assassination of a teacher. The stakes for President Emmanuel Macron are great. His response to this crisis won't simply shape his legacy, but the future of the Fifth Republic itself.
Samuel Paty was beheaded on Friday by an Islamic terrorist. The terrorist apparently targeted Paty after learning that he had shown his class a photo of Charlie Hebdo's famous Prophet Mohammed magazine cover. That cover led to a January 2015 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the murder of 12 innocent people. Charlie Hebdo recently republished the cartoon to coincide with a trial of individuals over the original attack. But the follow-up publication itself led to an extremist knife attack in which two people were wounded. The context, here, is crucial.
Yet, although this latest extremist outrage involves only one victim, in contrast to the 130 killed in the November 2015 ISIS attacks on Paris, Paty's murder carries special significance. Murdered for educating his students on secularism and free speech, Paty is a martyr for sacred French values. He is seen as a victim of a war for the future of France. One retired teacher encapsulated this sentiment at Sunday's protest in Paris. Holding a sign inscribed, "Zero tolerance for all enemies of the Republic," the retiree told Figaro, "I am very shocked. There was Charlie [Hebdo], the Hyper Cacher, the Bataclan, the slain priest, the police. . That's enough! Now we need firmness!" Macron must grapple with this anger. But as he does, the president must also confront the sustaining truth that too many Muslims feel excluded from their nation's identity.
To be sure, Macron is likely to leap at this new challenge.
Whether he's trying to broker a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, or corral a new political understanding in Lebanon, or reform France's bloated pension system, Macron is not one to shy away from complex issues. And to some degree, Macron has given himself a head start. In an early October speech, Macron promised legislation designed to prevent Islamic radicalization and promote a healthier synthesis between political Islam and France's democratic values. Pledging new restrictions on home schooling and extremist Imams, Macron also addressed France's failure to successfully integrate Muslim youths into society. "We built a concentration of misery and difficulties," Macron observed. "We concentrated populations according to origin and social milieu, we created neighborhoods where the promise of the Republic was never kept and where these most radical forms [of Islamism] became sources of hope."
Those words will ring true with many Muslim young men living on unemployment benefits in France's run down "banlieues" city suburbs. While far more often characterized by acts of symbolic and formal separatism than by actual terrorism, Islamism in these areas has fed resentment under an exclusionary understanding of 'Frenchness.' Many of these young Muslims of color believe they are destined forever to be second class citizens. As these sentiments have become more pervasive and powerful, they have fueled support for a separate Salafi-identity outside of French civil society. Over time this has reached state structures, especially at local levels. Evincing as much, one of Macron's planned reforms is to prevent local authorities from segregating swimming pool access for men and women. Macron's challenge, however, is that new rules and expanded economic opportunity won't alone reverse this separatist trend. The government's ban on Islamic face coverings, for example, has fed deep resentment without any obvious benefit for promoting social inclusion. Over time, only a matching of new opportunity, expectation, and education will help French civil society close ranks.
Macron must be bold. Absent that endeavor, the social fissures which facilitate attacks such as that on Paty will only widen. And if Macron can't show some measure of progress by 2022, his reelection campaign will have a soft underbelly ripe for targeting by the hardline nationalist, Marine Le Pen.
Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, France, Islamism, Islamic State, Mali, Paris, Emmanuel Macron, Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Original Author: Tom Rogan
Original Location: France's overdue reckoning with Islamist extremism