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Muslims’ rage at Macron threatens to escalate tensions across Europe

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Maybe he knew what he was doing. Maybe he didn’t. Either way, Emmanuel Macron set France and Europe on a new collision course with the Islamic world last month – all in the name of freedom. Last week’s spate of lethal terror attacks suggests the French president may have started something he cannot finish.

Macron’s impassioned speech on 2 October, vowing to fight “radical Islamism”, eradicate “separatism” and uphold secular values at all costs, foreshadowed this latest crisis. It was seen at the time as a mainly domestic political exercise, intended to spike the guns of France’s far right before his 2022 election campaign.

But Muslim leaders were enraged by Macron’s description of Islam as a faith “in crisis all over the world” that had, in effect, been hijacked by extremists. Then, two weeks later, after the murder of a Paris schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, by a foreign-born Islamist, an undaunted Macron doubled down. His defence of the notorious, recently republished Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which Paty had shown to pupils, and a national crackdown on mosques, imams and Islamic groups added fuel to the fire. France itself was “under attack”, Macron dramatically declared, a phrase he repeated on Thursday.

Political and religious leaders from Bangladesh to Jordan and anti-French demonstrators publicly vented their fury, accusing him of doing “Satan’s work”. Much of what he said was misunderstood or purposefully distorted. Truth was a casualty, too.

Yet the fact remained: by loudly and uncompromisingly championing French values, Macron had managed simultaneously to outrage mainstream Muslim opinion and, apparently, to energise extremists.

The immediate, grim result,........

© The Guardian

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