The French Interior Minister has promised to root out the extremists after a grisly murder in Paris. By saying that he wants to preserve a typically French way of life, he risks the perception that he is targeting not only Islamists, but all Muslims.
Almost six years after the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, France is still looking for ways to fight extremism and Gerald Darmanin argues that minority groups that remain within their own communities are more vulnerable to radicalization. His vision for the country includes fewer halal butchers, ethnic clothing stores, and even specialty supermarket aisles.
“It always shocked me to walk into a supermarket and see a shelf devoted to food from one community, and another next to it,” Darmanin said on French television on Tuesday. “Some people need to understand that gaining market share by appealing to basic instincts does not necessarily contribute to the common good.”
As the country tries to come to terms with the beheading of a teacher in a leafy suburb of the capital, Darmanin, 38, has become the public face of a repression that stirs sentiment against the wider Muslim community.
“France is at war,” said Darmanin the day after the murder. “The question is not: will we have another stroke? The question is: when? ”
As far-right nationalist Marine le Pen prepares another bitter fight for the 2022 elections and the left wing seeks new alternatives, President Emmanuel Macron is trying to convince conservative voters. In July, he handed over the crucial security portfolio to Darmanin, who has a North African working class origin and an uncompromising commitment to France’s secular values.
These ideas were shaped by his grandfather, an Algerian Muslim whom he calls “hero of the Republic”, who fought alongside the French during the War of Independence, and to whom he dedicated a 2016 essay. on secularism and Islam.
A Sarkozy Protected
In the essay, Darmanin advocates the particular French conception of religion – that its expression should be private and protected, kept outside the public sphere. He defends the idea of state-supported Islam for the country’s estimated 5 million Muslims and calls for a ban on clothing that “tends to discriminate against women.”
It is not Islam that he cannot tolerate, he says, it is extremism. His office points out that when he was mayor of Tourcoing, a city in northern France, he supported the construction of a new mosque and gave a speech when it opened.
Darmanin has appeared on the national stage as a protégé of former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy and lashed out at Macron during his election campaign, saying he should be ashamed of calling French colonization the Algeria of a crime against humanity and to qualify it as “poison” For the country.
Instead of holding a grudge, Macron rewarded Darmanin with the budget ministry, before elevating him to the post of interior minister – despite rape allegations dating back to 2009. The complaint was dismissed by an examining magistrate , but recently reopened after the Paris appeals court said it should have conducted its own investigations instead of relying on prosecutors’ findings. All of this makes some people close to the president uncomfortable with Darmanin’s appointment.
He says the deal was consensual and Macron says he believes him.
During his first days of work, Darmanin clarified his view of the world. He encountered the police but ignored community groups alarmed by racism within the force. He said he wanted to “prevent certain segments of society from reverting to savagery”, a phrase more commonly used by the far right to refer to Arab and African communities.
And then he told lawmakers he views police violence as “legitimate”, adding that he “chokes” when he hears about police excesses. In a world angry after George Floyd died at the hands of cops in Minneapolis, this was an incredible word for a politician to choose.
Darmanin is driven by a sort of frenzied energy. He has made about 60 trips across the country since coming to power, despite the pandemic, and appears frequently on radio, television and social media.
He tweeted in defense of women’s right to topless sunbathing and the right to blasphemy, which is enshrined in French law as part of free speech.
Mostly, however, it focuses on security. A person close to him acknowledges that his frequent comments on the subject risk exaggerating the threats, but says the goal is to help Macron “reclaim the semantics of security.”
Darmanin’s views on Islam and secularism run through Macron’s bill to fight extremism, unveiled shortly before Samuel Paty’s beheading. At the time, the president was criticized for cynically pursuing conservative voters. Today, as calls for public order are growing, the proposals are seen in a new light.
When the news of the beheading hit French television screens, Darmanin was already on a plane back to France, having cut short a trip to Rabat where he discussed illegal immigration with Moroccan officials. He rushed to the crime scene and stood by Macron’s side as he defended French values and pledged that radical Islamists “will not pass.”
Darmanin has an unwavering sense of self-confidence, once telling the Bondy Blog news site: “I have no doubts. It’s not about being pretentious, but I never wonder if what I do is going to be successful. The idea never occurs to me.
Friends say he is endearing and jovial, and knows the stories of all Christian saints and the lyrics of popular French songs. Sometimes he spontaneously sings a cappella.
And he is not afraid of “truthful hyperbole.” He prides himself, for example, on not graduating from elite French schools when in fact he studied at Sciences Po in northern France and attended a posh school in the wealthiest region of Paris. He described his mother, a janitor at the Banque de France, as a cleaning lady.
Darmanin’s point about extremists seeking to spread their ideology in closed communities is not new. A recent book entitled “The Emirates of the Republic: How the Islamists Take Control of the Suburbs” by François Pupponi, mayor of Sarcelles near Paris for 20 years, underlined how the issue has often been linked to “the suburbs. , ”Or projects, in France.
The three attackers in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, for example, came from underprivileged corners of Paris, and two of them were brainwashed by a charismatic figure in a local mosque.
The measures announced by Darmanin after Paty was murdered by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee – the expulsion of suspected radicals and the dissolution of groups and mosques that he says promote Islamism – are not new either. They downplay many of the root causes of radicalization, such as social, political and economic grievances; a sense of injustice and discrimination, and they are difficult to implement.
A person close to Darmanin said public opinion was ready for his message, but observers are skeptical.
Pierre Birnbaum, French historian and sociologist, says his approach does not take into account the diversity of the country. “There was the idea that France was a unified Republic, much more than the United States or the United Kingdom,” he said, “but in practice, it actually accepts many compromises” .
“Will he be able to solve the problems on the ground? I’m not sure – interior ministers come and go and the situation doesn’t change, ”said Haoues Seniger, professor at Sciences Po in Lyon. “You can educate people in school and promote debate, but you cannot make rules about how people see the world.”
But with the left in disarray and much of it comfortable with authoritarianism anyway, Macron is betting none of it matters.