Rabat – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at French President Emmanuel Macron over his remarks on Islam. Macron had used an October 2 speech to claim Islam was “in crisis” worldwide, prompting a global backlash. Erdogan joined the outrage at Macron’s statements in a speech to Turkish religious workers on Tuesday, accusing Macron of disrespect and ignorance.
Erdogan called Macron’s remarks on Islam an “open provocation,” according to state-sponsored Anadolu News Agency. The Turkish president said the remarks were especially tone-deaf as Macron spoke from a Muslim-majority neigborhood in Paris. Approximately 10-15% of Parisians are adherents of Islam and Muslims make up a majority of Paris’ immigrant population.
President Erdogan called Macron’s statements against Islam worldwide a “clear provocation.” He stated that Macron was “rude” and had no business demanding reforms in a religion that is not his own.
Erdogan pointed to growing xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe as the motivation behind Macron’s speech. “Attacking Muslims has become one of the most important tools for European politicians to hide their failure,” Erdogan told the crowd. Demonizing Islam to avoid an introspective dialogue in Europe is part of “cheap” tactics employed by “fascist groups,” he said.
While many in the Islamic world disagree with Erdogan’s governing style and foreign policy ambitions, his analysis of and push-back on Macron’s remarks will likely garner some support. Erdogan considered the speech to be a part of domestic politics, an effort to appease increasingly Islamophobic voters who are likely to support parties opposing Macron.
“European leaders who are stuck in domestic politics and failed in foreign policy try to cover up their inadequacy by targeting Islam,” Erdogan stated. He accused Macron of trying to “hide the crisis that France and French society face” and saw the move as a push to “settle accounts with Islam and Muslims.”
Erdogan directly accused Macron of fueling tensions by stigmatizing the French Muslim population while protecting Islamophobes and racists. Macron, he said, is harming French society more by encouraging racism and Islamophobia and should not “pretend to be a colonial governor.”
Islam in crisis
Macron’s October 2 remarks singled out Islam as a perceived threat to French secularism. “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country,” the French president said. His speech mixed references to Islamic radicalism, islamic seperatism, and Islam as a whole in a problematic fashion.
Macron fed on national angst following the stabbing of several people by two Muslim immigrants near the former office of controversial satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. The stabbings followed the reprint of images of the Islamic prophet, which Muslims see as a grave offense. Amid national fear of extremism, Macron appears to make an effort to not lose xenophobic voters to the openly Islamophobic National Front.
The National Front narrowly beat Macron’s party in the 2019 European Parliamentary election and has gained in approval polls since March. The French president appeared eager to reverse this trend by promoting his own brand of anti-Islam policies that are popular among Europe’s growing segment of xenophobic and racist voters.
Crisis in Europe
Macron’s focus on Islam appears to gloss over, and further mainstream, the growing extremism among Europe’s far-right. As Erdogan pointed out, Macron’s remarks only further fuel the growing acceptance of racism in European society.
Europe experienced a slowly growing internal awareness of its historically destructive and predatory colonialism in its museums and textbooks over the last decade. However, economic hardship and shrinking opportunities appear to again reharden opinions on the continent. Macron and other mainstream neoliberal politicians are increasingly reaching for xenophobia as a scapegoat.
After nearly four decades of center-right neoliberal economics in Europe, the continent is left more unequal and with ever-shrinking public services. The blame for this growing crisis is the politicians who instituted those changes, not the relatively powerless Muslim minorities.
While Erdogan receives little praise in the Islamic world, the Turkish president’s analysis of Macron’s remarks is likely to garner temporary sympathy.