Macron accuses English-language media of 'legitimising' violence in France

Adam Gabbatt in New York
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Facing protests in the Muslim world over his response to terror attacks in France, President Emmanuel Macron phoned a New York Times media columnist to rail against “bias” in the English-language media and accuse some newspapers of “legitimising this violence”.

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In the New York Times interview, Macron claimed media outside France did not understand the concept of the separation of church and state, and condemned newspapers which criticised France’s policy towards Muslims.

Macron has been the subject of protests for his perceived attacks on Islam, after he backed the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad and claimed in a speech that Islam “is in crisis all over the world today”. Protesters in some countries have called for a boycott of French products.

Speaking to the New York Times, Macron reiterated his anger at some of the English-language media’s response to recent attacks by Islamist terrorists in France.

Samuel Paty, a teacher, was beheaded on 16 October, after he showed his class cartoons from the magazine Charlie Hebdo, which mocked Muhammad, during a debate on free speech. On 29 October, three people were killed in an attack in a church in Nice.

“When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us,” Macron said, referring to the series of terrorist attacks across Paris in November 2015 in which 130 people were killed.

“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values – journalists who write in a country that is the heir to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution – when I see them legitimising this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”

Macron, France’s president since 2017, could be pitted against far-right politician Marine Le Pen at the polls in 2022.

He said foreign media did not understand the concept of “laïcité” – secularism, or the separation between church and state.

“There is a sort of misunderstanding about what the European model is, and the French model in particular,” Macron said. “American society used to be segregationist before it moved to a multiculturalist model, which is essentially about coexistence of different ethnicities and religions next to one another.”

Macron described the French model as “universalist, not multiculturalist”. He said: “In our society, I don’t care whether someone is Black, yellow or white, whether they are Catholic or Muslim. A person is first and foremost a citizen.”

At the start of October, Macron announced a series of measures to combat “radical Islamism”, including placing greater control over mosques and the requirement that imams are trained and certified in France. Some English-language newspapers have been critical of Macron.

On Thursday, Amnesty International criticized the president and his government, saying they had “doubled down on their perpetual smear campaign against French Muslims, and launched their own attack on freedom of expression”.

In a report, the charity pointed to the conviction in 2019 of two men who burned an effigy of Macron at a protest, and suggested Muslims did not enjoy the same freedoms as others in France.

“While the right to express opinion or views that may be perceived as offending religious beliefs is strenuously defended,” the report said, “Muslims’ freedoms of expression and religion usually receive scant attention in France under the disguise of Republican universalism.

“In the name of secularism, or laïcité, Muslims in France cannot wear religious symbols or dress in schools or in public sector jobs.”

Macron’s call to the Times came after he told a French journal Europe must work to be a challenger to China and the US if it is to thrive.

“The changeover of the administration in America,” he said, “is an opportunity to to pursue in a truly peaceful and calm manner what allies need to understand among themselves – which is that we need to continue to build our independence for ourselves, as the US does for itself and as China does for itself.”