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Roving Periscope: Is Macron Charles The Hammer in 21st century?

Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: The signs are unmistakable. Thirteen centuries later, France is emerging again as Europe’s bulwark against Islamists.

It remains to be seen if French President Immanuel Macron would be the Charles Martel (Charles The Hammer) of our century.

Charles Martel (688-741) was the de facto ruler of France from 718 until his death. He decisively defeated a Muslim invasion of Aquitaine at the Battle of Tours in 732, in what historians see as the most important act which preserved western culture.

Earlier, the Muslims had conquered Spain and Portugal in the same year (711) they conquered Sindh (India) in the east. Drawing inspiration from Charles The Hammer, Spain launched a long series of military campaigns, Reconquista, to re-conquest the Iberian Peninsula for Christianity. In 1492, Spain completed this push back by expelling the last of the “Moors”, as the Muslims were then known in Europe.

In the last few decades, a large number of Muslim “refugees’ from Africa, the Middle East, and other countries have flooded European countries. France, due to its secular policies, has come to house the largest number of Muslims in the western world due chiefly to migration from its former colonies and other nations. According to a Pew Research Report of 2017, the Muslim population of France was nearly 9 percent of the total population (5.7 million out of 67 million).

France has, therefore, emerged as the hub of Islamic militants of all shades. In several Muslim-dominated areas, they have imposed Shariat rules and controlled various institutions where the French law no longer applies. In neighboring Belgium, too, Islamic militants have come to control local bodies in some areas.

With Brexit, the European Union is weakening and the European Parliament is increasingly rendered ineffective. Electoral politics in many countries are now being dictated by short-sighted and selfish “secular” forces, as they were in India until 2014, to the detriment of national interests. These developments over the last two-to-three decades have weakened even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), based in Brussels, Belgium. An example of how weak NATO has become is the current spat between two of its own members, France and Turkey.

A century after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed Turkey back from secularism to Islamism. Fancying to emerge as the New Caliph-cum-Sultan, he is trying to revive the dead Empire, and helping all shades of Islamic militants all over the world.

In particular, he is trying to unite the non-Arab Muslims under his leadership. In 2019, his attempted to create such a club within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with help from Pakistan and Malaysia, was torpedoed by Saudi Arabia.

His ‘grand’ vision has alerted Arab kingdoms as well who have now veered closer to the erstwhile arch-enemy, Israel. Arab nations like Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Bahrain now have treaties with Tel Aviv as a bulwark against the designs of Turkey to merge these countries back into the Ottoman Empire if and when it is rejuvenated.

It is in this context that the developments in France and Europe become important. After the recent killing of a teacher by a Chechen militant youth in Paris over the Prophet Muhammad cartoon issue, European nations have closed ranks in support of French President Emmanuel Macron who is taking decisive and firm against Islamic militants.

He has also urged the Arab nations to understand the complexities involved and shun Islamic militancy. That is why the Arab nations’ reaction has been muted.

This has further split the Muslim world. Non-Arab nations like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Morocco, and others have condemned France.

Recently, Macron had described Islam as a religion “in crisis,” and announced plans for tougher laws to weed out “Islamist separatism” in France. His statement came after the gruesome killing of a teacher by an 18-year-old youth of Chechen origin. The youth beheaded Samuel Paty, 47, in broad daylight, near his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a Paris suburb, for showing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to his students.

The attacker posted a photo of the teacher’s decapitation on Twitter before being shot and killed by the police. The French media said the teenager had been in touch with Paty before the killing.

The killing suddenly made France, and Europe, boil with rage as anti-Muslim demonstrations were organized at several places. Subsequently, France closed several mosques in an unprecedented crackdown in hotspot areas and even posthumously conferred the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, on Paty in a ceremony attended by President Emmanuel Macron.

The French government also launched a crackdown against more than 50 Muslim organizations as agitated vigilante groups attacked mosques.

This was part of Macron’s October 2 plan against “Islamist separatism”. Last week, France said it was conducting multiple raids and would expel more than 200 Muslim militants from the country.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has also proposed to ban the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an organization that claims to track anti-Muslim hate crimes. He lambasted CCIF as an “enemy of the republic” and hinted at dissolving several other organizations.

Fifteen people have been arrested as part of an investigation into the killing, including the assailant’s family members, reports said.

In September also, two stabbings were reported outside the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad at the start of the trial for those suspected of involvement in January 2015, attacks which killed 17 people.

With growing concerns about Islamic radicalization in France and the rest of Europe, Macron is mulling a new law to push religion further out of education and the public sector in the country and aims to strengthen “laicite”, France’s strict separation of church and state.

It would, among other things, let the state monitor international funding coming into French mosques, limit home-schooling to prevent Muslim schools from being run by what Macron cited as “religious extremists”, and create a special certificate program for imams to be trained in France.

France was where the Muslim expansion in Europe was halted in the eighth century.

And France was where the First Crusade began…

Is France now launching the Last Crusade?

And will Macron become the Charles The Hammer reborn?