“We Americans are afraid for the future of the French universal ideal”

Tribune. Since the beheading of Samuel Paty, the French have been indignant at the supposed inability of the American press to recognize the specific character of Islamist terrorism which targets France and to understand the fundamental values ​​of the Republic. Partly justified indignation.

I confess that I felt it myself when one of my debates colleagues tweeted – from Washington – that the new French law on “separatism” provided for to assign an identification number to Muslim children born on French territory. I have read other glaring untruths, such as the absurd comparison, by a journalist from the New Yorker, of French secularism with the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism. These comments fall exactly into the caricature that the French denounce.

I remember similar excesses each time this endless debate between France and the United States resurfaces on these delicate questions of religion, identity and universalism.

But the tensions are this time up a notch: the President of the Republic, particularly sensitive to his image abroad, has personally embarked on the battle, accusing journalists like me of projecting their cultural biases on France and not grasp its true identity.

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“There is a form of misunderstanding of what the European model is, in particular the French model”, explains Emmanuel Macron to New York Times. In all humility, I have to say that I do not agree with the president. I would say precisely the opposite: we understand the French model and we fear for the future of its universal ideal – an ideal that I personally hold dear.

Confusion between Muslim and Islamist

Since my arrival in France in 2015, and even more after the last series of attacks, I have observed a hardening of the discourse on universalism. No one denies the need to fight Islamist terrorism, which has killed more than 260 people in France since 2012. But, especially since the terrifying beheading of Samuel Paty, some public statements worry me – first and foremost, those of Mr. Macron -, who confuse the Muslim religion and Islamism, isolating and stigmatizing a whole religious minority of the French community, at a time when the country most needs national unity.

I am extremely struck by the rhetoric of the Servants of the Republic. The current Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, in the midst of the trial of the alleged accomplices of the Hyper Cacher attack, attacked the halal and kosher meat shelves in supermarkets: according to him, the marketing of these products is part of communitarianism and fuels the “separatism” against which the government is fighting. And this is not just another unfortunate remark: the minister is behind repressive measures targeting Muslim organizations whom he accuses of being complicit in terrorist violence. This feeds the confusion in the minds between Muslim and Islamist.

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