Unfortunately for the French electorate, Macron failed to deliver on that promise to stem the rise of the far right. Following her victory in 2017, the political landscape changed dramatically, with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party being the main beneficiary.
During his first term, the Macron administration flirted with the same right-wing themes that fueled Le Pen’s rise, including Islam, security and immigration. Indeed, the entire political landscape in France is not immune to the lure of policies that have profound effects on anyone who was not born White and on French soil.
Whether or not Macron retains his seat, the effects of the creeping acceptance of the premises that fuel Le Pen’s rise will be profound.
But over the past 10 years, the threat has expanded from public safety to include Muslims seen as an existential threat to the cultural identity of so-called “traditional France.”
While Macron is seen as an alternative to the far right, he has also attempted to play both sides – putting on a liberal face to international audiences, while quietly embracing the very policies the far right has championed at home. .
To lead this charge, Macron appointed Gérald Darmanin to the Interior Ministry, one of France’s most powerful ministries. Darmanin polarized the electorate with unwavering support for the French police, gaining strong support from influential police unions while alienating much of the left.
The anti-separatism bill was part of Macron’s strategy ahead of the 2022 presidential election to cut the far-right’s veils a bit.
Under the terms of the law, non-profit organizations are subject to the signing of a “republican commitment contract” – by which they undertake to respect freedom, equality, fraternity, human dignity and public order. Consequently, public authorities can arbitrarily refuse, claim reimbursement or withdraw support from associations that they deem not to respect these values.
Some associations fear that the core of their activities (such as support for undocumented migrants or human rights activist groups denouncing discriminatory government policies) will be seen as a violation of public order and therefore , lose their funding.
Meanwhile, Le Pen has done his own version of a facelift, downplaying the harsher elements of his platform, while refusing to concede the underlying ideology pioneered by his party over the years. last 30 years.
But since the 1990s, the understanding of secularism has evolved and has been interpreted as limiting religious expressions, more specifically Muslim ones. This was mainly implemented through legislation restricting the wearing of visible religious symbols, in particular the wearing of the headscarf by some Muslim women.
While Macron’s statement was disconcerting, as he is unlikely to have asked such a question of a Catholic nun wearing a veil, a Jew wearing a yarmulke, or a Sikh wearing a turban, the president is clearly trying to make backtracking on the actions of his administration and pretending that measures like the anti-separatism law never happened.
Once again, Muslims, and in particular Muslim women, are instrumentalized for electoral purposes. No matter who wins the election, the far right has already won. They shape the agenda of French political debate. If Le Pen doesn’t win this time, she or someone like her will most likely win another time.
There is a need to proactively and constructively engage with Muslims, implement anti-discrimination programs and stop weaponizing secularism as a tool of political identity. Muslims are simply not the threat that some politicians and pundits claim to be. France must allow Muslims to be full French citizens, to express their identity openly and honestly, in a way that is both true to their faith and unambiguously French.
Whether Macron or Le Pen wins this weekend or not, there is no doubt that the political landscape is changing under the feet of French voters.