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French President Macron accuses American media of 'legitimizing' Islamist violence

'When I see them legitimizing 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'

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron accused American media of "bias" and of "legitimizing" Islamic violence in a phone call with a New York Times columnist, the paper reported Sunday.

Macron called Times media columnist Ben Smith to complain about how American media has covered the French government's response to terrorism. During the call, Macron argued that English-language coverage of recent Islamic terror attacks in France and the French government's crackdown on Islamic extremism in response has been unfairly characterized as racist or Islamophobic by the media.

"When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us," President Macron said, referring to the Nov. 13, 2015, coordinated terrorist attacks at the Bataclan theater, outside a soccer stadium, and at Parisian cafes.

"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 legitimizing 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," he continued.

The Times reports that more than 250 people have died in terror attacks in France since 2015. Last month, a French teacher was beheaded by a Chechen refugee in apparent retaliation for showing his class a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Following that attack, three more people were brutally assaulted and one of them was beheaded inside a church in Nice.

In response to the threat of Islamic terror, Marcon's administration ordered a crackdown on extremism, initiating raids of suspected terrorists' homes, dissolving associations accused of spreading Islamic propaganda, and targeting terrorist funding. Macron has also denounced what he calls "Islamist separatism." In a major speech delivered in October, Macron said Muslims living in France under their own religious laws and within their own religious communities present a danger to the country by forming a "counter-society." He announced several policies that are intended to make Islam in France inclusive of French citizenship, including strictly monitoring sports organizations and other associations to stop the spread of Islamist teaching; ending the practices of imams being sent to France from abroad; increasing oversight of funding for mosques; and restricting homeschooling. The goal, as Macron states, is to craft a modern "Islam of the Enlightenment."

Muslims around the world have called for boycotts against French goods and responded with outrage to the French government's policies. An opinion article published by the Financial Times on Nov. 3 declared, "Macron's war on Islamic separatism only divides France further," arguing Macron's policies were alienating peaceful Muslims.

Macron's critics in the media have accused him of implementing policies that discriminate against the Islamic faith, but Macron says American media doesn't understand the French policy of "laïcité," or "secularism." The French government maintains an active separation of church an state, and the purpose of these policies is to ensure that the practice of Islam in France respects French law and French citizenship.

"We don't believe in political Islam that is not compatible with stability and peace in the world," Macron said in October. He defined "Islamist separatism" as "a conscious, theorised, politico-religious project, which is materialised by repeated discrepancies with the values of the republic, which often results in the creation of a counter-society and whose manifestations are the dropping out of school of children, the development of sports, cultural and communal practices which are the pretext for the teaching of principles which do not conform to the laws of the republic"

Macron believes America's experience with racism has biased the media's judgement and caused a misunderstanding of what the French government is trying to accomplish.

"There is a sort of misunderstanding about what the European model is, and the French model in particular," Macron told the Times. "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."

"Our model is universalist, not multiculturalist," he continued. "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."

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