PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged France’s Muslim community to intensify the fight against “separatism” by hardening its rhetoric against Islamic radicalism following a deadly attack on the country.
Macron, a centrist whose main political rival at home is right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, tried to show that he is seriously repressing Islamic radicalism in France following the Oct. 3 attack by a Muslim convert at police headquarters on Paris that left four people dead.
In a pre-recorded interview with the RTL radio broadcast on Monday, Macron said he plans to fight alongside Muslim leaders against religious sectarianism and resistance among some French Muslims to integrate.
“It is a fact that a form of separatism has taken root in some parts of our republic, that is, a desire not to live together and not to be in the republic,” he said. “It’s in the name of one religion, Islam,” he added.
Hours after Macron’s comments, an octogenarian shot and badly injured two other men, 74 and 78, who surprised him as he tried to set fire to the door of a mosque in Bayonne, southwestern France. The man was later arrested near his home.
After the incident, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner offered his “solidarity and support to the Muslim community.”
Macron on Monday welcomed representatives of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) to press for joint efforts between the government and Muslims to crack down on radicalism.
Castaner, who attended the meeting, pointed out that Macron urged CFCM leaders to “fight alongside the state” against sectarianism and Islam. The president said he wanted to see a “change of pace” of the council to wage a genuine fight against radicalism.
CFCM Vice President Anouar Kbibech, who was present at the Elysée talks, said the council will now make “very strong announcements” about the fight against radicalism at an extraordinary meeting convened on Tuesday.
In recent years there has been a debate in France about the role of Islam in a republic built on secular values, where Muslims now make up about 10% of the population.
Controversy intensified following a series of deadly attacks by Islamic militants in 2015, including the massacres in satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan concert hall.
The October 3 murders by Mickael Harpon, a 45-year-old computer expert who converted to Islam a decade ago and adopted increasingly radical beliefs, again exposed tensions.
Eager not to be surprised by Le Pen’s party, Macron made a difficult speech after the murders in which he promised “a tireless struggle in the face of Islamic terrorism.” He called on all of France to build “a vigilant society” in order to overcome what he called the “Islamic hydra.”