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Macron stirs controversy with defence of French secularism

President Emmanuel Macron has stirred controversy even beyond the Muslim world with a staunch defence of the French model for secularism and integration of minorities in the wake of a string of attacks blamed on Islamist radicals.

The approach of Macron to the integration of Europe’s largest Muslim community and his combative rhetoric towards radical Islam have been called into question not just in angry protests in Islamic countries but by English-language newspapers and even international political allies.

“Is France fuelling Muslim terrorism by trying to prevent it?” read the headline in a recent column in the New York Times. The Washington Post newspaper advised him to fight racism rather than try to “reform Islam”.

Analysts say his stance and the response has highlighted how the French approach to the integration of immigrants contrasts to that of countries like Britain and Canada that try to accommodate minorities by allowing them to retain a separate identity.

“The French model is based on assimilation, although in practise it doesn’t always work so well,” said Francois Heisbourg, special adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

“There is just one France, not a group of Muslims, a group of Sikhs and so forth, like in Canada,” he added.

Domestic support for a firm line on the need for immigrants to embrace French values is stronger than ever since the grisly beheading last month of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson on free speech.

Paying tribute to the slain teacher, Macron defended France’s strict brand of secularism and its long tradition of satire. “We will not give up cartoons,” he vowed.

These comments came on the heels of a speech in early October in which he described Islam as being “in crisis” and assailed “Islamist separatism” in parts of France.

His approach did win some applause in Western media, with the Economist publishing a piece entitled “Voltaire’s heirs — France is right to defend free speech.”

Raja Ben Slama, a Tunisian professor of humanities and Arab civilisations, defended his comments on cartoons last month, saying he spoke as the “president of a democratic country — with a tradition of secularism and freedom to blaspheme.”

She stressed however that the French “must respect others’ particularities and stop stigmatising veiled women, for example.” Read from source….