French President Macron is on the table with the foreign press. He believes that non-French journalists are too negative about his policy against Muslim extremists and terrorists.
Last Thursday, the president contacted The New York Times in a very personal way. “He called me from his palace to complain,” writes Columnist Ben Smith of the prestigious American newspaper. “He apparently has an account to settle. He thinks we‘re biased.”
Macron said to the journalist: “Everyone was behind us in the attacks five years ago. Now there are foreign newspapers saying that France is racist and Islamophobic, and that is the problem.”
Macron accused foreign media in the conversation of “legitimizing violence”. According to Smith, exactly what he meant by that, Macron didn’t say. “Making an accusation like that is the worst thing you can do against the press. We would rather expect that from the American president.”
This is not the first time Emmanuel Macron has personally taken action against negative reports about his policies. At the beginning of this month, he wrote a letter in the British newspaper Financial Times.
That too was about his approach to extremism and Macron also spoke to foreign journalists. “We don‘t need articles in the press that divide us,” wrote Macron.
He responded to a critical article in the Financial Times. The Brussels correspondent of the British business newspaper, Mehreen Khan, wrote: “The war of Macron against Muslim separatism is only dividing France.” The British newspaper later removed that article from the website because of “factual inaccuracies”.
Macron wrote in his response: “I am accused of stigmatising French Muslims for electoral reasons. But we are not against religion, we are against fanatics and violent extremism.”
The phone call and the letter sent come after a series of recent attacks in France. Between the end of September and the end of October, the country was hit by three acts of terrorism. Two people were stabbed in Paris, a teacher was beheaded north of the capital, and three churchgoers were murdered in Nice.
In response, President Macron announced a tighter policy. Radical Muslim organizations will be banned, an extremist mosque has been closed and radical imams will be evicted. Moreover, the President reiterated that Mohammed’s cartoons may continue to be published in France.
Then protest arose in several countries with many Muslims. Turkish President Erdogan called for a boycott of French products. In Bangladesh and other countries, there was a demonstration against the French measures.
To ease the turmoil, Macron gave an interview to the Arab television channel Al Jazeera at the end of October. He said to “understand and respect” the feelings of Muslims.
In his conversation with Smith of The New York Times, he now claims to be amazed at stories in the press “from countries that share our values”.
According to Macron, this can be traced back, for example, to a lack of understanding about how French society is organised. “The president said that foreign media do not understand how the French separation of church and state works,” writes Smith.
Macron said to Smith, “American society is one of multiculturalism. Religions and ethnicities coexist. The French model is not multicultural. I don‘t care if anyone’s black, yellow or white, Catholic or Muslim. Everyone is just a French citizen.”
However, according to the American journalist, these are “abstract ideological differences which seem far removed from the daily lives of ethnic minorities in France, which complain of police abuse, ghetto formation and discrimination on the labour market”.