For its readers, and I am one, to be informed by The Financial Times is to have the certainty of having access to solid facts, rich analyzes and reliable information, without needing to verify its veracity. Therefore, who could imagine that statements made publicly by the head of a G7 member state could be distorted by this news organization?
And yet, this is what happened in a column posted online yesterday. The article misquoted me, replacing “Islamic separatism” – a term I have never used – with “Islamist separatism”, which is a reality in my country. He accused me of stigmatizing French Muslims for electoral purposes and of fostering a climate of fear and suspicion towards them.
For more than five years now, and since the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, France has been facing a wave of attacks perpetrated by terrorists in the name of an Islam that they have distorted. Some 263 people – police, soldiers, teachers, journalists, cartoonists, ordinary citizens – have been murdered in our homeland. More recently, an attack which, fortunately, did not claim any victims, again targeted the premises of Charlie Hebdo; a history and geography professor, Samuel Paty, was beheaded; in Nice, two women and a man were murdered in a church.
I will not discuss the questionable rigor of this article or even the ideological foundations on which it is based. I just want to remind your readers of some simple facts, explain the situation in my country and the challenges it faces.
Faced with this evil which is gnawing at our country, France has rallied with resilience, with determination.
First, by staying firm on its principles. France has been attacked by Islamist terrorists because it embodies freedom of expression, the right to believe or not to believe and a certain way of life. The French stood up to say that they would not give up any of France’s values, its identity or its imagination. Nor any of those human rights that she proclaimed for the world in 1789.
Our nation has also come together by hunting down terrorists wherever they are. The French army is showing exemplary courage in the Sahel and its action against terrorist groups benefits all of Europe. Our intelligence and police services, which have paid a heavy price, prevent dozens of attacks each year. The whole State is mobilized on the basis of laws discussed and voted by parliament. Because we will not give up democracy or the rule of law.
But since 2015, it has become clear, and I said this even before I became president, that there is fertile ground for terrorists in France. In some neighborhoods and on the Internet, groups linked to radical Islam are teaching our children hatred of the republic, calling on them not to respect its laws. This is what I called “separatism” in one of my speeches.
If you don’t believe me, read the hate social media posts shared in the name of a twisted Islam that resulted in Paty’s death. Visit the neighborhoods where little girls of three or four years old wear a full veil, separated from the boys and, from an early age, separated from the rest of society, brought up in hatred of French values.
Talk to the government prefects who are confronted on the ground with hundreds of radicalized individuals, who we fear could, at any time, take a knife and kill people. This is what France fights against – designs of hatred and death which threaten its children – never against Islam. We oppose deception, fanaticism, violent extremism. Not a religion.
We say, “Not here in our country! And we have every right to say it, as a sovereign nation and a free people. Against the terrorists who want to break us, we stand united. We can do without media articles that divide us.
I will not allow anyone to claim that France, or its government, encourages racism against Muslims. France – we are attacked for this – is as secular for Muslims as it is for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and all believers. State neutrality, which never intervenes in religious affairs, is a guarantee of freedom of worship. Our law enforcement agencies protect mosques, churches and synagogues.
France is a country that knows what it owes to Islamic civilization: its mathematics, its science, its architecture all borrow from it, and I announced the creation of an institute in Paris to showcase this great wealth. France is a country where Muslim leaders speak out when the worst happens and call on their supporters to fight radical Islamism and defend freedom of expression.
One can pretend not to see these realities, but one cannot ignore them indefinitely. Because as Averroes, the 12th century polymath, wrote: “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to violence.”
So let’s not maintain ignorance by distorting the words of a head of state. We know only too well where this can lead.
Let us rather prefer a lucid rigor and a rigorous work; enlightened wisdom.