The president risks alienating the country’s second-biggest religious group with his battle against radical Islam.
Nagib Azergui used to be hopeful that the racism he experienced growing up in a Paris suburb was on its way out. In Emmanuel Macron, the country was getting a president who would heal divisions, an “anti-Trump leader.”
The head of France’s only Muslim political party now says he was wrong. Macron has called Islam a religion in crisis and has moved to shut down mosques accused of spreading hatred. Last week, his government introduced a draft law to fight “separatism,” a term he’s coined for groups that don’t integrate and are susceptible to extremism.
“Muslims are tired of being used by politicians as scapegoats to deflect attention away from real problems,” said Azergui, 41, an engineer of Moroccan descent from Nanterre.
Azergui can’t claim to represent the country’s Muslims—his group still only has about 1,000 members and in last year’s European elections it gained just 0.13% of the vote. But Macron’s policies have reinvigorated his goal of fighting Islamophobia and encouraging citizens of his religion to stop being “invisible.”
France’s president has cultivated an image abroad as a defender of liberalism since coming to power in 2017 in contrast to leaderships in the U.S., Britain and eastern Europe. Yet at home he’s been courting conservatives after a series of horrific attacks by Islamic radicals and that risks alienating a Muslim population that may be heterogeneous but also represents France’s second biggest religious group after Catholicism.