Macron has answers, but not for France

Emmanuel Macron, who became president of France because a scandal effectively took down the front-running candidate, fancies himself the leader of the free world. This week he will host a climate summit. Last week he chastised President Trump for his decision to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Last month, he mediated a dispute over Lebanon.

Meanwhile, back in France, Parisians are threatening a hunger strike if immigrants aren’t cleared from neighborhood streets. They complain that the immigrants are trashing the sidewalks, soaking them in urine, and harassing women.

The immigrant takeover over the streets near the Jaures and Stalingrad(!) metro stations is just the tip of the French culture war iceberg. So are the Muslim street prayers that have led to fights between protesters and Muslim worshipers.

Where does Macron stand on these matters and what is he prepared to do?

He has vowed to clear the streets by the end of the year and place the immigrants in 62 cheap hotels that will be turned into shelters. And his Interior Minister says he’ll propose a ban on Muslim street prayer.

If the government follows through, the tip of the iceberg may become less acute for now, but that big block of ice will remain. Nor will Macron’s preening on the world stage divert attention from it.

James McAuley of the Washington Post reports:

While the French are mostly proud to have an internationally respected leader, many remain ambivalent about a character often seen as overly timid on cultural problems raging at home. Identity in general — and Islam in particular — remain crucial issues in France, yet on both questions Macron has been quiet.

“This is one where people are asking the question, ‘When is he going to speak?’ ” said François Heisbourg, a Paris-based political analyst and former presidential adviser on national security issues to Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. “He will not be able to keep silent forever. It’s one of the deepest divisions in the public debate that I’ve seen in a very long time, and it’s very ugly.”

In the presidential run-off election last Spring, issues of culture, identity, and Muslim immigration were raised by an extremist candidate, Marine Le Pen. Macron was able to shrug them off.

However, unless Macron speaks up and, more importantly, acts, there will be considerable space between him and Le Pen. That space can be occupied by, say, Laurent Wauquiez, the new leader of the center right party, or by Manuel Walls, a former Socialist (as is Macron) who, as Prime Minister, took a strong stance against against Islamic incursions on French secularism (e.g., by banning the “burkini”, a measure I oppose).

According to the Post’s McAuley, some commentators view Macron’s avoidance of “social issues” as “a testament to his political intelligence, a means of avoiding a discussion that might otherwise unnecessarily divide the electorate.” But if the electorate is already highly divided, it seems to me that Macron cannot avoid the social issues. And certainly not by hosting climate summits and lecturing President Trump about Israel.

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