The unprecedented move earlier this week by a group of serving French soldiers of “warning” President Emmanuel Macron in an open letter published in the conservative magazine ‘Valeurs Actuelles’ that the “survival of France is at risk” because he has made “concessions” to Islamism, has expectedly raised a furore. The letter comes after a missive similar in tone and substance was published in the same magazine last month.
This was signed by a handful of officers and some 20 serving and retired generals. It led the French Prime Minister to term it “an unacceptable interference in politics by the military” and France’s Chief of Staff to assert that those behind it would face disciplinary action.
While it is not clear how many people are behind the latest epistle, it is widely being conjectured that the number is significantly higher than those who signed the first letter and that they cut across all ranks. In contrast to the previous letter, the current open letter was also open for signatures to the general public. The timing of the letters is significant as it marks, in the view of many observers, the beginning of a sotto voce campaign for next year’s presidential poll where Mr Macron’s main challenger is expected to be the right-wing leader Ms Marine Le Pen.
The substance of the letters, which includes a dire prognosis of “civil war” and questions the very survival of France if the current regime’s attitude towards Islamism doesn’t change, is quite controversial. But the fact that it has self-admittedly been signed by a younger generation of French soldiers ~ the so-called “generation of fire” that has seen active service fighting Islamic radicals at home and abroad ~ makes it more incendiary.
The signatories assert they “have offered their lives to destroy the Islamism to which you (Macron) have made concessions on our soil” and served in the security operation launched in France after a wave of Islamist terror attacks in 2015. They said that for some religious communities “France means nothing but an object of sarcasm, contempt or even hatred.”
All of this is grist to Ms Le Pen’s mill as she outlines her poll campaign premised on promoting traditional “French values” which include a hard line towards religious ideologies that militate against them. President Macron, who has been trying to balance the need to accommodate the feelings and beliefs of the largest Muslim population in Europe with the state’s commitment to, for lack of a better word, hard secularism, is understandably enraged at the intervention of an avowedly apolitical military in matters deeply political.
That France is observing the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte this month ~ he died on 5 May 1821 ~ in the midst of the row is perhaps apposite because he is a symbol of greatness for the rightist and centre-right political forces in the country while his “greatness” is a subject of mirth for those on the Left and multiculturalist side of the debate who believe he destroyed the gains of the French Revolution.