France and Austria have been swept by a wave of extremism. Over the past three weeks, a series of brutal terrorist attacks took place in Nice, Lyon and Paris, while another series of terror acts shook the Austrian capital of Vienna on Monday, which resulted in four fatalities and at least 22 people injured.
Within the context, the French government has stepped up efforts to combat the Islamist threat by increasing security measures in certain areas, including schools, with Macron pledging to fight Islamist separatism. Kurz, in turn, declared that he joined the French leader in a "European front in the war on Islamism."
The words used by Kurz regarding the issue weighed much more heavily than those of president Macron, who is very careful lately to avoid being accused of leading a war against Islam.
"I expect an end to the misconceived tolerance and for all the nations of Europe to finally realize how dangerous the ideology of political Islam is for our freedom and the European way of life," Kurz told the German Die Welt newspaper.
This is in sharp contrast with the careful avoidance of even the word "Islamism" by the European leaders — European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen or EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and most of the European heads of state, especially in Germany.
Meanwhile, the French leader is being burnt in effigy in many Muslim countries, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Morocco, for his stance toward secularism and freedom of expression and is being treated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an influential figure in the Muslim world, as a warmonger against Islam who should check his mental health over his obsession with Muslims. Several Muslim countries, including Turkey, have called for a boycott of French products.
Macron has been fending off condemnation from the Muslim world after he supported the use of drawings depicting Islamic prophet Mohammad as a manifestation of freedom of speech following the brutal decapitation of French school teacher Samuel Paty by a radicalized Chechen teen in mid-October in Paris after Paty showed the cartoons of the prophet to his students.
Macron's speech outraged leaders of Islamic countries, as well as Muslim minorities worldwide, who found it insulting to the religion, as cartoons are forbidden in Islam.
Commenting on growing tensions between European and Muslim countries, French author and political scientist Nikola Mirkovic told Sputnik that the idea of creating an alliance against radical Islamism was rather surprising, as instead of turning to the EU, France addressed a small European country, Austria, to launch this fight.
"I believe this is just a communication stunt from the French president to give the illusion that he is doing something beyond big statements. It is a communication campaign focused on the foreign affairs, because he really needs to regain popularity, after the exasperation of the French at the lockdown and curfew imposed on them," Mirkovic said.
According to the expert, if the French leader was serious, he would take more visible actions, such as shutting dozens, if not hundreds, of radical mosques across the country and expelling thousands of well-known extremists.
"There is also the 'light' Islamization, the inadmissible behaviour of groups of students in schools and high schools or the demands of Islamic organizations on halal canteens, swimming pools, etc ... It is the breeding ground for radical Islamism," Mirkovic added.
Professor Elena Aoun, a specialist of the Middle East and Islam at the UCLouvain university in Belgium, in turn, told Sputnik that what Macron proposed was a haphazard alliance.
"The recent terrorist acts in Austria and France have little to do with each other. Their cultural trajectories and those of the two countries are very different. President Macron has been agitated a lot lately, for example, in dealing in Lebanon, and not always wisely. Perhaps, this is due to the press following him step by step," Aoun said.
According to French member of the European Parliament Gilles Lebreton, the so-called pact, in fact, is nothing but an attempt of the two leaders to "ally their weaknesses."
"Macron and Kurz are two young politicians who have ‘burnt their wings’ and who are trying to ally their weaknesses. The fact that they speak now of ‘Islamism’ is great progress! Macron has triggered a long-lasting reaction of hate in the Muslim world and does not know how to stop his quarrel with Erdogan, now that [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel has abandoned him on that point, and Sebastian Kurz is ill at ease, as a Conservative, in an alliance against nature with the Greens in Vienna … They are both just trying to make the buzz," Lebreton told Sputnik.
France - a Hotbed of Terrorism
After his strong words, president Macron was much more subdued in an interview with Al Jazeera broadcaster to explain that France did not turn against Islam at all but was only fighting extremism and terrorism. With a population of more than 8 million Muslims in France, Macron has every reason to be careful.
In addition, after the Financial Times distorted his statement on radical Islamism, the French leader published a contribution to the newspaper, in which he declared that France was never fighting Islam as a religion. Macron complains that he was "accused of stigmatizing French Muslims for electoral purposes; worse, to maintain a climate of fear and suspicion towards them." The president also warned that he would not let anyone say that France cultivates racism vis-a-vis Muslims.
In his full letter to the newspaper, the French leader highlighted the challenges his country had been facing over the past years. He explained in detail the cases of "Islamist separatism," which, according to him, are "breeding ground for terrorist vocations."
In particular, Macron mentioned the five-year-old radicalism-driven killings in Paris, including attacks on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo satirical paper, a repeat attack attempt near the magazine's premises in September, the brutal beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty at hands of an Islamist teen on October 16 and a knife-stabbing assault in Nice on October 29, which resulted in three casualties.
"In certain districts and on the internet, groups linked to radical Islam are teaching hatred of the republic to our children, calling on them to disregard its laws. That is what I called "separatism" in one of my speeches. If you do not believe me, read the social media postings of hatred shared in the name of a distorted Islam that resulted in Paty’s death. Visit the districts where small girls aged three or four are wearing a full veil, separated from boys, and, from a very young age, separated from the rest of society, raised in hatred of France’s values," Macron said, adding that "this is what France intends to fight today but never against Islam."
Disturbing Trend Among French Muslim Youth
One of the most worrying trends in France is the Islamization of the French Muslim youth. A fresh study by Ifop (the French institute of public opinion), published on Thursday for the CLR, an association promoting secularism in the country, highlights the growing gap between Muslims and other French people regarding secularism.
With the gap widening between Muslims and other French people today, the Ifop polling institute looked at French attitudes toward secularism. The findings established that the majority of Muslims under 25 years old — 57 percent — believe that Sharia, the Islamic law, is more important than the law of the French Republic. The number has increased compared to 47 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, barely 15 percent of Catholics believe that the rules of their religion should come before the French law.
Likewise, two-thirds of Muslims oppose the idea that teachers can show caricatures of religious figures to their students, while 80 percent of Catholics and French people, in general, are in favour.
The same is true for the vast majority of the questions asked in this survey — each time, the opinion of Muslims was right the opposite to that of the rest of France, giving the feeling of two communities no longer sharing much on the subject of secularism.
Muslims also largely advocate wearing conspicuous religious clothes in public, while Catholics fiercely oppose it. As for teaching Arabic and mother tongues in public schools, 82 percent of Muslims are in favour, while 18 percent of Catholics and 32 percent of those "without religion" are against.
When asked whether citizens are obliged to sign a contract respecting the values of the republic for associations receiving public subsidies, 58 percent of Muslims answered positive, while 85 percent of those "with no religion" and even 91 percent of Catholics were against.
As for fixing specific hours for women in municipal swimming pools, 81 percent of Muslims supported the idea, while 16 percent of Catholics and 24 percent of those "with no religion" opposed it.
The list goes on and political reactions have not been recorded yet. France needs to digest it first.
Current Issues Rooted in EU Extention
The young terrorist, killed by police in Vienna during the recent attack, came from Northern Macedonia. The man is actually an ethnic Albanian, a Muslim — about 30 percent of Northern Macedonia's population is Albanian by origin and Muslim.
So are the populations of other accession countries to the EU in the Balkans: Albania, the self-proclaimed state of Kosovo and Bosnia. These are countries which have seen a large contingent of jihadists leave to fight in Syria with Daesh*.
When Conservative Kurz was at the head of the alliance with the hard-right FPO party, Austria had taken in 2016 the lead of a group of countries, including Slovenia, Croatia, Northern Macedonia and Serbia, to stop migrants from reaching Germany and the rest of Europe via the so-called Balkan route. These countries did it completely outside the European Union, totally paralyzed on the issue of migration, and were successful in stopping the flow. Hungary has since also tightly closed its border with Serbia, to avoid the arrival of more Middle Eastern migrants.
"Europe is already dealing with terrorism, with the services of Gilles de Kerchove, EU coordinator of the fight against terrorism. Presumably, the EU will go further after the recent events. What is happening is typical of the EU integration process: it is after a crisis, after the attacks that security laws and actions are strengthened and progress is made," Pierre Vercauteren, a political scientist at the UCLouvain university in Belgium, told Sputnik.
Commenting on the accession of the Balkan countries to the EU, Vercauteren said that it was a "recurring debate." With the UK leaving the bloc, the climate is not favourable for enlargement.
"I believe we will see the same phenomenon as for Turkey, delaying the membership agenda indefinitely. It will not be a blunt refusal, but a warning by EU member states to Albania or Kosovo that now is not the time," the specialist said.
Specialist of the Balkans Nikola Mirkovic, in turn, noted that even the integration process of countries with the same heritage and common history posed a number of difficulties let alone those with different values.
"Everybody realizes how difficult the integration process of countries with the same cultural heritage is, with 27 member states, and before Brexit, 28. Tensions are everywhere. All the present member states have Christian roots, but even that creates tensions: Poland and Hungary, for example, refuse the model that Brussels wants to impose on them," Mirkovic told Sputnik.
"I do not talk about Turkey; that is impossible. Islam is a stumbling block that politicians refuse to talk about: we live in a politically correct world, but the problem is very real and everybody knows it," Mirkovic added.
The experts believe that the only reason for Brussels to keep Albania, Kosovo and others in the accession loop, is to avoid that these countries turn to other partners than the EU, such as Russia, Turkey or even China.
*Daesh [ISIL, ISIS, the Islamic State] - a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries