October 20, 2020 - 4:00pm

Just days after President Macron’s landmark speech on tackling “Islamist separatism”, an Islamist assassin decapitated a French schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, in broad daylight in a Paris suburb.

As Aris Roussinos has pointed out: the ongoing reverberations from Charlie Hebdo are as much a question of sovereignty as free speech, who decides what can and can’t be said – la République, or a gunman? Indeed, it appears that Paty has become a martyr for the Republic.

Macron’s campaign against Islamism too, is better understood as a battle for sovereignty than as counterterrorism, an effort to reclaim the “territories conquered by Islamism.”

In the banlieues and ecosystems where Salafists and Islamists exert the most influence, they have deliberately erected barriers between Muslims and wider society. Some of the institutions dotting the Islamist landscape operate with generous support from overseas. This foreign backing undermines the principle of laïcité, prohibiting state support for religion. Hence, Macron’s vow to “liberate French Islam from foreign influence.”

This is also where Macron’s rocky relationship with Erdogan comes in, whose party uses Islamists to leverage influence across Europe. The Turkish president hit back immediately, calling the speech an “open provocation,” accusing Macron of acting like a “colonial governor.” Macron is clear that political Islam and its subversive agenda are his target, yet Erdogan’s play is the same as the Western Islamists’: to present political Islam and Islam as one and the same.

Erdogan though, is just one of many players. In 2019, explosive documents revealed Qatar’s guerre d’influenceover Islam and support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, causing a national controversy in France.

Back in February, Macron gave another milestone speech in Mulhouse, Alsace, announcing curbs on foreign trained imams. His presence in Mulhouse was deliberate — this is the site of a mega-Mosque complex accused of Muslim Brotherhood links and significant Qatari support. The complex, symbolic of the anxieties over Islamist separatism, contains everything from a preschool and a supermarket to a swimming pool and a morgue. The objective? To provide everything the individual could possibly need from birth through until death.

Most Anglosphere interpretations of Macron’s actions have been clichéd, seeking to superimpose Anglo-American conceptions of religious liberty on an alien context, but the assassination of Samuel Paty typifies Marcon’s fears over where this Islamist separatism leads.

This was no lone wolf jihadist. Parisian Islamists stoked the flames, warning that a French genocide of Muslims was imminent if this blasphemy were tolerated. From this ecosystem of rage and grievance, the assassin emerged. So far, 11 others have been arrested, police raids are taking place against Islamists across France and the Interior Minister is naming and shaming Islamist-linked organisations as “enemies of the Republic.”

Yet again, blood is spilled in Paris over blasphemy and French patience has run out. Macron is no longer thinking in terms of counterterrorism or woolly concepts like countering extremism; in his view, he is liberating French Muslims from foreign and Muslim Brotherhood dominion, and fighting to stop parts of France from seceding from the republic in everything but name. Watch very closely.

Liam Duffy is a researcher, speaker and trainer in counter-terrorism based in London.