Earlier this week, French soldiers penned and published an open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron warning him about the possibility of a civil war in France, a letter that comes weeks after another group of retired generals and soldiers published a similar statement where they also raised the alarm of possible civil strife in the coming years.
The letter was published in the French media portal Valeurs and it explains that the French republic is in danger of falling into massive civic unrest due to the President’s “concessions” towards Islamism, arguing that most of the signatures of the letter have actively participated in a nationwide French counter-terrorism operation called “Operation Sentinelle” and they have observed how for some religious communities, France is the object of “contempt” or “hatred”.
This public scorn at Macron’s government comes after another similar letter authored by retired generals of the French army was also published last month, where it denounced that the country was facing a threat due to Islamism, which has transformed some communities into “territories subject to dogmas contrary to our constitution”.
The French government has vehemently condemned the publication of the letter with Defense Minister Florence Parly calling it a “crude political scheme”, while Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accusing those soldiers who signed the letter as “lacking courage”.
The reaction in the army has also been highly negative, with the French army chief of staff calling the soldiers who signed the letter to “leave the institution in order to freely express their ideas and convictions” while a french military officer told AFP that the army will not let this letter go without a response.
Are predictions of a civil war in France a political stunt?
The letter comes at a bad time for Emmanuel Macron, who currently possess a dismal -although normal for french standards- disapproval rating of 60% in opinion polls, is leading a lacklustre COVID vaccination rollout program (especially when compared to the US or UK) and is now facing an impending electoral challenge from the National Rally’s Marine Le Penn, who is now polling slightly above Macron for the first round of voting of the 2022 presidential election.
Macron’s likely presidential opponent has seized the political opportunity provided by the military-authored anti-Macron letter and has called the letter a “lucid assessment” of the state of the country, while also adding that there is “always the risk of civil war”.
French society has been deeply scarred over the last few years for a series of highly publicized terror attacks perpetrated by Islamist terrorists against french citizens, with the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Paris, the 2016 Nice truck attacks, and the 2020 beheading of a french teacher who used cartoons of Mohammad in class weighing heavy in the french national conscience
President Macron has vowed that France “will never give in” to Islamist terrorist as the country has deployed thousands of military and police officers to patrol strategic points throughout the country in a nationwide effort, called Operation Sentinelle, against terrorism that was initiated after the 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo by Islamist terrorists.
The current tensions within French society on the issue of immigration and Islamism has emboldened the political position of Le Pen, who managed to get to the second round of the election in 2016 only to get defeated by Macron.
It is then easy to understand why many government officials have been quick to point out that the letter published by members of the military does nothing but to strengthen the political positions of one group (Le Pen) at the expense of the image of neutrality that the army should present towards french society, with Interior Minister calling it “shoddy manuevuring” by Le Pen.
Leaving aside the discussion about whether the letter is just a political ploy for Le Pen or if it constitutes an honest assessment by french military personnel, the truth is that the issue of Islam and French society will remain to be one of the most important issues in French politics, a front where Macron risks losing significant support from his right-wing towards the ultra-nationalist Le Pen.
The issue of Islam and French society/politics has become so pervasive that Macron’s party La Republique en Marche recently decided to drop the support to a candidate who used a headscarf (another controversial subject in France) in a campaign poster, while also preparing a new law that would impose state regulations over religious practices with the objective of clamping down on Islamist radicalism, a bill that opponents have said would marginalize Muslims.
Macron knows that the optics of a group of retired and active military calling him weak on the issue, which is why he will need to both dispel rumors of an impending civil war as just exaggerations aimed at benefiting the political interests of his rival, while also showing a hard stance against Islamism in order to keep a working coalition for his 2022 reelection bid.