By James McAuley
PARIS — Speaking alongside the flag-draped coffin of a police officer killed in a terrorist attack in southern France, President Emmanuel Macron last month laid blame on “underground Islamism” and those who “indoctrinate on our soil and corrupt daily.”
The attack added further urgency to a project already in the works: Macron has embarked on a controversial quest to restructure Islam in France — with the goal of integration but also the prevention of radicalization.
He has said that in the coming months he will announce “a blueprint for the whole organization” of Islam. And those trying to anticipate what that will look like are turning their attention to Hakim El Karoui, a leading voice on how Islamic traditions fit within French culture.
It is hard to miss that the man who appears to have Macron’s ear on this most sensitive of subjects cuts a similar figure. Like the president, El Karoui is an ex-Rothschild investment banker with an elite social pedigree who favors well-tailored suits, crisp white shirts and the lofty province of big ideas.
The latest of those ideas is this — that the best way to integrate Islam within French society is to promote a version of the religion “practiced in peace by believers who will not have the need to loudly proclaim their faith.”
But if El Karoui is the model for how Macron envisions merging Islamic traditions and French values, the effort may end up stumbling along a rough road.
“He’s disconnected from everyday Muslims, and he has legitimacy on the question only because he happens to be named Hakim El Karoui, and that’s it,” said Yasser Louati, a French civil liberties advocate and Muslim community organizer.
Since 2015, more than 230 people in France have been killed in terrorist attacks, most of them perpetrated by French or other European nationals affiliated with or inspired by the Islamic State. Meanwhile, as many as 1,910 French nationals have gone to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria, according to the Soufan Center, which studies radicalization.
France has agonized over how to intervene — what might work and what the government’s proper role should be. Already, there have been missteps.
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