Many French found Mr. Macron’s desire, as he put it, to “build an Islam in France that can be an Islam of Enlightenment,” to be patronizing of Muslims. But few have quibbled publicly with the breadth of his crackdown on extremism. His interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has suggested that ethnic food aisles in supermarkets should be closed.
Domestic politics are involved on both sides, particularly when it comes to the sparring between the French and Turkish presidents, noted Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.
“This is a battle that serves both Macron and Erdogan,’’ he said. “Macron is trying to recuperate ground from the extreme right, and containing political Islam in France is a good agenda to have, while Erdogan can appear as a flag-bearer of the victimized members of the Muslim community, the image he has tried to create for himself at home and abroad.’’
It is no coincidence that Mr. Erdogan’s disparaging of Mr. Macron comes as the Turkish lira sinks and at an especially tense moment with NATO partners over Turkey’s military intervention in Libya and its exploring for oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
Mr. Erdogan is trying, as ever, to divert attention to conflicts abroad to buck up his own standing at home, Mr. Ulgen said. “The more assertive foreign policy and the complications it generates creates an environment where people perceive that Turkey is under siege, so needs a strong leader when its survival is at stake,” he said.
Events in France have created a new opportunity for Mr. Erdogan. A devout Muslim, he portrays himself as defending vulnerable Muslim communities everywhere, from Libya to Syria, from the Balkans to Chechnya, and now to Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
At home, he has created a kind of Islamic authoritarianism, discarding the tenets of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish republic, which was founded as a secular state very similar, in fact, to that of the French Republic.