Just as the beauty of Cleopatra’s famous nose supposedly indirectly resulted in the war between her lover, Marcus Aurelius, and Augustus, the allegations against Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault have unexpectedly contributed to another vicious war within the French left—a war fought by influential newspapers, intellectuals, and politicians. Yet the war was not about sexual harassment but on the issue of integration and radical Islam. Left-wing politicians were preparing to fight on economics, the left’s favorite battleground; now they are forced to fight the tense battle of identity.
In February 2016, an eternity ago in the current political chaos that has become French politics, Manuel Valls, then prime minister to Socialist President François Hollande, famously declared, “there are two irreconcilable lefts.” At the time, this declaration was broadly understood as the formalization of the divorce between a market-friendly left led by Valls and supported by his young economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, and the traditional Marxist left.
Three years later, this war has begun again. Many of the actors are the same, but the battle lines are different. The first symbolic bullet was fired by Henda Ayari, a former Salafi woman, who accused Tariq Ramadan of rape on October 20 following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Allegation against Ramadan for rape followed up.
Ramadan is the closest thing to a televangelist for the increasing European Muslim Youth. As an extraordinarily charismatic and handsome man, a feared debater, and a grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, he has built a reputation as a defender of a conservative brand of Islam over the years, through debates with many European politicians, including former-President of France Nicolas Sarkozy. Ramadan also rose up the ladders of academia to become a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford.
A few days later Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper tragically attacked by jihadists in 2015, made its cover the Ramadan scandal, with a cartoon of a grotesquely erect (aroused) Ramadan claiming he was the “sixth pillar of Islam.” In the hours that followed, Charlie Hebdo received hundreds of death threats for its controversial front page.
The following week, Charlie Hebdo published another scathing front page, accusing Mediapart, an online left-wing newspaper, and its publication director, Edwy Plenel, of covering for Ramadan’s ideology in past years. Plenel responded that Charlie Hebdo belonged to a “larger campaign” that “refers back to its obsession: the war on Muslims.” Charlie Hebdo immediately lashed back and argued that, by arguing Charlie Hebdo was part of a war against Muslims, Plenel had condemned them to death a second time.
At the same time, the left-wing Unsubmissive France party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon seemed incapable of deciding where to stand. On the one hand, Mélenchon and his political allies come from a tradition very critical of religions. The religious question, and all issues relating to immigration and discrimination, always came second to class struggle and economic redistribution. Yet, at the same time Mélenchon in his 2017 presidential run benefited from excellent results in France’s multicultural suburbs, which have strong Muslim populations.
For months, Mélenchon thought the battle would be fought on economics. As centrist President Emmanuel Macron implemented market-friendly reforms, Mélenchon struggled to mobilize his supporters in the streets. He now has to discipline one of his MP’s for openly supporting “decolonial camps” reserved for people of color to “decolonialize” their minds.
In this vicious war between leftist parties, one man managed to dodge all bullets: Macron. Macron comes from the world of economics and saw reforming the economy as his priority. Macron the candidate ran a campaign valuing openness with at times Trudeau-esque declarations, while Macron the president has blurred his “globalist image” with some conservative symbolism. Yet this tense war will certainly erupt up again. The motive will be immigration reform, the burkini, or even an issue of lesser importance. The right is trying to deal with this issue; the left is learning to. And, French citizens will urge the president to take a stand.