VIDEO: Leading French Civil Liberties Advocate, Yasser Louati, Speaks Out on Western Muslims and Macron
Those who seek to erode core civil liberties use the same tactics everywhere: elevating fear levels, demonizing Others, equating authoritarianism with safety.
Politics without consistently applied principles necessarily degenerates into crude quests for power with the sole objective of benefitting one’s own tribe. Because humans are tribal, effort is always required to determine whether our beliefs are shaped by what we like to believe drive them (just causes, universal values, rigorously applied principles) or whether they are merely the by-product of self-interest and the convenience of the moment. The long-standing and increasingly vitriolic debate in the west over the treatment of French Muslims illustrates that challenge.
Anyone whose work is devoted to a defense of civil liberties recognizes the standard strategies used by states or other entities which seek to erode them. The key emotion that must be invoked is fear: fear of some outside villain, internal enemy, an exotic and threatening Other. Fear is one of the most potent human impulses, necessary for survival. Thus, the more fear one can instill in a population about a lurking threat from some growing and threatening minority, the more that population will be willing to vest in the hands of authorities ever-increasing power in the name of protecting them, the more rights erosions they will be willing to support in the name of staying safe.
One of the most effective tactics to achieve this goal is an intense focus on an isolated but particularly gruesome crime to overflow the brain with emotions of horror, disgust and fear and prevent a rational calculus of the true magnitude of the threat posed.
A white supremacist in Charlottesville plows his car into a group of Antifa protesters and kills one of them, or Dylan Roof enters a Charleston church and murders nine African-American worshippers, and — in the visceral disgust that all decent people by definition feel when hearing about such atrocities — nobody can question the claim that White Supremacist fascism is a grave domestic threat to the American way of life that requires draconian responses of surveillance, censorship and counter-violence. Similarly, when a French school teacher is beheaded in a Paris suburb by an 18-year-old Russian Muslim immigrant or other similar horrific acts of violence are perpetrated against innocent people in western cities in response to western bombing of predominantly Muslim countries, then nobody may question the claim that Islamic radicalism is a grave threat to the west that must be eradicated or at least suppressed using the most repressive powers of detention, surveillance and violence available to the state.
Whether out of political calculation, conviction or some combination of both, French President Emmanuel Macron has seized on the grotesque murder last month of Samuel Paty to push two extreme assaults on core civil liberties. One is a law, approved by the French Parliament on Saturday, that “ban[s] the publication of images of on-duty police officers as well as expand[s] the use of surveillance drones and police powers” — a new restriction which press freedom groups argue criminalizes the attempt to hold police officers accountable for brutality and excess force and allows the government even greater powers of domestic spying. The other is an even more sweeping measure that would, among other things, ban homeschooling and require registration of children with the state.
A state of emergency declared in France after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo murders and multi-venue terror attacks gave the state virtually unlimited powers to detain citizens without due process and domestically spy with essentially no checks. That resulted, as intended, in the mass infiltration of mosques by police informants, surveillance of imams, and even the sweeping up by police of large numbers of Muslim citizens who were never charged with let alone convicted of any crimes.
Anyone who believes in the necessity of free speech, free expression, privacy rights and due process — and that includes those who cheered the massive free speech rally in Paris after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo murders, led by some of the world’s worst despots — has to be concerned about the growing French demands for still greater crackdowns, if not due to a belief in universally applied civil liberties principles then at least out of self-interested concern that this framework is going to be applied throughout the west: not only against Muslims but against anyone deemed on the margins or fringes or inside the realms of dissent.
To explore the growing controversies over civil liberties and France — which are absolutely a harbinger of similar debates already occurring, with still more to come, throughout the west — I spoke with one of France’s most knowledgeable civil liberties analysts and activists, Yasser Louati. That interview can be viewed here on YouTube or below.
In the debut appearance of my SYSTEM UPDATE program here on Substack, it was a wide-ranging discussion that covered the conflation in western media outlets of the attitudes of Muslims who live in U.S.-supported Gulf States tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia or U.S.-occupied countries such as Afghanistan with Muslims who are citizens of the west; the inter-linking relationship between decades of bombing campaigns by western countries of predominantly Muslim nations on the one hand, and acts of violence in western cities on the other; the attacks on religious liberty and core freedoms perpetrated in the name of security now commonplace under Macron; and in general the compatibility between Islam and western political values (that Muslims cannot be true westerners has long been the central message of radical Al Qaeda clerics as well as ISIS, groups despised by western Muslims, and ironically has now become the view or at least the message of western leaders such as Macron).
To provide illustrative data on Louati’s insistence that the political attitudes of Muslims in the Middle East are radically different than those of Muslim westernerns (just as the reactionary political views of Christians in Kenya, where homosexuality remains a crime, are radically different than Christians in Europe, and the differences between religious Jews in Israel and western Jews remain significant), data from Pew shows that 42% of U.S. Muslims support same-sex marriage, a higher percentage than numerous other religious groups including Evangelicals, Mormons and Historically Black Protestants. Moreover, as one would expect, the younger an American Muslim is, the more likely they are to support same-sex marriage, the same signs of assimilation, social progress and westernization which one finds in every other group:
A separate large-scale 2017 Pew survey on the attitudes of U.S. Muslims found that they tend to have more positive views about the United States than the general population, strongly identify as Americans, and believe in larger percentages than the general U.S. population that global Islamic extremism is a serious problem and that violence against innocent civilians in pursuit of a political cause is always unjustified.
All human beings — all of us — are susceptible to irrational thought, manipulation of our attitudes via propaganda, instinctive distrust of those who are unlike us, and tribal in-group loyalties. Those are embedded in our brains. That’s why we have the duty, principally to ourselves, to constantly test whether our views about the world are grounded in our best efforts to formulate ideas based in reality and reason rather than subjective impulses, which in turn requires that we apply principles consistently rather than selectively.
There are few better ways to ensure that we are doing than than seeking out the smartest and most informed voices whose experiences and worldviews are different than our own and listening with as open a mind as possible to what they have to say. When it comes to the question of civil liberties erosions in the west, as well as the relationship of western Muslims to the societies in which they live, there are few commentators more informed and thoughtful than Yasser Louati, who was born in France and has devoted his work to a defense of civil liberties generally. You can (and I hope will) follow him on Twitter, listen to his English-language podcast Le Breakdown, and watch the 30-minute interview I conducted with him over the weekend concerning the ongoing debates about all of these issues in France.