A 'yeah, right!' story? Try Macron wanting French Muslims to change their faith, on his terms

When was the last time you read a story quoting some political figure’s simplistic solution to a complex situation that struck you as so absurd that your reaction was a bewildered, and sarcastic, “Yeah, right! That’ll work.”

For me -- ignoring, for now, my many head-slapping reactions to the ludicrous ideas emanating from Washington these days -- it was when I read this Washington Post piece detailing French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reshape Islam in his nation as an antidote to the faith’s jihadist fringe.

Yeah, right! That’ll work. Does anyone in Macron's inner circle study history?

[Macron] 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.
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Reorganize?

Like reconfiguring the whole wine drinking thing to help French Muslims loosen up, perhaps?

Once again: Yeah, right! That’ll work?

Or not.

For starters, there’s the strong possibility of a backlash to Macron’s ignorance-inspired hubris. Macron clearly misunderstands (perhaps because he’s the product of an officially secular nation) how deeply engrained religiously transmitted concepts can be.

I’m referring to the sort of backlash possible even among those who let slip the protocols of their inherited faith, such as, for Muslims, regular mosque attendance, only eating halal food, and, of course, steering clear of alcoholic drinks.

No one with deeply held beliefs likes to be told what to think and how to act. Examples of this abound, and not just in France and not just among Muslims. This is even more the case when dealing with minority faiths, the members of which already feel misunderstood and discriminated against.

I’d include among them the case of those American evangelical Christians who remain loyal to President Donald Trump, despite his ostensibly un-Christian actions, in large part because they’re angered by liberal demands that they abandon him -- which they may equate with criticism of their opposition to gay marriage, abortion or even liberal immigration policies. Then there are millions of religious conservatives who didn't want to vote for Trump in the first place, but felt they had no other alternative because of the high stakes in current legal debates about the First Amendment and the free exercise of religion.

Liberal journalists: You don't have to like conservative Christian beliefs to appreciate that many who hold them can be sincere.

Conservative journalists: You don't have to like liberal religious or even anti-religious beliefs to appreciate that just as many who hold them are as sincere about beliefs as are you.

Lacking physical or other threats, which I’m sure Macron does not have in mind, sincere changes in religious beliefs that lead to behavioral changes only come from within individuals and their faith communities.

The easing of religious restrictions in Saudi Arabia today is a case in point.

Need a refresher on what’s up in Saudi Arabia?

Then check out this Al-Jazeera story. Or this NPR piece focusing on the innovations King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have allowed to take hold in their ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom.

Of course it's not just Islam to which this sort of change applies.

Even with physical and other severe threats, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, tribal animists, Mormons, Christians and others have held on to their faith in the darkest of hours.

Let me be clear. I’m in no way arguing that Islam’s jihadist fringe -- not in France or anywhere else -- deserves any legal slack because, you know, that’s just what they believe. Or that Macron has no right to confront their opinions in an intelligent manner.

In fact, I believe the opposite. I have no sympathy whatsoever for radicalized terrorists whose violence is a threat to all, including other Muslims.

Nor do I have any sympathy for those Muslims who cite the Qur’anic passage stipulating that there should be no “compulsion,” or coercion, in religious belief, but ignore those words in their attitudes toward non-Muslims and other Muslims whose beliefs clash with their own.

One last thing. Let's hope Macron, who is in Washington this week for a state dinner and some chit-chat, doesn't let his grand plan for reorganizing French Islam slip during his conversation with Trump.

Because I’m getting tired of having to slap my head. It's starting to leave a mark.

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