Macron’s war on Islamists comes up against Erdogan’s soft power

The French government is getting more concerned about Turkey’s growing influence in the country


On an industrial estate in the French city of Strasbourg a few miles from the European Parliament, a grand plan to build the continent’s largest mosque is slowly taking shape.

The Turkish organization behind the 30 million-euro ($36 million) project says the Eyyub Sultan complex, replete with a dozen domes and minarets and surrounded by conference halls, restaurants and stores, will be open to all and a pillar of integration and multiculturalism. Yet what’s concerning French authorities is how it might ultimately be used.

With France reeling from a series of gruesome attacks by jihadists in recent weeks, President Emmanuel Macron has spoken of “a battle” to protect the country’s secularism. Critical to that, he says, is to halt the import of more conservative interpretations of Islam. Top of his list is Turkey as it vies for leadership of the Sunni Muslim world with Saudi Arabia.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees the diaspora as an army in Europe keeping strong links with the country, said Gilles Kepel, a French political scientist specializing in Islam in the West and who has close ties to Macron. “The propaganda machine of Turkish nationalism is very strong,” said Kepel. “Erdogan has been building a network to relay his influence”.

Read more: Bloomberg