France struggles with its search for a new hero – and in the process creates the enemy image of the Orient. Macron wants to play Leonidas. To do so, he needs a character for the role of the Persian Emperor Xerxes, who is supposed to represent the source of evil.
Thanks to the vision and strength of the German economy, Merkel was able to keep Germany in a superior position within the European Union for a long time. The clear superiority of the Federal Republic was especially true in relation to France. The fact that four French presidents were in office during Angela Merkel’s fifteen-year chancellorship was humiliating enough for French politics. While Germany, as a real power, took firm steps towards its own goals and the common goals of the European Union, France had to build its greatest narrative on its national history and culture. Thus France revealed a fictional narrative of superiority, but it sensed precisely that it was in a power imbalance – especially when there were tensions with Germany. This approach is a great indictment of France.
Europe is now moving step by step towards a new era. As Merkel takes her leave of the political arena, she leaves deep traces in world politics and the history of diplomacy – and a political vacuum. Although German politics still has much to offer, it is already clear that taking over Merkel’s position will not be easy.
At the same time, it represents a unique opportunity for France. France wants to let its sails sail by the still perceptible wind of the paradigm of September 11th and make its influence felt again on the international stage. It will use its only great capital: culturalism. Macron does not shy away from creating cultural rivalries and playing the role of the “good boy” in this created conflict.
Drawing a picture of the hostile Orient and defining one’s own self through this image of the enemy is a legacy of ancient Greece. This attitude is not new, but an old tradition, as can be seen in the texts of the famous physician Hippocrates, who lived in the fifth century B.C. and described the Persian Wars. Building on this, Macron constructs an analogy that is not alien to French culture: he stylizes himself as a mythical figure running in a marathon, warning the Greek people of the approaching danger from the East. It is an attempt by France to declare Islam as the enemy – similar to the once hostile Persia – while playing its heroic role in Sparta.
A new national heroic figure is needed
The French spirit, which declares the figure of Marianne to be a worldly virgin Mary, must more than ever make analogies and conjure up a new hero by the shortest route. Someone who is contemporary and up-to-date, because, it seems, France today has no new, untold and authentic epic to present. For a country that has built its superiority and authority on stories and narratives, there is no other way out.
Moreover, the stories of France’s historical past are extremely dirty and shameful. The bloody colonial past, human rights violations, involvement in the genocide in Rwanda and dozens of such stigma stains make it difficult for France to spread valuable stories from its recent past. Because of the cruel events and facts, it is not possible today for the country to reconstruct a new history of superiority from old tales. Therefore the easiest solution for France and Macron is to start from a picture of a new crisis of civilization and to play the role of protector and savior of the Occident in this conflict. While the paradigm of September 11th is still alive and European countries are overwhelmed with refugees from many regions of Asia and Africa, especially the Middle East, it seems quite convenient for Macron to take on such a cheap role.
If Macron is Leonidas in this story, he also needs a great figure for the role of the Persian Emperor Xerxes, who is the source of evil and threatens the civilized world. The crisis in the Islamic world has for many years made Iran, the present country of Xerxes, the only alternative for this role, although it was not at all suitable for this role.
Turkey as a symbol of the hostile Orient
In recent years, Turkey has become stronger, especially in the military arena, and its political importance is growing. However, this change reminds Europe of its fears from the Middle Ages. Even though Turkey is not a threat to Europe and has been trying to become part of the EU for over 60 years, for many Europeans it still symbolizes the spirit of the hostile Orient. In the imagination of Europeans there are two images of the East. The first version is the East of Arcadius and rivalled with the West of Honorius. The second interpretation of the East is the mysterious Orient, the source of all evil. It is an image of the Orient that could not have been more oriental: the fairytale land of giants, djinn, villains and plunderers.
Although King John also comes from the Orient, this does not make the evil East more likeable. To create a new kind of hero, Macron reminds us of the horror stories that Europeans heard in their childhood. However, it is nothing more than a simple cult around the figure of Leonidas, which is supposed to replace the cult around the idol figure Jeanne D’arc. A constructed cult that persuades the people of Europe to flee to Macron’s politics in the post-Merkel Occident and seek safety there. While Macron plays in the international arena of Leonidas, he is worried. For he could lose the heroic role to Marine Le Pen, who has also grown fond of the role of Jean D’arc in French domestic politics. Both politicians compete for the role of the savior of France. In their rivalry, they are also competing to create enemies. This domestic political battle has led to an explosive clash of civilizations in France – in a country where a significant proportion of Muslims of North African origin live. Even Samuel Huntington could not have predicted such a cheap and senseless cultural conflict.
The hope of all of us is now that a sensible figure will emerge in the European political landscape and pursue real politics, with a real agenda on real problems. Until then, I’m afraid we will continue to hear the silly stories that Macron remembers from his childhood.
Opinion pieces reflect the views of the respective author and not those of the editorial staff. For inquiries please contact: [email protected]