Without knowing it, Macron has kicked himself in the foot

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Published: Updated:

While speaking in front of 70 world leaders, French President Macron did not just recall past tragedies and remember the victims of World War I but he criticized nationalism and viewed it as betrayal of patriotism. His reprimanding address was directed to one man present in front of him, Trump who days before said: “Really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, ok? I’m a nationalist.” Macron’s speech however stirred wide uproar in terms of the concept and reality.

What’s the difference between nationalism and patriotism? Did he mean globalization or universality? What is Macron’s concept of liberal globalization? There is this confusion in definitions and terms and part of it is due to Macron’s passion for linguistic gibberish and speeches that are delivered the academic way.

It’s clear that ties between the US and French presidents are at their worst since the honeymoon period ended, when Trump announced the US's withdrawal from the nuclear deal. It’s difficult to imagine Macron saying these words a year ago when he aspired to influence the US president with logic and embraces to stay in the deal. However he decided to anger his guest by talking about the European army to protect Europe, not just from China or Russia but also from America, the country that saved Europe from itself twice. No one took Macron’s talk about the European army seriously, including Trump who mocked the idea and said first pay your share to the NATO then build whatever army you want.

However what does Macron mean by nationalism and patriotism?

If we take direct definitions, we cannot find a clash between nationalism and patriotism. A nationalist character is based on a patriotic sentiment. We live in the era of the nationalist state or what’s called the nation state. It’s difficult to exit this concept, i.e. imagine a president who does not put his country first otherwise why was he elected? To serve the interests of other countries? Macron himself puts France’s interests before other states on several levels. He embellishes its language, promotes its companies and defends its sovereignty. Would that make him a traitor of patriotism? Of course not.

It’s clear that ties between the US and French presidents are at their worst since the honeymoon period ended, when Trump announced the US's withdrawal from the nuclear deal. It’s difficult to imagine Macron saying these words a year ago when he aspired to influence the US president.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Nationalism is not evil within its correct borders. It played a strong role in the liberation and salvation of countries from tyranny, like what happened in eastern European countries which destroyed the Soviet iron curtain by first relying on the national sentiment and second by relying on the religious sentiment like what happened in Poland. It’s understandable if this statement was made by a leader who believes in anarchy or chaos that opposes the national state but it’s difficult to comprehend that this is said by a president whose country changed the concept of the world after the French Revolution and whose country had an important role in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia which planted the first seed of the modern national state. Macron hinted the emergence of figures like Hitler, but the German dictator spread chaos by relying on racist and ethnic theories. With all the changes in the world since 70 years, it’s difficult to imagine a new Mussolini in 2018.

Macron may be saying the famous statement “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” in another way. The sentence means that patriotism or nationalism is a fabricated product and an alternative to the tribal and religious identity, i.e. after the religious and tribal identity which was the reason behind wars disappeared, the national identity was created to play the same role. Hence, after we were religious and tribal clans, we turned into nationalist clans whose fate is eternal conflict. This is a perfect speech that suits lecture halls but the reality is different. We live in a world of nationalism and countries and it’s difficult to overcome this with the political concept. It’s difficult to imagine a country without a nationalist identity even if individuals are capable of abandoning it or replacing it with a different form of nationalism.

Macron was reprimanding Macron

The other explanation is that Macron may have meant extremist and not soft nationalism, i.e. putting your country first and destroying other countries. He is right in terms of this but this reprimanding does not apply to Trump and his foreign policy. It’s clear that there’s a difference between Twitter Trump and the real Trump. Twitter Trump is angry and isolationist and he does not want to pay money and he demands other countries to pay, like he said two days ago while addressing rich European countries. However, the real Trump is different. He did not exit NATO like he threatened he would and he did not isolate himself from the world as he sealed a deal with North Korea, the world’s most isolated regime. The slogan America First did not prevent him from imposing the harshest sanctions on the Iranian regime. America did not turn into a colonial country that occupies other countries and steals their wealth. America’s nationalism is moderate despite the fuss of alerts on its president’s Twitter account.

The third interpretation of exiting nationalism and patriotism may refer to the liberal world order. A condition to preserve this liberal order is the presence of a nationalist state that believes in it and protects it, like Great Britain did before and America did after World War II. Once again and apart from the Trumpism political rhetoric, what Pompeo and Bolton are doing these days in terms of suffocating Tehran maintains this liberal order and protects it from cracking and also protects it from the emergence of other powers that spread terrorism and shed blood – unlike the French president who fought to protect the Iranian regime for several reasons of which the most important is protecting the interests of French companies, i.e. for the sake of nationalist financial French interests, even if this leads to supporting the force that destroys globalization and universality and the co-existence he preaches. Without actually knowing it, Macron was reprimanding Macron. This is the harmful and isolationist nationalism which Macron was talking about, in which he was alluding to Trump. He is making the same mistake of President Barack Obama and he’s singing the same tune, using different lyrics. The rhetoric is global and the approach is isolationist. The words are eloquent as they call for peace and humanity while children in eastern Ghouta powerlessly and helplessly suffocate by poisonous gas.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.