French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has emerged as one of the primary leaders of a recent crackdown on individuals and Muslim organisations the state suspects of being involved in “terrorism”, following two recent deadly attacks.
Darmanin, 38, was born into a working-class family in the Northern French town of Valenciennes, and is of Algerian and Maltese descent.
In 2014, he told the French publication Bondy Blog that he “feels deeply Catholic, culturally,” and that his grandfather was Muslim.
Darmanin attended university at Sciences Po in the French city of Lille.
After a stint as chief of staff to the sports minister, he was elected to the French parliament in 2012 as part of the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party.
In early 2014, Darmanin was elected mayor of Tourcoing, a northern city. He also worked closely with right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy, and is often described as his “protégé.”
In 2016, Darmanin directed Sarkozy’s failed conservative primary election campaign under the Les Républicains banner, which had been renamed from the UMP.
When François Fillon, who instead won the conservative nomination, was implicated in a series of scandals, however, Darmanin withdrew his support from Les Républicains.
He soon came out in support of Emmanuel Macron, who is often described as a centrist.
When Macron became president in 2017, Darmanin was made budget minister and became a member of Macron’s La République En Marche! party.
In July 2020, Darmanin climbed higher, succeeding Christophe Castaner as interior minister.
In early 2018, charges were filed against Darmanin over allegations that as mayor, he had demanded sexual favours from a constituent in exchange for access to social housing and a job. The case was later dismissed.
In June, a separate case dating back to 2018 against Darmanin was reopened when a Paris appeals court declared a previous investigation into allegations he raped a woman had been inadequate.
Sophie Patterson-Spatz says that in 2009, when she sought Darmanin’s help in expunging her criminal record, he raped her. He claims that their contact was consensual and has accused Patterson-Spatz of slander.
When Darmanin was appointed interior minister, a post that in France also heads the police, hundreds took to the streets in protest in light of these allegations.
But President Macron defended Darmanin.
In late September, when two people were wounded in a cleaver attack outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Darmanin declared the event an “act of Islamist terrorism”.
On October 2, Macron delivered a speech that pitted France’s “secular values” against what he described as “Islamic radicalism”, promising a bill in December that would strengthen divisions between church and state. The “separatism law” aims to punish those who stray from France’s deeply held secular values.
On October 16, an 18-year-old Chechen man beheaded Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old teacher who had shown students Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, near Paris.
In the days following, Darmanin announced his plan to dissolve dozens of oganisations, including a non-profit known as the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and the charity BarakaCity.
In the case of the CCIF, Darmanin falsely claimed the organisation had been associated with Paty’s murder, a claim which his staff later appeared to walk back slightly.
Human rights organisations have issued concern that Muslims will be collectively targeted.
After the deadly 2015 attacks in Paris, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said thousands of raids yielded few results and made Muslims feel like second-class citizens.
Farid Hafez, a political scientist at Salzburg University and Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative, told Al Jazeera: “Darmanin has clearly sent a message that the rule of law is not applying to Muslims living in France”, adding that his actions also communicated that “even if you want to defend yourself in the midst of this more-than-dubious crackdown of the Muslim civil society, you might be deemed an ‘enemy of the Republic’ as well.”
Dozens of police raids took place across the country, and Darmanin declared that “the enemies of the Republic” cannot expect a minute’s respite.
Darmanin also ordered a mosque outside Paris to be closed because it had shared a viral video criticising Paty before his murder on its Facebook page.
In an October 20 interview with BFM TV, Darmanin suggested certain food aisles, including kosher food and halal food, should be withdrawn from supermarkets, as he rallied against “separatism” – comments that were instantly ridiculed on social media.
On October 29, an attacker killed three people at a church in the French city of Nice, and an anti-terror investigation was opened into the incident.
“We need to understand that there have been and there will be other events such as these terrible attacks,” Darmanin said of the attacks. “We’re at war against an ideology, Islamist ideology.”