On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron will seek the blessing of his government for a bill aimed at what he calls Islamist “separatism”, which some fear will stigmatize the French Muslim community, Europe’s largest.
The text was originally titled the “anti-separatism” proposal, a term Macron has used to refer to radical Islamists withdrawing from ordinary society. Following criticism of that term, it is now called a “bill to strengthen Republican values,” mostly secularism and freedom of speech.
The law was in place before the October assassination of Samuel Paty, a high school teacher who was attacked on the street and beheaded after showing drawings of the Prophet Mohammed in a community class.
But the murder, committed by an 18-year-old Chechen after a virulent social media campaign against the teacher, gave new impetus to the bill. This led to the introduction of the specific crimes of hate speech online and the disclosure of personal information on the internet.
Samuel Paty’s horrific murder has shaken the French nation to its core. © Charles Platiau, REUTERS
Patys’ death is one in a series of jihadist-inspired attacks in France that include the 2015 shootings of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan Concert Hall; and the stabbings in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice the same year. Nice was also the scene of a 2016 attack that killed 86 people when a man fell on a truck at Bastille Day party.
The government is aware that Islamist radicalization can be both domestic and imported and targets associations and mosques in France that they suspect of spreading jihadist ideology.
The law would make it easier to stop them from obtaining foreign funding and would also offer protection to moderate community leaders who risk being overthrown by an extremist “coup”.
The bill, co-funded by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti, also proposes stricter criteria for allowing homeschooling for children over the age of three in an effort to prevent parents from taking their children out of public schools and enrolling them in underground Islamic structures.
Doctors would meanwhile be fined or jailed if they perform a virginity test on girls.
Polygamy is already banned in France, but the new law would also ban authorities from issuing residence permits to polygamous applicants.
It would also require city officials to interview couples separately before their wedding to make sure they were not forced to marry.
Do not ‘promote racism’
Macron has been the target of fierce protests in some Muslim countries, including calls for a boycott of French products, his defense of the right to be blasphemed and his claim that Islam is “in crisis around the world”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the proposed legislation an “open provocation”, while researchers at Egypt’s prestigious Sunni Muslim institution, Al-Azhar, called Macron’s views “racist”.
Macron has also been forced into the defensive by critical headlines in influential English-language media, such as the Financial Times and the New York Times.
An opinion published on FT and later removed from his website accused him of promoting a “hostile environment” for French Muslims.
“I will not allow anyone to claim that France or its government promotes racism against Muslims,” Macron wrote in an angry letter to the newspaper.
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Muslims in France – whose former colonies include predominantly Muslim countries in northern and western Africa and the Middle East – are estimated at nearly four million, about six percent of the population.
French governments have often been at odds with Muslim traditions when they were perceived to run counter to French core values or hinder integration. The subject has heightened disputes between rival understandings of French secularism, or laïcité, which disagree on how far the state should go to assert religious neutrality in the public sphere.
In 2004, a law banned headscarves from French schools, followed six years later by the so-called “burqa ban”, which prohibits wearing the treadmill in public. Recently, some southern French seaside resorts banned Muslim women from beaches if they wore “burkinis” all over their bodies.
According to a survey of France’s Muslim population, published by the Ipsos Institute earlier this year, 77 percent said they had no problem practicing their religion in France. However, the same survey showed that 44 percent of French Muslims believe that the rest of society has no regard for them. The figure rose to 61 percent among Muslims living in households earning less than the minimum wage.
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When the government, as expected, supports the bill, it will go to parliament early next year for what promises to be a heated debate.
The French Conseil d’État, which advises the government and the National Assembly on future laws, has already signaled that certain parts of the bill, in particular on education, may conflict with the principle of freedom of choice in the French Constitution.
( Jowharwith AFP)