Macron faces reelection in 2022, and experts say he is appealing to France’s right-wing voters after facing a series of electoral losses this year. (Archive)
On Wednesday, the French cabinet presented a bill that targets “radical Islamism,” although the word “Islamist” is not part of the text. Called a law “to reinforce republican principles,” the bill will go to the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, in January.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has said that “it is not a text against religion, nor against the Muslim religion”, but against radical Islamism, whose objective, he said, is “to divide the French among themselves.”
The bill emerges in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks in recent years. Although it is in process for some time, it is seen as a response to the October beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty. He has expressed concern that it may stigmatize the Muslim community in France, the largest in Europe.
What does the proposed law intend to do?
It includes a number of measures, including school education reforms to ensure Muslim children do not drop out of school, tighter controls on mosques and preachers, and rules against online hate campaigns.
Once the law goes into effect, French mosques could see increased surveillance of their activities, such as funding. The government could oversee the formation of imams and have greater powers to shut down places of worship that receive public subsidies if they go against “republican principles” such as gender equality. Moderate community leaders who are the target of an extremist “coup” could be protected.
Under the laws of French secularism, or laïcité, there is already a ban on state employees displaying religious symbols that are “conspicuous”, such as the crucifix or the hijab. This ban will now extend beyond government agencies to any outsourced public services, according to The Economist.
There would also be a crackdown on homeschooling for children over the age of three, and parents would be discouraged from enrolling them in clandestine Islamic structures, according to France 24.
Doctors who issue “virginity certificates” would be fined or jailed. Officials would be prohibited from granting residence permits to polygamous applicants. City council officials would interview the couples separately before their wedding to find out whether they have been forced into marriage.
Stronger punishments would be introduced for online hate speech. This is seen as a direct response to the murder of Paty, who was the target of an online campaign before she was killed.
What has been the reaction?
The harshest criticisms of the bill come from abroad. Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who has been harshly criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron in recent months, has called the proposed law an “open provocation.”
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top cleric, has called Macron’s views “racist”. For his part, Macron recently said: “I will not allow anyone to claim that France, or its government, is promoting racism against Muslims.”
At home, experts say Macron largely enjoys the support of a French electorate that has hardened its position on terrorism, which has claimed more than 200 lives in the past eight years. In a recent national poll, 79% of respondents agreed that “Islamism is at war with France.”
Critics have voiced alarm that the bill could lead to the fusion of the Islamic religion with Islam, a political movement, and lead to the alienation of French Muslims. However, there have been members of the community who have come out in support of the law, such as the leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. 📣 Follow Express explained on Telegram
Why is it politically significant?
Macron faces reelection in 2022, and experts say he is appealing to France’s right-wing voters after facing a series of electoral losses this year. The president has also faced protests over a “global security” bill.
In May of this year, a group of left-wing MPs from his La République En Marche! The party (LREM) defected, costing the party its absolute majority in the National Assembly. Then, in June, the LREM performed poorly in local elections.
Macron, who describes his politics as “neither right nor left” – he was with the Socialist Party until 2009 – faces a challenge from right-wing politics Marine Le Pen, whom he defeated in the 2017 elections, and who has led the indictment against him for failing to crack down on Islamism.
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