PARIS: The French government on Wednesday introduced a bill aimed at better arming France against Islamist radicalism, a project promoted by President Emmanuel Macron to eradicate what he calls “separatists” who undermine the nation.
France has suffered numerous Islamist terrorist attacks, including the gruesome beheading of a teacher in October who had shown his class cartoons of the prophet of Islam, followed by an attack inside Nice’s largest church that killed three.
The proposed legislation targets home schools, mosques or associations that enact an ideology that goes against French values, which authorities have called the “Islamist hydra” that can cultivate violence in some.
With claims by some that the bill is too soft, or a political maneuver by Macron ahead of the 2022 presidential election to capture far-right supporters, there is likely to be a lively debate when it comes before Parliament in the next few months.
The issue is sensitive due to the large Muslim population in France, estimated at 5 million. The proposed law, titled “Supporting Republican Principles,” makes no direct mention of Islam or Islamism in an effort to avoid stigmatization of Muslims.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, also in charge of religions, said separately later that Macron has asked him to organize a parliamentary mission to combat anti-Christian, anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim acts.
“The hatred of religion is increasing. It touches everyone. It hurts,” he said on BFMTV.
Introducing the bill to combat separatism, Prime Minister Jean Castex stressed that “it is not a text against religions or against the Muslim religion in particular.” Instead, he said, it is “a law of freedom, a law of protection, a law of emancipation from Islamist fundamentalism” or other ideologies that pursue the same goals.
Castex, speaking at a press conference after the bill was presented to cabinet, said that those who seek to “divide and spread hatred and violence” are at the heart of “separatism.”
Separatism is especially dangerous because “it is the manifestation of a conscious, theorized political-religious project with the ambition of making religious norms prevail over law,” he said. France “intends to defend itself,” Castex added.
Among the notable measures is the compulsory nature of schooling from the age of 3, allowing the option of home education only in special cases. The measure is aimed at ending the so-called underground schools run by fundamentalists with their own agenda.
Another article encourages mosques to register as places of worship to better identify them. Many of the more than 2,600 mosques in the country, which often have attached Koranic schools, currently operate under rules for associations.
In addition, a judge can prohibit anyone convicted of causing terrorism, discrimination, hatred or violence from frequenting mosques. Foreign funding for mosques, although not prohibited, should be reported if it exceeds 10,000 euros ($ 12,000).
The bill also makes changes to France’s much-cherished 1905 law that separates church and state and guarantees a secular nation to modernize and clarify matters of faith, Castex said.
Changes in “morale, practices and threats” necessitate modifications to the secularism law and an earlier 1901 law governing associations, the prime minister said.
In a section on human dignity, the bill would make it a crime punishable by fines and up to a year in prison for a doctor to provide a young woman with a certificate that she is a virgin, sometimes required before Muslim marriage ceremonies.
To end forced marriages, a measure requires the couple to meet separately for an interview with an official when there is a question about free consent. If the doubt persists, the official should take the matter to a prosecutor, who could prohibit the marriage.
Those who practice polygamy are prohibited from having a French residence card.
Macron explained in a speech in October his reasons for wanting to tackle Islamist extremism in all its forms. He said the extremists want to “create a parallel order, build other values, develop another organization of society, initially separatist but with the ultimate goal of taking full control.”
The beheading _ by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee _ in October of a teacher outside his school gave new urgency to guaranteeing French values. Social media users helped inform the attacker of the teacher’s location and other vital information.
The bill creates a new crime for endangering other people by disseminating information about people’s private or professional lives with the intention of identifying, locating and exposing the person or their family to immediate danger.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the move was inspired by the teacher’s murder.