Explained: What is in France’s bill against ‘Islamism’?

Written by Om Marathe | New Delhi |

Updated: December 15, 2020 2:54:48 pm

Macron faces re-election in 2022, and experts say he is appealing to France’s right-wing voters after facing a series of electoral losses this year. (File)

On Wednesday the French cabinet introduced a bill aimed at “radical Islamism” – although the word “Islamist” is not part of the text. Called a law “to strengthen republican principles,” the Bill will go to the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, in January.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said it was “not a text against religion, nor against the Islamic religion”, but against radical Islamism, the aim of which, he said, is to “separate French from each other.”

The Bill comes after a series of terrorist attacks in recent years. Although in the pipeline for some time, it is seen as a response to the October beheading of elementary school teacher Samuel Paty. It expressed concern that it could stigmatize France’s Muslim community, the largest in Europe.

What does the proposed law aim to do?

It envisions a range of measures, including reforms in school education to ensure that Muslim children do not give up, stricter controls on mosques and preachers, and rules against hate campaigns online.

Once the law goes into effect, French mosques could see increased surveillance of their activities, such as funding. The government could exercise oversight over the training of imams, and would have greater powers to close places of worship by receiving public subsidies if they contravene “republican principles” such as gender equality. Moderate community leaders targeted by an extremist “coup” could receive protection.

Under French secularist laws, or secularism, it is already forbidden for state employees to display “obvious” religious symbols, such as the crucifix or hijab. This ban would now extend beyond government agencies to any outsourced public service, as per The Economist.

There would also be a decline in homeschooling for children over the age of three, with parents discouraged from enrolling them in underground Islamic structures, according to France 24.
Physicians who issue “certificates of virginity” would be fined or imprisoned. Officials would be prohibited from granting residence permits to polygamous applicants. Couples would be interviewed separately by mayoral officials before their wedding to find out if they were forced to marry.

More severe penalties would be introduced for online hate. This is seen as a direct response to the murder of Paty, who was targeted in an online campaign before he was killed.

What was the reaction?

The sharpest criticism of the Bill came from abroad. Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who has strongly criticized French President Emmanuel Macron in recent months, called the proposed law an “open provocation”.

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest cleric, called Macron’s views “racist.” For his part, Macron said recently, “I will not allow anyone to claim that France or its government is growing 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 nationwide survey, 79% of respondents agreed that “Islamism is at war with France”.

Critics have expressed alarm that the Bill could lead to a fusion of the Islamic religion with Islamism, a political movement, and lead to the alienation of French Muslims. However, there were members of the community who supported the law, such as the leader of the French Council of the Islamic Faith. 📣 Follow Explicit Explained in Telegram

Why is it significant politically?

Macron faces re-election in 2022, and experts say he appeals to the right-wing voters of France after facing a series of electoral losses this year. The president also faced protests over proposed “global security” legislation.

In May this year, a group of left-wing MPs from his La République En Marche! (LREM) party defected, costing the party its absolute majority in the National Assembly. Then in June, the LREM fared poorly in local elections.

Macron, who describes his policy as “neither right nor left” – he was in the Socialist Party until 2009 – faces a challenge from right-wing politician Marine Le Pen, whom he won in the 2017 elections, and who led the charge against him for it. , that he did not rebuke Islamism enough.

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