Updated: December 15, 2020, 2:54:48 pm
On Wednesday the French cabinet presented a bill targeting “radical Islamism” – although the word “Islamist” is not part of the text. The bill, known as the “Law to Strengthen Republican Principles”, will go to the National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament, in January.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said it was “not a text against religion or against the Muslim religion” but against radical Islamism, which aims to “separate the French people”.
The bill is the result of a number of terrorist attacks in recent years. Though in the pipeline for some time, it is seen in response to the decapitation of school teacher Samuel Paty in October. It has raised concerns that it may stigmatize France’s Muslim community, the largest in Europe.
What is the proposed law supposed to achieve?
It envisages a range of measures, including reforms to school education to ensure Muslim children do not drop out, stricter controls on mosques and preachers, and rules against online hate campaigns.
Once the law goes into effect, French mosques could see increased monitoring of their activities such as funding. The government would be able to oversee the training of imams and have more powers to shut down places of worship that receive public subsidies when they violate “republican principles” such as gender equality. Moderate community leaders who are attacked by an extremist “coup” could receive protection.
According to the French secularism laws or Laïcité there is already a ban on state employees to display religious symbols that are “conspicuous”, such as the crucifix or the hijab. This ban would now be extended beyond government agencies to include all subcontracted public services The economist.
According to France 24, there would also be a restriction on home-schooling for children over the age of three, with parents being prevented from enrolling them in underground Islamic structures.
Doctors who issue “certificates of virginity” are fined or imprisoned. Officials would be prohibited from issuing a residence permit to polygamous applicants. Couples would be interviewed separately by city hall officials prior to their wedding to see if they had been forced into marriage.
More severe penalties would be introduced for online hate speech. This is viewed 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 heavily criticized French President Emmanuel Macron in recent months, has described the proposed law as an “open provocation”.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s chief clergyman, has described Macron’s views as “racist”. For his part, Macron recently said: “I will not allow anyone to claim that France or its government promotes racism against Muslims.”
Experts say Macron enjoys broad support at home from a French electorate that has tightened its position on terrorism and 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 expressed concern that the bill could lead to the amalgamation of the Islamic religion with Islamism, a political movement, and the alienation of French Muslims. Even so, there have been members of the community who have spoken out in favor of the law, such as the chairman of the French Council for the Muslim Faith. 📣 Follow the express explained in the telegram
Why is it politically significant?
Macron is facing re-election in 2022, experts say He appeals to right-wing voters in France after a series of election losses that year. The President also has protests about a proposed legislation on “global security”.
In May of this year, a group of left-wing MPs from his La République En Marche! (LREM) Party defected, which costs the party its absolute majority in the National Assembly. Then, in June, the LREM did poorly in local elections.
Macron, who describes his politics as “neither right nor left” – he was with the Socialist Party until 2009 – faces the challenge of right-wing politician Marine Le Pen, whom he defeated in the 2017 elections and against whom he led the indictment him for not cracking down on Islamism hard enough.
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