Explained: What is in the French 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’s appealing to French right-wing voters after facing a string of election losses this year. (File)

Wednesday the French cabinet presented a bill that targets “radical Islamism” – although the word “Islamist” is not part of the text. Defined as 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 that “it is not a text against religion, nor against the Muslim religion”, but against radical Islamism, whose goal, he said, is “to divide the French from one another”.

The bill comes in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks in recent years. Although it has been in the works for some time, it is seen as a response to the October beheading of teacher Samuel Paty. He raised concerns that he could stigmatize the French Muslim community, the largest in Europe.

What does the bill aim to do?

It includes a number of measures, including school education reforms 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 greater oversight of their activities, such as funding. The government would be able to oversee the training of imams and would 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 targeted by an extremist “coup” could receive protection.

Under French laws on secularism, or laïcité, there is already a ban on state employees from displaying “flashy” religious symbols, such as the crucifix or hijab. This ban would now be extended beyond government entities to any subcontracted public service, as per The Economist.

There would also be a crackdown on home education for children over the age of three, with parents to be dissuaded from enrolling them in underground Islamic facilities, 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. The couples would be interviewed separately by city hall officials before their marriage to find out if they were forced to marry.

Tougher punishments for hate speech online would be introduced. This is seen as a direct response to the killing of Paty, who was targeted in an online campaign before he was killed.

What was the reaction?

The most acute criticisms of the bill came from abroad. Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who in recent months has strongly criticized the French President Emmanuel Macron, called the bill an “open provocation”.

The great imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top cleric, called Macron’s views “racist”. For his part, Macron recently said: “I will not allow anyone to claim that France, or its government, promotes racism against Muslims.”

At home, experts say Macron largely enjoys the support of a French electorate that has strengthened its stance on terrorism, which has claimed more than 200 lives in the past eight years. In a recent national poll, 79% of respondents agreed that “Islam is at war with France”.

Critics have expressed the alarm that the bill could lead to the merger 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 spoken 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 important politically?

Macron risks re-election in 2022, experts say appeals to right-wing French voters after facing a series of election losses this year. The president also faced protests for a proposal for legislation on “global security”.

In May of this year, a group of left-wing parliamentarians from his La République En Marche! (LREM) the party defected, costing the party its absolute majority in the National Assembly. Then, in June, the LREM did badly 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 politician Marine Le Pen, whom he defeated in the 2017 election, and who led the accusation against him for not repressing Islamism hard enough.

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