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

Written by Om Marathe | New Delhi |

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

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

Wednesday, the French cabinet presented a bill aimed at “radical Islam” – although the word “Islamist” is not part of the text. Named 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 or the Muslim religion”, but against radical Islam, whose aim, he said, was to “divide the French among themselves”.

The bill comes as a result of a series of terrorist attacks in recent years. Although it has been going on for some time, it is seen as a response to Professor Samuel Paty’s beheading in October. He expressed concern that it could stigmatize France’s largest Muslim community in Europe.

What does the proposed law aim to do?

It provides for a number of measures, including reforms in school education to ensure that Muslim children do not drop out, stricter controls on mosques and preachers, and rules against online hate campaigns.

Once the law comes into force, French mosques could see increased oversight of their activities, such as funding. The government could oversee the training of imams and have greater powers to close places of worship that receive public subsidies if they go against “republican principles,” such as gender equality. Moderate community leaders targeted by an extremist putch could receive protection.

Under the laws of French secularism, or laïcité, there is already a ban on state employees displaying “visible” religious symbols, such as the crucifix or hijab. This ban would now be extended beyond government bodies to any subcontracted public service, in accordance with the provisions of economist.

There would also be a reduction in home schooling for children over the age of three, and parents will be discouraged from enrolling in underground Islamic structures, according to France 24.
Doctors who issue “virginity certificates” will be fined or arrested. Officials will be prohibited from granting residence permits to polygamous applicants. The couples will be interviewed separately by city officials before their wedding to find out if they were forced to get married.

Stricter penalties would be introduced for online hate speech. This is seen as a direct response to the murder of Paty, who was targeted in an online campaign before she 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 challenge.”

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, Egypt’s top 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 promoting racism against Muslims.”

At home, experts say Macron is largely enjoying 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 nationwide poll, 79% of respondents agreed that “Islamism is at war with France.”

Critics have expressed alarm that the bill could lead to the confusion of the Islamic religion with Islam, a political movement and could lead to the alienation of French Muslims. However, there were members of the community who came to support 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 re-election in 2022 and experts say appeals to right-wing French voters after facing a series of electoral losses this year. The president also faced protests against a the proposed “global security” legislation.

In May of this year, a group of left-wing deputies from La République En Marche! (LREM) resigned, costing the party an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Then, in June, LREM had a poor result in local elections.

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

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