PARIS, France: The French government has unveiled a draft law particularly targeting Muslims and aimed at better arming France against ‘Islamist radicalism’, a project promoted by President Emmanuel Macron to root out what he calls “separatists” undermining the nation.
The proposed legislation targets home schools, mosques or associations that promulgate an ideology running counter to French values, which authorities have called the “Islamist hydra.”
With claims by some that the draft law is too soft or a political manoeuvre by Macron ahead of 2022 presidential elections to capture followers on the far right, it is likely to see debate when it goes before Parliament in coming months.
The topic is delicate because of the large Muslim population in France, estimated at 5 million. 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 bill of freedom, a bill of protection, a bill of emancipation from Islamist fundamentalism” or other ideologies pursuing the same goals.
Castex, speaking at a news conference after the draft law was presented to Cabinet, said those who seek to “divide, and spread hate and violence” are at the heart of “separatism.” Among notable measures is making school obligatory from age 3, allowing the option of homeschooling in special cases only.
Under the new law, a judge can forbid anyone convicted of provoking terrorism, discrimination, hate or violence from frequenting mosques. Foreign funding for mosques, while not forbidden, would have to be declared if it exceeds 10,000 euros ($12,000).
The draft bill also overhauls France’s much-cherished 1905 law separating church and state and guaranteeing a secular nation in order to modernise and clarify matters of faith, Castex said.
Changes in “morals, practices and threats” make modifications necessary to the secularism law and an older 1901 law governing associations, the prime minister said.
In a section on human dignity, the draft law would make it a crime punishable by fines and up to one year in prison for a doctor to provide a young woman with a certificate that she’s a virgin, sometimes demanded ahead of Muslim marriage ceremonies.
To do away with forced marriages, a measure requires the couple to meet separately for an interview with an official when there is a doubt about free consent. If the doubt persists, the official must take the issue to a prosecutor, who could forbid the marriage.
Those practising polygamy would be forbidden French residence cards. Macron spelled out in a speech in October his reasons for wanting to tackle Islamist extremism in all its forms. He said extremists want “to create a parallel order, build other values, develop another organisation of society, initially separatist but with a final goal of taking complete control.”
The draft law creates a new crime for endangering others by disseminating information about people’s private or professional life with the intention of identifying, locating and exposing the person or their family to an immediate danger.
The new law would see camps being set up to house people that have not committed crimes but are considered “radical.” A far-right politician in France’s national assembly has tabled a bill that would result in “internment camps” for Muslims.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin recently announced that the state will start monitoring and controlling 76 Muslim places of worship, of which 16 will be in the Paris region and the rest in other parts of France. Some mosques are expected to be closed down.
Darmanin has also announced plans to shut down the country’s anti-Islamophobia reporting group which Human Rights Watch has condemned as a measure that “risks further stigmatising Muslims in France.”
The US envoy for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, recently said about the situation in France: “I’m worried, of course, about what’s going on in France,” referring to the increasingly draconian measures being taken by French officials.
The sharpest criticism of the Bill has come from abroad. Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who has been strongly criticising French President Emmanuel Macron in recent months, has called the proposed law an “open provocation”.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top cleric, has called Macron’s views “racist”. For his part, Macron said recently, “I will not allow anybody to claim that France, or its government, is fostering racism against Muslims.”
At home, experts say that 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”.
There would also be a clampdown on home-schooling for children over age three, with parents from to be dissuaded from enrolling them in underground Islamic structures.