Macron’s government to adopt bill targeting Islamist extremists
On Wednesday, the 115th anniversary of France’s 1905 law separating church and state, President Emmanuel Macron will unveil a new draft law designed to curb Islamist “separatism” on French soil.
The legislation, which contains measures ranging from a ban on “virginity certificates” for Muslim women to curbs on home schooling, follows two deadly Islamist terror attacks in October, in which four people were killed.
Mr Macron will present the bill — entitled the law to “protect republican principles” — at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. It comes as his governing party remains shaken by its climbdown over another security law that would have restricted the use of images identifying police officers. That law’s Article 24 is being rewritten after protests that it violated freedom of speech and after three policemen were filmed beating up a black music producer.
The draft law includes an extension of the principle of “neutrality” in public services — which prohibits civil servants from wearing ostentatious religious symbols, for instance — to private sector companies if they are contracted by the authorities. State subsidies for civic associations will be further curtailed if they are deemed hostile to the republic.
Greater restrictions will be placed on hate speech and radical content on social media and the wider internet, and it will be illegal to identify public servants such as teachers with a view to harming them. That is an echo of the now-moot article on targeting police officers in the other security law, and also a reaction to the fact that Samuel Paty, the school teacher decapitated by a Chechnya-born Islamist in October, was reviled and identified on Facebook, while his attacker claimed the killing on Twitter afterwards.
Mr Macron has insisted that his goal is to target Islamist extremists, rejecting accusations of Islamophobia from Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Imran Khan of Pakistan.
“We are not targeting Muslims,” one of Mr Macron’s advisers said. “We are targeting movements that in the name of religion have a discourse against the republic.”
The government’s strategy, he said, was a “destabilisation” of radical Islamist networks that it says hold sway in certain districts of France — 15 of which were targeted by the government nearly three years ago for “republican reconquest”.
Despite unease among liberals about other provisions of the draft law — the effective ban on home schooling, for example, and a criminalisation of patients who demand to choose the gender of the doctor who treats them in state hospitals — Mr Macron’s crackdown on Islamism since he took office in 2017 is supported by a majority of French voters.
According to an Ifop-Fiducial opinion poll for CNews and Sud Radio in October, 87 per cent of the French agree that France’s distinctive form of laïcité, or secularism, is in danger. Seventy-nine per cent agree that “Islamism has declared war on France and the republic”, and 78 per cent support teachers such as Samuel Paty who show their pupils caricatures that mock religions to explain freedom of expression and the right to blasphemy.
Action against Islamism and support for secularism are popular across the political spectrum. The poll showed that 88 per cent of Socialists supported the use of religious caricatures in schools, compared with 89 per cent of supporters of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National.
In its 54 articles, the law will extend the enforcement of laïcité in various walks of life. Home schooling will be restricted, officials say, because some children are in fact being sent by their parents to unregistered Koranic classes.
Marc Trévidic, a former anti-terrorism prosecutor and judge, estimated that 3,000-4,000 young French people — twice the official number — had gone to fight as jihadis in Syria and Iraq after 2013. “We were stunned by the number of departures,” he told the Financial Times.
Mr Macron has promised a parallel effort to handle complaints of discrimination and to fund government services in deprived areas.
The law will not resolve a wider reluctance to accept public display of religious faith, said Tareq Oubrou, a Morocco-born imam in Bordeaux. “There’s a visibility [of French Muslims] that is seen as a stubborn separatism, as a plan to Islamise society,” he said, recalling that the 1905 law was aimed at curbing the powers of the monarchist Catholic church.
“Every religious practice is seen as a turn to sectarianism leading to fundamentalism,” he said. “It’s not like in Anglo-Saxon countries . . . Here, in France, freedom is first of all the freedom to free yourself from religion.”