Pushback Against “Islamophobia” Narrative: How New Law In France Prevents Islamists From Accusing State Of Racism And Claim Victimhood
Despite strong criticism of the crackdown on Islamism from the left-wing as well as Muslim countries around the world, Macron seems unfazed, powered by strong public opinion at home.
For a long time now, national governments across the world have been trying to tackle the challenge of radical Islamism, and how to balance modern, secular, pluralistic values with monism promoted by extreme religious beliefs.
France, known for its model of secularism, whose political developments are looked up to by the countries since the French Revolution of 1789, seems committed to another experiment that could possibly serve as a template for others in the future.
French President Emmanuel Macron had sparked a controversy last year by his defence of freedom of expression and attack on "radical Islam" and "Islamist separatism" in the wake of the brutal beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty.
There was an outcry from the Muslim world against Macron’s statements. In India too, protests were carried out by Muslim groups against Macron and France.
Macron made it clear in no uncertain terms that France will not give in to Islamism. In an October 2020 speech, he said that “Islamic separatism” was quietly making inroads in the country and creating a “counter society.” He also called for a "rapid and coordinated" European response to the Islamist terror attacks.
Post the beheading of a French middle-school teacher, Samuel Paty in Paris, the French government temporarily shut down the grand mosque of Pantin outside the city which had circulated a video targeting Paty. The beheading is just one in a spate of terror attacks that have rocked the country — most of them low intensity, lone-wolf type.
Islamism has reportedly claimed more than 200 French lives in the past eight years. In a recent nationwide survey in the country, close to 80 per cent of respondents agreed that “Islamism is at war with France”.
Soon after Macron’s speech, France began an intense crackdown on the Islamists.
In December 2020, the government began investigating at least 76 mosques for spreading radicalism. Additionally, more than 2,600 Muslim places of worship were reportedly flagged as "possible threats to France's republican values and security".
The country also began hunting undocumented immigrants suspected to be radicalised. Reportedly, 66 of them were expelled, 46 were in administrative detention centres, 30 were placed under house arrest and five were in jail.
In December 2020, Macron unveiled a draft law, called the Law Reinforcing Respect of the Principles of the Republic, to tackle ‘radical Islamism’ (albeit the word Islamism is not used in the text), and “to reinforce Republican principles”. The law proposes around 1,700 amendments, which are wide-ranging.
While the law applies to all religions, it is the Muslim groups and countries that voiced the most vehement criticism.
While introducing the bill in the legislature, interior minister Gerald Darmanin, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill’s aim was to stop “an Islamist hostile takeover targeting Muslims", while clarifying that it was not against any religion. “Our country is suffering from a sickness of separatism, first and foremost an Islamist separatism that is like gangrene infecting our national unity,” he said.
Some important provisions of the draft law include:
- It empowers the government to permanently close houses of worship and dissolve religious organizations, without court order, if it finds that any of their members are provoking violence or inciting hatred.
- Oversight in the functioning of associations and mosques, including foreign financing. Foreign funding isn’t banned but they have to declare it and have their accounts certified annually.
- The government would be able to exercise supervision over the training of imams, and have greater powers to shut down places of worship receiving public subsidies if they go against “republican principles” such as gender equality.
- Moderate community leaders targeted by an extremist “putsch” could receive protection.
- Protecting children from indoctrination and to do away with underground schools by mandating that all children from age three attend a regular school (around 50,000 children were home-schooled in 2020, according to French media, but the number of “clandestine schools” where children are reportedly indoctrinated in radical ideology is unknown).
- A close watch on associations, including those that run mosques, by mandating the state-funded to sign a “contract of Republican commitment”, and ensuring that outsiders can’t take control of an association. Religious organizations would have to obtain government permits every five years to continue operating.
- The “Charter of Principles for Islam of France" requires the signatories to reject all forms of political Islam, including Salafism, as well as ideologies linked to national and transnational organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
- It rejects any use of mosques for disseminating nationalist speeches defending foreign regimes and supporting foreign policies hostile to France or its citizens and compatriots.
- Most importantly, the Charter knocks the wind out of the ‘Islamophobia’ narrative by describing as “defamatory” any attempt by Muslims to accuse the state of racism or claim victimhood.
- Any group that violates the charter would face ejection from all the representative bodies of Islam of France.
- The law, keeping in mind the Paty beheading, creates a new crime for hate speech online in which someone’s personal details are posted.
- It bans the practice of polygamy and forced marriage, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and bars doctors from giving virginity certificates.
- France already had a ban on state employees displaying “conspicuous” religious symbols such as the crucifix or hijab. This will now be extended to any sub-contracted public service.
In recent months, France has ousted the leadership of a mosque after temporarily closing it and investigating its finances; asked the mosque authorities to appoint women to the board of its governing association; forced another mosque to give up millions in subsidies; and closed down dozen others temporarily for safety or fire-code violations.
While the law has been strongly criticised by the left-wing ideologues for ‘stigmatising’ the Muslim community; and by the Muslims leaders around the world as ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’, Macron seems unfazed, powered by strong public opinion at home.
Some sections of the Muslim community also welcomed the law, calling it “useful, necessary to fight those who want to use associations” to counter French values. Others called it “unjust but necessary”. The head of the Foundation of Islam, a secular organization representing a progressive Islam, Ghaleb Bencheikh, said:
“..It [the law] is necessary because the French society, the French nation is traumatized by attacks and the reality of radical Islam.. While radicals are a minority, it’s the minorities that make up history.”
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