France has closed seven mosques since the government established a new ‘Anti-Terror law’ last year.
The law is a result of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron against what the French government terms ‘radicalisation’.
France has faced 21 terror attacks in the last four years, with 250 people killed in total.
More than 130 people were killed in the 2015 Paris terror attacks, of which 90 died in the Bataclan theatre.
As a preventative measure, Macron’s government created the idea of a ‘French Islam’ and taken what he calls ‘security measures’. However, many Muslims in France believe the plan is counterproductive and could backfire.
France introduced ‘anti-terror laws’ in October 2017 to replace its ongoing state of emergency.
But, the legal regulations have been criticised by UN Human Rights experts for ‘undermining fundamental rights and freedoms’ and Muslim communities oppose Macron’s policy because they argue that the president has bypassed alternative opinions put forward by French Muslims.
Marwan Muhammad, the former head of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, commented on the law, saying the French government needs to decide whether it is "capable of treating five million of its citizens as grown-up, autonomous human beings."
Djamel*, a young French-Algerian Muslim said: “The biggest proof for that is the Fiche S.”
Djamel was born in Lyon, where he lives and works as a political scientist at a global civil society organisation. The reason why he doesn’t want to give either his name or the name for the organisation he works for is his ‘fear’ of being added to the Fiche S, he says.
The individual watchlist is used by law enforcement as an indicator to flag individuals considered to be a serious threat to national security. It is the highest level warning in France and allows surveillance but is not cause for arrest.
The number of people on the fiche S watchlist has soared recently, with the French authorities adding more than 400,000 new names in less than three years.
A ‘French Islam’ to counter extremism?
Macron follows former French presidents with his idea of ‘French Islam’ or ‘Islam of France’ which began in September 2018 as another policy which he believes could prevent terror attacks in future.
France is one of the world’s most strictly secular states, where religions cannot interfere in public affairs, nor can the state interfere in the religious affairs of citizens. Therefore, the will for a ‘French Islam’ could be seen as a violation of the 1905 legal principle that separated church and state and mandated the state’s neutrality on religion.
Macron replied to this case, saying: “We shouldn’t fall into the ‘radicalization of laicite’ [secularism].”
Since the Paris terror attacks, public opinion has moved towards preventing another attack ‘no matter what.’
“The lead to the targeting of several French politicians to put the blame of mainstream Muslims instead of focussing on marginal groups,” Omer, a French-Muslim lawyer who doesn’t want to give his surname, tells TRT World.
Macron has articulated his will by describing a ‘Republic of participation’ - involving all religions and religious people in a process of creating a ‘moderate’ path.
“Politicians in France lack vision [when it comes to Muslims and Islam],” said Omer.
The lawyer is socially active and works with youth members at his local mosque in Colmar as well as working in Strasbourg, in the northeast Alsace region of France.
“The government makes up representatives for Muslims, who have no link to the majority of Muslims nor the Islamic communities in France,” he added.
One of them is Jean-Pierre Chevenement, former minister and presidential candidate. He was the president of the Islamic Foundation of France (Fondation des œuvres de l'islam de France).
“These politics are a just means to give the impression of ‘problem solving’,” said Omer.
He said that some mosques have problems with organisation.
“‘Radicalization’ is an issue without any doubt, however, seven mosques already closed and 160 mosques are planned to close in the future. That puts all Muslims under general suspicion,” the lawyer explained.
Young Muslims come together to prevent government in organising ‘French Islam’
The young political scientist from Lyon has his own ideas on how to solve the issue.
He said: “The government needs to cooperate with Muslims and not exclude them in the process. Otherwise, they will never solve the problem of violent radicalism.”
In September 2018 more than 24,000 signed an online appeal to Macron’s government to stop their plan on ‘French Islam’.
“We need ground-founded policies, where the Muslims have a voice and without putting Muslims on general suspicion,” said Omer.
He believes the French government “struggles because they have no experience working with religious communities on this level.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity