Macron has pushed for a “French Islam” for years, and his latest proposed bill may give him the unbridled powers to see it happen.
French politics has been whipped into a frenzy on both sides of the aisles, raising public concern that crime and radicalism will spiral out of control.
Marine Le Pen, the far right leader, warned recently that France was a “security shipwreck’’ sinking into “barbarity”. Another traditional conservative painted an image of “a future ultraviolent dystopia all but inevitable.” On this issue, left-wing parties agree even with the far-right. The Green Party’s presumed candidate for the next presidential contest also described the level of insecurity as “unbearable.’’
The solution? Passing a long-anticipated ‘Separatism’ bill granting the government powers to ensure that groups do not adhere to an alternative French identity, tethered to religious or ethnic affiliation, according to Le Figaro. But details of the bill remain shrouded in secrecy, having become the golden grail of French politics: a means to permanently ensure France will remain French, without additional cultural or ethnic identities attached.
Muslims strike back
Muslims in France denounce the vague term of "separatism", while warning that this can increase abuse against them.
In the newspaper article, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Chemseddine Hafiz, drew attention to the slippery semantic slope that comes with using a word like “separatism,” which in reality affects “electoral deadlines, failing to be an important law where Muslims also feel protected against abuses.”
The President of the French Council of Muslim Worship, Muhammed Moussaoui, said they would oppose any targeting of Muslims who practice their religion by respecting the laws. The rector of the Lyon mosque, Kamel Kabtane, also said he was worried about this climate of insecurity.
Emphasising that he is disturbed by the notion of “separatism”, Kabtane stressed that Muslims do not want to divide but instead, to be integrated. The bill prepared by the Macron administration would directly target Muslims under the name of “fight against political Islam,” he adds.
During a speech in February, Macron stated that part of society "wants to develop a political project under the name of Islam" and criticised parents for refusing their daughters to go swimming.
For many, the proposed bill can only stigmatise France's largely moderate Muslim population, also the largest in western Europe.
What’s in the bill?
The proposed bill includes announced measures ending seconded foreign imams, and increasing the number of state imams trained in France. It also puts into effect strict oversight, scrutiny and control of foreign funding of places of worship, in order to block suspicious projects.
"We need to know where the money comes from, who gets it and what for," says Macron.
On September 7, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Citizenship Minister Marlene Schiappa confirmed the ‘separatism bill’ was being finalised, and revealed more details of its workings.
Among its enforcements, it would force associations to sign a “contract of engagement on secularism,” the violation of which would see funding cut off from the state.
The bill would also seek to penalise ‘virginity certificates’ issued by doctors before marriage.
The bill would also end the ELCO program, allowing for education and instruction in foreign languages without oversight of the Ministry of National Education. The move would impact at least 80,000 students.
French President Emanuel Macron is set to present the bill in early October, with much of its content still undetermined.
Fears of insecurity and Islamophobia are hardly limited to parties out of power and political pundits. Instead, Macron’s ministers have all echoed the same sentiments being shouted by right and left wing parties alike.
A shared phrase and warning, that has since become a part of the French political lexicon, is found in warnings of the ‘ensauvagement’ of France. The phrase is loaded with negative connotations evoking images of the fall of the Roman Republic to barbarians at the gates.
In many senses, it sums up a widely-shared feeling about immigration, ethnicity and otherness.
In truth however, the French judiciary’s own data reveals that all major crimes are lower than they were compared to the past three years, and the past decade as well. Terrorism incidents have seen a decline over the past decade.
But the build-up to the separatism bill has been long coming, and it has made no effort to conceal its actual target: Muslims.
It started as far back as 2017 when Macron gave a televised address stressing “our secularism is our shield,” before emphasising the right to practice religion, while attacking those who “derogated from the rules of the Republic, in the name of religion.”
Not long after, his rhetoric picked up traction and weight.
Speaking to Muslims, he asked them to "work on the structuring of Islam in France, which is the very condition so that you do not fall into the net of the divisions of your own religion and the crisis it is facing. is living internationally."
But it was only in October 2019 that the word ‘separatism’ was used, and it was here to stay.
"In certain places of our Republic, there is a separatism which has taken hold , that is to say the will to no longer live together, to no longer be in the Republic. And in the name of a religion, Islam, by misleading it, to say 'I believe in a political Islam and we are going to live with its rules which are not in those of the Republic,” said Macron.
The President’s statements quickly galvanised government action, moving the issue of visible ethnicities and Islamic minorities from rhetoric into the arena of actual political action.
Christophe Castaner, French Interior Minister at the time, vocalised the need to wage a "fight against Islamism and community withdrawal", while calling for the establishment of "a departmental cell" dedicated to this specific threat.
On February 18, Macron announced a fight against “Islamist Separatism”, which began to be used in the Elysee’s communiques, after a shift away from warnings of generic ‘communitarianism’. Muslims in France criticised the change in language, but to no avail.
In a telling sign of the directions of the French government’s concerns, Interior Minister Marlène Schiappa explains that “violence will continue to increase… if our fellow citizens are convinced that nothing is done for them,” she says, referring to native French citizens who are threatened by changes to their way of life and visible ethnic minorities.
The bill has seen its final postponement, to October after BFMTV reported it was not yet complete, with fears that in its current state some of its articles “could be revoked by the French Constitutional Council.”