Muslims living in France feel the squeeze as the French president seeks to place more restrictions on how they practice their faith.
The French President Emmanuel Macron, according to a Parisian paper, pressured the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) to sign up to a charter of “Republican values” in a move that singles out Europe’s largest Muslim population.
The 15-day ultimatum comes amid accusations that the Macron government is stigmatising Muslims following three separate terrorist attacks, which were roundly condemned by the community.
Macron wants, among other things, for the CFCM to declare publicly that Islam is only a religion and not a political movement. It also wants to stop other Muslim countries from helping France’s beleagured Muslim community in what Paris views as "foreign interference."
Macron’s hamfisted plan to tackle “extremisim” has been condemned by many Muslims inside France and internationally, too.
According to Yasser Louati, a French human rights defender leading the NGO ‘Committee for Justice & Liberties For All’, Macron’s latest move is about “diverting public scrutiny from his own failures to prevent the attacks”.
“It also reaffirms the idea that there is a link between terrorism and policing Muslim minorities,” added Louati speaking to TRT World. It is easy to see why: Macron’s response to the attacks has been to clamp down on Muslim NGOs on sprious grounds.
Published draft legislation, that will be discussed next month, would dissolve Muslim NGOs if their “actions threaten human dignity” or if they “exercise psychological or physical pressure on others.”
Amnesty International has said that some of the provisions threaten to have a “chilling effect on human rights defenders and civil society organisations.”
“The law on the dissolution of organisations in France is already very problematic,” says Marco Perolini, Amnesty International's Western Europe researcher speaking to TRT World.
“It doesn’t include the necessary safeguards as the government can dissolve organisations on vague grounds and without the prior authorisation of a judge,” added Perolini.
Already, France’s largest Muslim charity, BarakaCity has been closed by the French Minister of Interior, Gerald Darmanin, without judicial oversight. The founder, Idriss Sihamed, recently spoke to TRT World and said the closure was politically motivated.
The newly drafted laws, according to Perolini, will not only give the state more reasons to dissolve NGOs but also, for example, an “organisation will be able to be dissolved if its activities threaten ‘human dignity’, which is very vague,” he warns.
“The draft also introduces an emergency procedure on the basis of which the Minister of Interior can suspend the activities of an organization for three months,” added Perolini.
More broadly, Perolini says that “vague laws can be used by governments to silence dissent and attack human rights defenders and NGOs.”
As for the CFCM in France, the body has avoided going against Macron’s demands and sought to accommodate his rhetoric putting it at odds with the Muslim community it is meant to represent.
Originally, it was set up in 2003 by the then Minister of Interior and future French President Nicolas Sarkozy. While the organisation has no special legal status, it is a body that the French government has often used as a way of attempting to influence the wider Muslim community.
Given how diverse the Muslim community is in France, some have suggested that the organisation does not fully reflect Muslim stakeholders in the country.
Many are “deeply worried” about the government’s intention towards them, says Louati. He adds, “they don't even know nor trust the CFCM” to be able to sufficiently represent their needs to the same government that helped found them and provide them their legitimacy.
Macron’s impulses towards the Muslim community and its inner working, warns Louati, gives the impression that he is “acting as the head of the colonial administration: the colonial administration and the indigenous.”
In a speech earlier this year, Macron described Islam as being “in crisis” and defended the rights of the Charlie Hebdo magazine after it published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which Muslims around the world view as offensive.
Macron’s office has also accused the “Anglo-American” media of legitimising violence against France because it has covered France critically over its handling over the terrorist attacks.