With presidential elections drawing near, the French government looks for ways to draw in far-right voters.

France's right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has announced that he will organise a "forum of Islam in France" early next year in a bid to exert what some see as influence over how Muslims practice their faith.

The French government will select between 80-100 individuals who it puts forth as religious leaders, imams and members of civil society, but more crucially, buy into the state's narrative that Muslims and Islam have a problem in the country.

In 2020 The French President Emmanuel Macron pressured the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) to sign up to a charter of "Republican values" in a move that singled out Europe's largest Muslim population of  5.4 million.

At the beginning of this year, Macron's government pushed for a "Charter of Imams," a set of principles that would define an Islam of France.

Both initiatives failed as they have mainly been perceived as lacking legitimacy.

The latest initiative, set to be held in February of next year, recognises that failure and Macron's government is now seeking a new approach.

"We had something very formal, which worked around the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM)," said the government following the announcement of the initiative. However, CFCM has been "completely paralysed for a year."

Founded in 2003 by the then French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, the CFCM, from its inception, has been a controversial body with no legal standing but acts as a conduit between the French state and its Muslim population.

The controversial "Charter of Imams" seeks to control what mosques can speak about in their sermons, particularly if they raise questions around Islamophobia or state racism, which the French government denies as being problematic. Speeches in mosques "hostile to French foreign policy" would also be banned.

Several Muslim organisations condemned the French states' attempts to "instrumentialise" Islam following that announcement.

The Great Mosque of Paris, a body that is close to Macron's government, split from CFCM after the body's refusal to adopt the state's Charter of Imams and has backed the latest initiative by Darmanin.

Earlier this year, Darmanin expressed his displeasure at not being able to close down more mosques in the country.

Over the last year, Macron's has closed down 17 mosques for violating vague "security laws" or not having the right "safety standards." An additional 89 mosques are also under surveillance.

Issues around identity and Islam will feature heavuly in next year's elections.

There is growing concern amongst French civil society, international human rights organisations and local Muslims who fear that Macron's government is disproportionately targeting Muslims in a bid to curry favour with far-right voters with presidential elections just over one year away.

The rise of figures like the far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour has only further polarised France's political scene.

The meteoric rise of Zemmour, a far-right author and TV pundit, has seen him jump to fourth place in the polls, with 13 percent of the votes in what promised to be a highly contentious presidential race.

Zemmour's views on Islam being incompatible with France and the French way of life, have resonated with the French public.

Marine Le Pen, another far-right presidential candidate, and Zemmour are polling at 30 percent against Macron's 24 percent.

Source: TRT World