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How France's Anti-Separatism Bill fits into wider Islamophobic persecution

  • Rayan Freschi
  • 23 Jul 2021

After months of wrangling the French parliament passes a draconian piece of legislation that many see as targeting the county's Muslim community.

A woman, wearing a hijab and a protective face mask, walks at Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, May 2, 2021. Picture taken on May 2, 2021. ( Reuters )

Today France has taken one step closer towards tyranny and persecution. After the French President Emmanuel Macron announced in October 2020 the Anti-Separatism Bill and after months of discussion, the Parliament has finally adopted the law.

The Anti-Separatism Bill is a piece of legislation that the French government claims is aimed at fighting "Islamists extremism" which still needs to go to the Constitutional Council before Macron signs the Bill into law.

Many French Muslims say the law limits religious freedom and unfairly targets them.

What changes is it bringing, and how is it going to affect French Muslims?

The bill will seek to create a submissive Muslim community while reinforcing an oppressive Republic.

It dramatically expands governmental powers to dissolve an organisation, a framework which is already loose and enabled the dissolutions of two major Muslim NGO's back in 2020 has been watered down further. In addition, cultural associations will be submitted to tighter fiscal and administrative control.

Organisations seeking public funds will have to sign a "Republican Contract" and abide by its conditions, which is nothing short of a philosophical submission to the State's ideology.

The very French version of secularism (laicite) - which already requires political, philosophical and religious neutrality for any civil servant, is strengthened. Moreover, this legal condition is set to be applied to non-civil servants employees of public or private bodies involved in a public service mission like train drivers, health care workers, cleaners and much more.

The law targets Islamic private education by introducing new executive tools facilitating the suspension or closure of Islamic private schools.

It also severely restricts home-schooling, now based on a strict authorisation regime and no longer a free choice given to the parents. This new framework de facto forces Muslim parents to send their children through the public secular education system where overt religious symbols like the headscarf are forbidden.

In doing this, the French government is viciously trying to weaken the actual transmission of Islam to benefit French secular philosophy.

Obviously, to avoid the accusation of Islamophobia, the bill does not mention by name Islam or Muslims but, as Emmanuel Macron stated when he announced the reform, "what we need to tackle is Islamist Separatism", a strong indicator if one was needed that the bill is aimed explicitly at the Muslim community.

If referred to the Constitutional Council, some dispositions of the bill, especially the one regarding home-schooling, could be struck down. Still, the overall backbone of the bill won't be affected.

It would be a significant mistake to believe such a major piece of legislation will have no concrete consequences, disconnected from a broader plan which renders France's Muslim population to a second class status.

The mechanics of a persecution

When introducing the bill, the Council of Ministers explained that it "is a structuring element of the government's strategy to combat separatism and attacks on citizenship", implicitly pointing at an already existing strategy.

As no French Muslim citizen has ever demanded to live in a separate state within the French national territory, it is necessary to identify the institutional mechanics of this "strategy" and its political objective.

In 2019, the former Home Secretary Christophe Castaner in an address to the Prefects unveiled that the state had been piloting a secret policy in 15 unknown areas aimed at stopping "Islamism" and "communitarian withdrawal" since 2018.

By "Islamism', "radical Islam"' or "Islamist separatism", the government means normative Islamic beliefs in and so far as, according to the French state, wearing hijab, a beard, praying or increasing one's religiosity during the month of Ramadan are a "weak signal" of "radicalisation".

What is then "communitarian withdrawal"? The starting point of understanding this expression is that France does not recognise the political and legal existence of minorities on its soil.

This stance reflects the very French idea, inherited from Jacobinism, that the Nation is and must be one under the banner of the Republic.

This unity must not be understood as a form of national solidarity but rather as an identitarian idea according to which equal is synonymous with identical.

Hence, "communitarian withdrawal" describes behaviours, be they cultural or religious, of a minority group of individuals, united by a specific identity, that differ from the actual norm of the majority.

The then Home Secretary Castaner commanded local politicians that "As soon as there are doubts about a place or an association, I ask you not to hesitate to carry out inspections and controls. And if breaches are established, I ask you to order administrative closures without hesitation."

These "inspections and controls" are conducted by administrative controllers who scrutinise every piece of legislation applicable to public establishments.

In practice, what that means is that the French state can use doubts about hygiene, the control of regulations concerning sports activities, rules concerning the reception of minors or the fight against fraud to inspect places open to the public.

This type of administrative targetting saw Paris' only Muslim school closed down because the building's safety standards were insufficient.

Home Secretary Castaner described this method as "systematic obstruction." It represents a strategy of maximum pressure on Muslim civil society to make day to day work intolerably difficult, asphyxiating a community already weakened by decades of systemic bigotry.

In the same address, Castaner announced that the policy was now to be implemented across France.

The French state created 101 departmental groups to fight against "Islamism and communitarian withdrawal" to enact Castaner's vision.

According to the State, these cells are "a multidisciplinary team, placed under the authority of the departmental perfect, that aims to coordinate the action of all actors likely to contribute to the fight against Islamism and community withdrawal."

Their task? To function as a specific anti-Muslim intelligence, gather relevant information and submit it to the Prefect who will process it and demand an inspection to be carried out in case of "doubt".

As of May 2021, it led to at least 37 mosques, 4 schools and 210 public houses run by French Muslims being closed.

In addition, 559 Muslim-owned businesses or organisations have been closed down, and 22, 222 of them were investigated. It also allowed the state to seize more than €43 million ($50 million) from an already impoverished Muslim community.

It means that, on average, 27 controls take place each business day - 569 a month - 4 closures are announced each month, and €10 million ($11 millon) seized each year.

The French Prime Minister Jean Castex issued a public circular on the 24th of June, explicitly identifying the higher aim of the Anti-Separatism Bill. "This obstruction policy will soon be strengthened by the dispositions of the bill to Reinforce Respect for Republican Principles (Anti-Separatism Bill)," said Castex.

The French government will expand its already large legal and executive powers through this legislation to amplify and facilitate its anti-Islam policy.

The newly introduced framework is unambiguous: the French state is at war with its Muslim community, which will now have to submit to extraordinary and extreme demands of allegiance.

As the infamous Imam's charter states, French Muslims are "bound by a pact" to France, demanding a full submission to its ideology. Faith-inspired dissent will not be tolerated. The results of this "systematic obstruction" only point at the reality of a systematic attack on Muslims.

A very real state-led Islamophobic persecution is taking place in front of our eyes.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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