President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled a plan to defend France’s secular values against what he termed as “Islamist radicalism”, saying the religion was “in crisis” all over the world, prompting a backlash from Muslim activists.
In a long-awaited address on Friday, Macron insisted “no concessions” would be made in a new drive to push religion out of education and the public sector in France.
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“Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country,” he said.
He announced that the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France.
Macron no longer hiding his feelings about Islam. No longer radical Islam, now it’s just Islam that is the problem https://t.co/ljRK3LuNMM
— Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) October 2, 2020
The measures, Macron said, were aimed at addressing a problem of growing “radicalisation” in France and improving “our ability to live together”.
“Secularism is the cement of a united France,” he insisted, but added that there was no sense in stigmatising all Muslim believers.
The law permits people to belong to any faith of their choosing, Macron said, but outward displays of religious affiliation would be banned in schools and the public service.
Wearing the hijab is already banned in French schools and for public servants at their workplace.
The willingness to use Islam & minority Muslim communities to rally supporters by promoting a divisive culture war against minorities, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, shows more about those who promote such divisiveness than anyone else… https://t.co/qJxShTIleJ
— Miqdaad Versi (@miqdaad) October 2, 2020
Macron’s speech led to a debate on social media.
Yasser Louati, a French Muslim activist, tweeted: “The repression of Muslims has been a threat, now it is a promise. In a one hour speech #Macron burried #laicite, emboldened the far right, anti-Muslim leftists and threatened the lives of Muslim students by calling for drastic limits on home schooling despite a global pandemic.”
Rim-Sarah Alaoune, a French academic, tweeted: “President Macron described Islam as ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world today’. I don’t even know what to say. This remark is so dumb (sorry it is) that it does not need any further analysis … I won’t hide that I am concerned. No mention of white supremacy even though we are the country that exported the racist and white supremacist theory of the ‘great replacement’, used by the terrorist who committed the horrific massacre in #Christchurch.”
Iyad el-Baghdadi, Norway-based writer and activist, simply wrote on Twitter; “F*** you, @EmmanuelMacron.”
In his speech, Macron also claimed he is seeking to “liberate” Islam in France from foreign influences by improving oversight of mosque financing.
There would also be closer scrutiny of schools and associations exclusively serving religious communities.
France is once again evaluating its relationship with its Muslim minority, the largest in Europe.
Last month alone saw a French parliamentarian from Macron’s La Republique En Marche party stage a walkout over the presence of a hijab-clad student union leader at a parliamentary inquiry.
That incident was preceded a week earlier by another polemic, involving a French journalist who retweeted a young Muslim influencer’s post about cooking on a budget with the caption “11 September,” in reference to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Macron on Friday was speaking one week after a man attacked two people with a meat cleaver outside the former Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, an assault condemned by the government as an act of “Islamist terrorism”.
Staff at Charlie Hebdo were killed in January 2015 by armed gunmen seeking to avenge its publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Members of the Muslim community in France have consistently denounced the acts, describing them as going against the precepts of their religion.