In the midst of skyrocketing Islamophobia, the French government is debating a bill that targets “religious separatism,” disproportionately affecting French Muslims.
Rabat – The lower house of France’s Parliament began debating on February 1 a bill to remove radical ideologies from schools, public services, and associations, amid ongoing frictions related to Islam in the European country.
Among its 51 articles and approximately 1,700 amendments, the legislation regulates behavior of public servants, students, and religious institutions. The bill does not explicitly target Islam, yet its sponsor, France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, claims the aim is to halt “an Islamist hostile takeover targeting Muslims.”
If passed, the bill would force associations that receive government funding to sign a “contract of Republican commitment” declaring their allegiance to French values. It would require them to reimburse funding if they broke the contract.
The legislation also bans home-schooling to guard against radical ideologies taught in “clandestine schools.” All children above the age of three who are currently home-schooled, some 50,000 students, would be forced to attend regular schools.
The law would also expand existing restrictions for public servants, prohibiting them from wearing religious symbols at work.
Some of the most controversial amendments were removed before the bill was brought to the floor. Macron’s party-members Aurore Berge and Jean-Baptiste Moreau suggested an amendment to ban veils for “little girls” and mothers on school trips, but it was ultimately deemed “inadmissible.”
President Macron actively supports the controversial law, building upon recent calls to rout out extremism. In October, a refugee from Chechnya murdered school teacher Samuel Paty for showing his class caricatures of Prophet Muhammad when lecturing on freedom of speech.
In a subsequent presidential address, Macron warned against “the formation of a counter-society shown by children being taken out of school, the development of separate community sporting and cultural activities serving as a pretext for teaching principles which aren’t in accordance with the Republic’s laws.”
The speech prompted a Moroccan boycott of French products, responsive to France’s perceived Islamophobia. Popular fear of Islam in France is also on the rise; in 2018, only 56% of French people surveyed believed Islam is compatible with their society.
Debate is ongoing, and as France’s government continues to come under domestic and international criticism for its approach to Islam, officials remain adamant that the bill is for the benefit of all of France, including French Muslims. Prime Minister Jean Castex maintains this law would “free Muslims from the growing grip of radical Islamism.”