Muslims wary of Macron's anti-radicalism law

They fear that the rule, promoted to "reinforce republican principles", will result in discrimination

4 min
Men pray at a mosque on the outskirts of Paris in a July 2020 image.

ParisDounia's parents have lived their Muslim faith between Morocco and the suburbs of Paris all their lives. Coming from the Moroccan diaspora of the 1960s, the couple has three children in three different countries: the United Kingdom, Morocco and France. It is in the latter that Dounia, the youngest, was born and has lived there for more than thirty years. Contrary to her parents, she is not a believer, but she prefers not to talk about the draft law against "separatism" promoted by President Emmanuel Macron, which has caused controversy. Dounia exudes a certain exasperation towards the political class and the media. Dounia's refusal says a lot about this text that for months has been talked about in the country. "My parents are also disengaged", she concludes, with no option for the journalist to reply.

This reaction, that of ordinary citizens without any institutional, religious or associative position, is quite representative of a part of the French Muslim population to this highly sensitive bill, created to strengthen the country's legal instruments to fight against radical Islamism and thus "reinforce republican principles". In practice, many see it as yet another way to stigmatize Muslims. "No one disputes the urgency of curbing the deadly phenomenon of radicalization, but why systematically focus on the exception to make a generality despite the fact that the vast majority of the 6 million French Muslims only aspire to live their faith serenely within the Republic?" Essayist Kamel Meziti asks in an article in Le Monde.

The bill, which will be debated in the Senate at the end of March, will allow the closure of places of worship if activities that incite violence, hatred or discrimination are detected, will increase control over foreign funding of religious associations and will offer protection to moderate religious leaders against possible interferences that seek to replace them with other radicalized ones. Another of the articles that will be written into law will be the principle of religious neutrality for the agents of private organizations that fulfill a public service mission. For example, a driver of a coach company that provides school transport will not be allowed to wear religious symbols. The text will also tighten the rules on home schooling. Article 18, which was written in in response to the murder of teacher Samuel Paty, will create a new offence: endangering the lives of others by disseminating information about private life, punishable by three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. The father of a pupil had threatened Paty and had spread information about him through social networks that allowed the attacker to track him down.

"Our country is sick with separatism, the first of which, Islamism, is corrupting our national unity. We have to know how to name the disease, we have to find the medicines", Home Affairs Minister Gérarld Darmanin metaphorized carelessly before the National Assembly passed the bill at the first reading a few days ago. Only one of the MPs of the presidential majority, Mustapha Laabid, voted against it. The elected representative of La République en Marche refused to answer this newspaper's questions, but in a statement he justified his vote. "Many of the articles are artificial measures, which send messages of mistrust towards the French of Muslim confession and do not allow the fight against Islamist terrorism but risk feeding it", writes Laabid. The text, he continues, "is dangerous because the stigma generates community closure and provokes feelings of injustice and resentment".

Another issue that has angered Muslim representatives is the "regulations of principles for Islam in France". The representative body of the Muslim cult in the country and main interlocutor of the State, the French Council of the Muslim Cult (CFCM), has presented this regulation to the Elysée to frame the second religion of the country on issues such as secularism or equality between men and women. It also advocates the rejection of any form of interference and instrumentalization of Islam for political purposes, in reference to Salafism, Tabligh or currents associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This regulation, which Macron had demanded in October in the framework of the bill, will have to serve as a reference for the National Council of Imams, a new body that will be created to give a certificate to imams practicing on French territory. That is to say, those imams who do not comply with the regulations will have their authorisation withdrawn.

However, not everyone within the CFCM is in favour of the regulation. Three of the nine federations that make it up - with various sensibilities and countries of origin despite representing less than half of the 2,500 mosques in the Hexagon - have not yet approved the text. Other voices have also come out against it. This is the case of the imams of Lyon and Villeurbanne, who claim that "the French of Muslim confession will not understand that we want to distinguish them from their compatriots by imposing specific rules". In an article published on the portal Mediapart, a hundred imams, along with some fifty professors of Islamic sciences and presidents of associations, are also opposed to it.

The risk of stigma

"This text represents more of a tightening of pre-existing laws with the sole aim of exercising abusive and authoritarian power over an already highly stigmatized part of the population", Lallab, a feminist and anti-racist association that defends the rights of Muslim women, critizice. "We denounce [that this is] an anti-Islam and not an anti-terrorist law". Fatima Bent, president of the organization, lamented a few days ago the few efforts made by the Elysee to combat "discrimination" suffered by the French Muslim community, which accounts for 9% of the total. "Muslims are discriminated against at work, in housing, they are harassed on the street. And the government does nothing about it", the activist explained.

In a survey published in 2019 by the Interministerial Delegation against Racism, 42% of French people of Muslim confession claimed to have been discriminated against because of their religion at least once in their lives. The figure rose to 60% when it came to veiled women.