French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said his government will unveil a proposed law to fight “Islamist separatism” later this year, a particularly sensitive issue in a country strongly attached to secularism.
In a keenly-awaited speech in the Paris region, the French president detailed plans for a law to fight what he identifies as the favouring of religious laws over France’s republican, secular values – a stance he calls “separatism”.
Macron described Islam as “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today” as he focused his keynote address on the battle against Islamic radicalism in France.
The French president said Islam was in crisis due to “an extreme hardening” of positions. He announced the government would present a draft law in December aimed at strengthening secularism in France, against what he described as “Islamist separatism” in the country.
“Islam in France must be freed from foreign influence,” he said, promising improved oversight of the financing of mosques.
Macron describes bill aimed at promoting secular values in France.
Macron said the proposed legislation would aim to ensure that public life in France reflects the values of laïcité, or state secularism, a century-old legal principle that separated church and state and mandated France’s neutrality on religion.
The landmark 1905 law on secularism permits people to belong to any faith of their choosing, Macron said, but outward displays of religious affiliation can under no circumstances be allowed in schools or the public service.
“Secularism is the cement of a united France,” Macron insisted, while adding: “Let us not fall into the trap laid by (…) extremists, who aim to stigmatise all Muslims.”
‘Where we stepped away, they stepped in’
The French president repeatedly stressed the importance of schools in instilling secular values in young people, and said that the government would require private schools to agree to teach them.
He also said that with few exceptions, the 50,000 French children who are currently educated at home would be requird to attend school with fellow students.
Macron acknowledged that the French state was partly responsible for the “ghettoisation” of communities with large numbers of Muslim residents, saying that non-secular organisations have sought to make up for “failings” of “integration policy”.
“Where we stepped away, they stepped in,” he said.
Macron also said that France’s colonial past, including its colonisation of Algeria, “left scars” on a society that has sometimes struggled to integrate immigrant communities from former colonies.
“We have not unpacked our past. We have grandparents who have passed their scars onto their children,” he said.
Spectre of Islamist terrorism
Macron’s speech in Les Mureaux, northwest of Paris, comes seven months after he announced that his government would seek to combat “foreign interference” in the practice of Islam by ending a programme that allowed countries to send imams and teachers to France.
“A problem arises when, in the name of religion, some want to separate themselves from the Republic and therefore not respect its laws,” Macron said in a February 18 speech in the eastern French city of Mulhouse.
France has in recent years been forced to take a hard look at its core republican values, perceived by many to be threatened by radical Islam in the wake of a string of terror attacks targeting secular liberties such as freedom of expression.
Friday’s speech comes while a trial is underway in Paris over the deadly January 2015 attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket by French-born Islamic extremists.
Last week, a man from Pakistan stabbed two people near Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in anger over its publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
In January, a renewed debate about freedom of expression erupted when a teenager received death threats for attacking Islam in an expletive-laden Instagram rant.
And earlier this month, divisions were highlighted when MPs walked out when a university student entered parliament wearing a headscarf.