French President Emmanuel Macron obtained his cabinet’s approval on Wednesday for draft legislation combating “radical Islamism” after a spate of attacks, which critics fear risks targeting all Muslims. The draft will now be submitted to parliament.
Macron argued the legislation was needed to shore up France’s staunchly secular system, but the plan has further stirred up social tensions over the consequences for Europe’s largest Muslim community.
“The enemy of the Republic is a political ideology called radical Islamism, which aims to divide the French among themselves,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told Le Monde.
He argued that rather than targeting Muslims it aimed to “free Muslims from the growing grip of radical Islamism”.
The government’s staunch defence of the foundations of the French state that date back to the 1789 revolution has caused unease even among allies, with the US envoy on international religious freedom saying he was concerned by the legislation.
“There can be constructive engagements that I think can be helpful and not harmful,” Ambassador Sam Brownback told reporters.
“When you get heavy-handed, the situation can get worse,” he said.
‘Strengthen republican values’
The text was originally titled the “anti-separatism” bill, using a term Macron uses to describe ultra-conservative Muslims withdrawing from mainstream society.
Following criticism of that term, it is now called a “draft law to strengthen republican values”, mostly secularism and freedom of expression.
The law was in the pipeline before the murder in October of Samuel Paty, a junior high school teacher who was attacked in the street and beheaded after showing cartoons considered blasphemous by Muslims.
But the killing, committed by an 18-year old Chechen after a virulent social media campaign against the teacher, gave fresh impetus to the bill, prompted the inclusion of the specific crimes of online hate speech and divulging personal information on the internet.
Paty’s death is one in a string of attacks in France this year, including a knife assault outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and deadly stabbings at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
The draft law sets out stricter criteria for authorising home schooling of children over three years old in a bid to prevent parents taking their children out of public schools and enrolling them in underground Islamic facilities.
Polygamy is already outlawed in France, but the new law would also ban authorities from issuing residency papers to polygamous applicants.
It would also require city hall officials to interview couples separately prior to their wedding to make sure that they were not forced into marriage.
Macron has become a figure of hate in some Muslim countries, with some boycotting French products, after saying that the right to blaspheme would always be guaranteed in France and that Islam was “in crisis”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the draft law an “open provocation”, while scholars at Egypt’s prestigious Al Azhar called Macron’s views “racist”.