French President Emmanuel Macron has said his government will present a bill in December to fight “Islamist separatism” and strengthen the country’s official separation of church and state, a founding philosophy for over 100 years.
Macron warned that France was in danger of allowing the formation of a “counter-society” among France’s Muslims living under its own laws.
Describing Islam as a religion in crisis worldwide, Macron insisted that extremist religious teaching in schools and mosques must stop.
Muslims are interpreting these comments and the proposed legislation as an attack on Islam in France.
On Sunday Turkey joined Egypt in attacking Macron.
“We believe the mindset behind this bill will lead to grave consequences rather than solve France’s problems,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement which declared that such action would only fuel growing xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia in Europe.
Egypt’s Sunni Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, denounced Macron’s plans as “racist” and spreading “hate speech”.
“He made false accusations against Islam,” Al-Azhar said in a statement on Saturday. “Such racist statements will inflame the feelings of two billion Muslim followers around the world.”
Macron’s address came 18 months ahead of presidential elections where he will face challenges from the populist right, as public concern grows over security in France.
Many perceive French values as under threat from Islam in the wake of terror attacks targeting freedom of expression and other secular liberties.
Most recently, a man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the former Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in vengeance for republishing cartoons of the Muslim prophet.
The government denounced the attack as “Islamist terrorism”.
In reply, Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam said he was immensely angry at the use by Western authorities of the term “Islamist terrorism”.
He tweeted that the term is “an insult” to the religion and its followers and warned people not to use it.