French lawmakers on Monday began to debate a bill they hope will uproot radical Islam in the country and stop the infiltration of extreme beliefs into public services, schools and online.
Multiple deadly attacks in France by Islamist extremists provide the backdrop for the bill, reports the Associated Press.
The bill is broad and controversial with the goal of strengthening French secular values, and it guarantees heated debate by lawmakers and the public for the next two weeks.
It reflects a priority for President Emmanuel Macron, who in an October speech painted a dark picture of what he dubbed “separatism, a perverse version of Islam, quietly making inroads and creating a counter society”.
The proposed law is one aspect of the French president’s bid to do what his predecessors tried and failed to do: create a made-to-measure “Islam of France.”
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, the bill’s sponsor stressed that “we are not fighting against a religion,” although some Muslims in France have voiced concern that the legislation once again points the finger at Islam.
The bill will apply to all religions, and Buddhists and Roman Catholics have complained they could also suffer fallout.
Critics say the bill covers ground already addressed in current laws while far-right leader Marine Le Pen says the bill doesn’t go far enough or even name the enemy: radical Islam.
The bill seeks oversight in the functioning of associations and mosques, including foreign financing, and aims to plug entry points for Islamist ideology in the lives of French Muslims.
In a bid to protect children from indoctrination and to do away with underground schools, the bill requires all children from age three to attend a regular school.
If some Muslims feel a new layer of stigmatism, France’s other religions feel collateral damage. Le Monde newspaper reported they were unanimous in their criticism of the treatment of religious associations, which leaders told a parliamentary commission adds unnecessary layers of work, oversight and suspicion for all faiths.
The proposed law also seeks to halt the issuing by doctors of virginity certificates, the practice of polygamy and forced marriage. Doctors would be fined and risk jail for providing virginity certificates.
The new law includes “Paty law”, after the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty who showed students in a civics class caricatures of the prophet.
It creates a new crime for hate speech online in which someone’s personal details are posted. A Chechen refugee beheaded Paty after information about him was spread online.
After the murder, the president defended the right to produce or show such caricatures in a stand for free expression that upset many Muslims and triggered protests in multiple countries where Macron’s position was perceived as anti-Muslim, which his government strongly denies.
An international collective of pro-Muslim groups filed a complaint last month with the UN Human Rights Committee, accusing France’s government of “Islamophobic attitudes”.