Updated: Mar 16, 2021
France has one of the largest Muslim communities in the Western world, primarily due to migration from Maghreb, West Africa and the Middle East. The vast majority of French Muslims are of immigrant origin (immigrated in the 60s and 70s), while an estimated 100,000 are converts to Islam of indigenous French background.
Unfortunately, detailed information on their income and ways of life are not available as ethnic and religious statistics are forbidden in France. However, a 10 year resident of France claims that large muslim communities live in underprivileged suburbs of major cities and often in social housing. The majority of them are believed to be deeply religious and not prone to assimilate to the predominant french culture but retain the culture and language of their country of origin. In order to address this issue children aged 3 and above are obliged to attend public school and not home-school.
The 2015 terrorist attacks against the staff of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, the October beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the murder of three people at Notre Dame Basilica in Nice led to the new strategy the French government is starting to adopt.
President Macron introduced a new law that aims to curb Islamism and boost the democratic ideology. To be specific, the law suggests zero tolerance to Islamic extremism. In fact, it strives to strengthen the government’s oversight of mosques and religious schools, to stop forced marriage and hate speech – all of which according to the French president are “rooted” to the Islamic separatism.
The bill faced multiple amendments by both left and right. The left considered the new law anti-democratic claiming it breaches religious freedoms and it is much likely to target Muslims that do not support extremism. On the other hand, the right considered it a compromise from a disadvantaged position. Still, it passed the national assembly and it is now at the Senate for final approval.
Timing, however, is rather questionable. As a matter of fact, it looks like an attempt to pander to the Right-wing conservatives of the country, as Macron prepares for the 2022 elections. He is expected to face fierce competition from the Right-wing political parties, who view him favorable and soft towards Muslims. It seems like the law has more to do with winning the right- wing vote than to deal with Islamism.
Nevertheless, the reaction of the public came as expected. Nearly 200 people protested in Paris and accused the bill of “reinforcing discrimination against Muslims”. The bill was reportedly called “unacceptable” by 100 imams, 50 teachers in Islamic sciences and 50 presidents of associations in France. A US envoy on religious freedom criticized the bill as “heavy-handed” and the Western media too was unusually critical of Macron’s strategy.
Overall, legal action will not prevent terrorism and protest acts. To minimize this racial and religious chasm, the French State must establish socio-economic conditions that are favourable for Muslims.
PICTURE FROM https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/02/emmanuel-macron-outlines-law-islamic-separatism-france