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Lawmakers debate bill to rout out radical Islam in France

February 2, 2021 5:19 am
[Source: AP]

French lawmakers debated a bill on Monday they hope will uproot radical Islam in the country.

They belief that authorities maintain are creeping into public services, associations, some schools and online with the goal of undermining national values.

The bill is broad and controversial, with around 1,700 proposed amendments, and it guarantees heated debate for the next two weeks in the lower house.

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Opening the debate, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, the bill’s sponsor, said the aim is to stop “an Islamist hostile takeover targeting Muslims.” He stressed that “we are not fighting against a religion,” although some Muslims in France have voiced concern that it adds a new layer of stigmatization for them. Other religions, from Buddhists to Roman Catholics, have complained they also could suffer fallout from the text.

The bill 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, France’s No. 2 religion, quietly making inroads and creating a “counter society.”

Darmanin echoed the president in his opening remarks to lawmakers, saying “Our country is suffering from a sickness of separatism, first and foremost an Islamist separatism that is like gangrene infecting our national unity.”

Darmanin, a right-leaning member of Macron’s centrist party, took up his mission to propose a law with zeal, writing a short book to be released in the next few days, “Manifesto for Secularism” — a fundamental value of France that the bill he sponsored is meant to protect.

Multiple attacks in France by Islamist extremists provide a backdrop for the bill, even if recent violence was committed by outsiders.

The text applies to all religions, but some Muslims say the legislation once again points the finger at Islam.

Other 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 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.” Separately, the official conduit to the government, the French Council of the Muslim Faith, or CFCM, was pushed to create a “charter of principles for Islam of France,” completed last month after much wrangling among Muslim federations.

Muslim leaders were keeping a low profile as debate opened.

In ways small and large, the bill seeks oversight in the functioning of associations and mosques, including foreign financing, and aims to plug up entry points for Islamist ideology in the lives of Muslims.

Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the CFCM, said at a parliamentary commission hearing in January that the new oversight of associations in the bill is “useful, necessary to fight those who want to instrumentalize associations” to counter French values. However, he expressed concern that officials could “use this tool to bother associations, the good students” following the rules.

The head of the Foundation of Islam, a secular organization representing a progressive Islam, called the proposed law “unjust but necessary.”

While Muslims are not mentioned in the text, it singles out “but one religion, but one category of the citizenry,” Ghaleb Bencheikh said in a phone interview. It is necessary because “French society, the French nation is traumatized by attacks and the reality of radical Islam.” While radicals are a minority, “it’s minorities that make up history,” Bencheikh added.

Among the 51 articles, the bill aims to ensure that public service employees respect neutrality and secularism, while protecting them against threats or violence.

In a bid to protect children from indoctrination and to do away with underground schools, the text requires all children from age 3 to attend a regular school. Around 50,000 children were home-schooled in 2020, according to French media. But the number of “clandestine schools” where children are reportedly indoctrinated in radical ideology is unknown.

Among other key points, the bill aims to keep a close watch on associations, including those that often run mosques, with measures including one aimed at ensuring that outsiders can’t take control of an association.

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