France passes anti-radicalism bill that worries Muslims

France passes anti-radicalism bill that worries Muslims

Lawmakers in the French parliament’s lower house on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would strengthen oversight of mosques, schools, and sports clubs to safeguard France from radical Islamists and to promote respect for French values – one of President Emmanuel Macron’s landmark projects.

After two weeks of intense debate, the vote in the National Assembly house was the first critical hurdle for the legislation that has been long in the making. The bill passed 347-151, with 65 abstentions.

With France bloodied by terror attacks, having hundreds of citizens who went to Syria in years past, and thousands of French troops now fighting extremists in Mali, few disagree that radicalization is a danger. But critics also see the proposed law as a political ploy to lure the right-wing to Macron’s centrist party ahead of next year’s presidential election.

The wide-ranging bill, titled “Supporting respect for the principles of the Republic,” covers most aspects of French life. It has been hotly contested by some Muslims, lawmakers, and others who fear the state is intruding on essential freedoms and pointing a finger at Islam, the nation’s No. 2 religion.

But the legislation breezed through a chamber in which Macron’s party has a majority. It is not set to go to the conservative-controlled Senate until March 30, but the final passage is seen as all but assured.

The bill gained added urgency after a teacher was beheaded outside Paris in October and three people were killed during a knife attack at a Nice basilica the same month.

A section that makes it a crime to knowingly endanger the life of a person by providing details of their private life and location is known as the ’’Paty law.” It was named for Samuel Paty, the teacher who was killed outside his school after information about where he taught was posted online in a video.

The bill bolsters other French efforts to fight extremism, mainly security-based.

Detractors say the measures are already covered in current laws. Some voice suspicions about a hidden political agenda.

The bill mentions neither Muslims nor Islam by name. Supporters say it is aimed at snuffing out what the government describes as encroaching fundamentalism that is subverting French values, notably the nation’s foundational value of secularism and gender equality.

The measure has been dubbed the “separatism” bill, a term used by Macron to refer to radicals who would create a “counter society” in France.

Top representatives of all religions were consulted as the text was drafted. The government’s leading Muslim conduit, the French Council for the Muslim Faith, gave its backing.

Ghaleb Bencheikh, head of the Foundation for Islam of France, a secular body seeking progressive Islam, said in a recent interview that the planned law was “unjust but necessary” to fight radicalization.

Among other provisions, the bill would ban virginity certificates and crackdown on polygamy and forced marriage practices not formally attached to a religion. Critics say those and other provisions are already covered in existing laws.

Some Muslims said they sensed a climate of suspicion.

“There’s confusion… A Muslim is a Muslim and that’s all,” taxi driver Bahri Ayari said after worshipping at midday prayers at the Grand Mosque of Paris.

“We talk about radicals, about I don’t know what,” he said. “There is a book. There is a prophet. The prophet has taught us.”

As for convicted radicals, he said, their crimes “get put on the back of Islam. That’s not what a Muslim is.”


Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.


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