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Children to be tracked and Imams given an ultimatum– Is France going too far in its quest to stamp out ‘radical Islam’?

Children to be tracked and Imams given an ultimatum– Is France going too far in its quest to stamp out ‘radical Islam’?

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President Macron recently presented a bill to combat, what he terms as, ‘Islamist separatism’. It is a wide ranging bill, but its predominant focus is the children of the country. Under this bill, homeschooling will be banned, children will be tracked and their school attendance monitored through special identification numbers. This bill will come into action from the 2021-2022 school year– if it is passed, which it likely will be as the President has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. A strange move given that the ongoing pandemic (which is predicted to last through 2021) has moved most schooling to inside the home. But, Macron believes that Muslim parents homeschool their children, or send them to religious schools in order to radicalise them and raise them to reject France’s republican values.

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This bill is just the latest move in the President’s campaign against radical Islam, he also asked French muslim leaders to accept a ‘charter of republican values’. The charter states that Islam is not a political movement and prohibits “foreign interference” in Muslim groups. Macron met with the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and told them to accept the charter, “If some do not sign this charter, we will draw the consequences from that”, he said. The council agreed and will create a national council of imams.

The creation of such a council of imams, is not a bad thing, many muslim countries actually have some form of a centralised legal body that supervises religious affairs. This council can act as an accreditation body which would strip hate preachers masquerading as imams of their title and power, and help control the spread of a violent rhetoric. However, the bill Macron recently unveiled is an entirely different matter from this council.

The reasoning behind that bill is demonising French muslims and dividing them from the general public by painting them as a collective of dangerous savages. It conflates violent extremism with muslims. This bill will only serve to separate French muslims from the rest of the populace in the same manner as the ‘Islamist separatism’ that President Macron keeps railing against.

The key to stamping out radical Islam in France isn’t tracking and monitoring the education of children, rather it is providing French Muslims with the same opportunities as other French citizens.

French muslims face a myriad of socio-economic problems, which may make a few of them vulnerable to radicalisation. Many of the muslims in France are descendants of immigrants from ex-French colonies. France ravaged Muslim countries like Algeria and Morocco, much like Britain did the Indian Subcontinent, leaving them poor and destitute. For many, even after independence the only way to keep their villages and families afloat was to migrate to France and send remittances home. And, France took advantage of this cheap labour as they were in sore need of it for their industrialisation project. But, later as the economy shifted from industrialisation to more tertiary, knowledge based sectors the muslims labourers were rendered unemployed. They were also unable to fully join the new sectors of the economy as many of them lived, and still do, in ghettoised enclaves where access to good schooling and transport was extremely limited. The children of these immigrants don’t have much social mobility or even the hope of it given that they are contending with the challenges of living in a ghetto.

These challenges combined with the undercurrent of racism and islamophobia still present in France, owing to is colonial past, marginalises French muslims and impedes their integration into society. The French State seems stuck in its colonial perception of muslims as inferior savages who need to be ‘civilised’. The key to stamping out radical Islam in France isn’t tracking and monitoring the education of children, rather it is providing French Muslims with the same opportunities as other French citizens.

Alos, backing a religious community into a corner rarely ends well, an example of this can be found in French history as well. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy (Constitution civile du clergé) was a law passed during the French Revolution, on 12 July 1790, that required the Clergy to take an oath stating the individual’s ultimate allegiance to France. The Pope at the time declared that those who took the oath would stand separated from the church forever. This lead to much violence and bloodshed, as the clergymen who didn’t take the oath were persecuted by the State and those who did were persecuted by other catholics who believed this oath was destroying their ‘true’ faith. In the end the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was repealed in 1794. This example isn’t to suggest that this exact situation will play out between the French State and muslims. It is just to illustrate that if one feels the essence of their religion is unfairly under attack they will rebel and distance themselves from the state even more.

The French secular project is a great project in theory and holds the potential to ease the conflict in society with its values of Liberty, equality and fraternity (Liberté, égalité, fraternité), but only if it extends these values to all of its citizens, muslims included.

France also has not been able to achieve the perfect separation of religion and the state that it claims to have done. Although the two are formally separated and large swathes of the population are not religious, some of France’s major political parties align themselves along christian ideals. The Republicans (Les Républicains) are the second largest political party in the National Assembly and they frequently espouse the ideals of christian democracy. While the Christian Democratic Party ( Parti chrétien-démocrate) is an active conservative christian-democratic party. Clearly, the French do not all balk at the mere mention of religion in the public sphere. So, the hysteria created around Islam and the threat it presents to republican values feels facile.

President Macron also stated in his charter that he wants Muslim groups in France to stay free of any ‘foreign involvement’. But, the foreign involvement in radical muslims groups is known, usually, to be a Saudi sponsored brand of violent Wahhabism, not just in France but the world over. The president has made it incumbent upon all muslim groups to reject foreign funding yet he will still continue to supply Saudi Arabia with arms and accept its money. If Macron really wants to control the spread of radical Islam perhaps he ought to look into reexamining France’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The French secular project is a great project in theory and holds the potential to ease the conflict in society with its values of Liberty, equality and fraternity (Liberté, égalité, fraternité), but only if it extends these values to all of its citizens, muslims included.

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