French legislators are set to debate a bill to tackle radical Islamic ideology.
Some authorities maintain that such radical beliefs are creeping into public services, schools and online platforms, with the goal of undermining national values.
The bill is broad and controversial, with 1,700 proposed amendments, and guarantees heated debate for the next two weeks in the lower house of the French parliament.
It reflects a priority for France’s president Emmanuel Macron, who in an October speech painted a dark picture of a perverse version of Islam, France’s second most-popular religion, quietly making inroads and creating a “counter-society”.
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, a right-leaning member of Mr Macron’s centrist party, wrote a short book on the subject, due to be released in a matter of days. His Manifesto For Secularism outlines fundamental values of France that the bill he sponsors is meant to protect.
“Islamism is a Trojan horse hiding the fragmentation bomb of our society,” Mr Darmanin wrote, according to excerpts from the daily Le Figaro.
“In the face of such a dangerous and insidious enemy, which we know is far from the religion of the prophet (of Islam), it is normal that public officials take unprecedented measures.”
Multiple terrorist attacks in France by Islamist extremists provide a backdrop for the bill.
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.
Meanwhile, far-right leader Marine Le Pen says the bill does not go far enough or even name the enemy: radical Islam.
In ways small and large, the bill seeks oversee the functioning of associations and mosques, including foreign financing, aiming plug up entry points for Islamist ideology into the lives of Muslims.
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 the age of three to attend a regular school.
Some 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 cannot take control of an association.
Another measure requires associations receiving state funds to sign a “contract of Republican commitment” ensuring they honour French values.
Funding must be reimbursed if the contract is broken. While foreign funding for mosques is not banned, amounts over 10,000 euros (£8,800) must be declared.
If some Muslims feel they have been stigmatised, France’s other religions say they are suffering collateral damage.
Le Monde newspaper reported religious leaders were unanimous in their criticism of the treatment of associations, telling a parliamentary commission that it adds unnecessary layers of work and oversight and arouses suspicion over all faiths.
The proposed law also seeks to halt doctors issuing virginity certificates, as well as the practice of polygamy and forced marriage.
Doctors would be fined and risk jail for providing virginity certificates.
The law includes an article that justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has called the “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 Mr Paty after information about the teacher was spread online.
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