Frenchman Emmanuel Macron targets ‘Islamic separatism’ with bill


PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron targeted radical Islam on Friday, announcing his intention to ban what he called “Islamic separatism” in communities where he has said religious laws take precedence over civil laws .

Mr Macron said the law, if passed, would give authorities the power to shut down associations and schools he said indoctrinate children, and monitor foreign investments in religious organizations in France. It would also improve public services in poor suburbs, he said.

The bill, which will be submitted to parliament early next year, risks aggravating tensions between Muslim groups in France and the authorities who enforce the country’s strict secularism. France started banning the wearing of Islamic clothing such as face masks in public spaces years ago. Since then, the social and economic alienation of French Muslims has only worsened.

Groups that practice radical forms of Islam, Macron said, were trying to create a parallel society governed by rules and values ​​different from those adopted by the Republic.

“What we have to face is Islamic separatism,” Macron said during a visit to Les Mureaux, a suburb northwest of Paris.

The French leader is under pressure to harden his stance on radical Islam in France in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election. His advisers see the bill as a way for Mr. Macron to overwhelm Marine Le Pen, chief of the anti-immigrant National Rally.

The French suburbs – the working-class suburbs that surround its major cities – have become fertile recruiting grounds for Islamist groups. France was one of the biggest sources of Islamic State militants in the West when the terrorist group controlled parts of Iraq and northern Syria. Hundreds of French nationals have traveled to Islamic State territory, many with children. Others have organized terrorist attacks in France that have killed more than 250 people in the past five years.

Last week, two people were seriously injured in a knife attack near the former office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The suspect, a Pakistani immigrant, later told police he was avenging Prophet Muhammad after the magazine reposted the cartoons that sparked a deadly attack on his staff in 2015, according to the French counterterrorism prosecutor.

Mr Macron said the government was partly responsible for the growing influence of certain religious groups in parts of France. Religious associations are filling a void left by the government in poor suburbs by offering services such as childcare, homework help, cultural and sports activities.

Some associations are using these activities only as a pretext to preach radical Islam, Macron said. He said the bill, if passed, would severely restrict home schooling to prevent children from being enrolled in underground religious establishments.

Anouar Kbibech, president of one of the country’s largest Muslim organizations, the Rassemblement des Musulmans de France, welcomed Mr. Macron’s speech. He said he was concerned, however, that decisions to close an association would become arbitrary.

“It’s a risk,” Kbibech said.

Mr Macron said the bill did not target the entire Muslim community in France, one of the largest in Europe.

The government has been working on a plan for years to fight radical Islam. It has recently started to roll out pilot programs in 15 different areas.

Since February 2018, it has closed 212 bars and restaurants, 15 mosques or prayer rooms, 13 associations, 11 children’s homes and four schools.

The authorities are now planning to extend the program to the whole country. The government has said it will work closely with the French Council of Muslim Faith, an elected body intended to ensure national representation of the Muslim community.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at [email protected]

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