How Switzerland and France tackle “Islamic separatism”


President Emmanuel Macron wants to rid France of what the authorities call a “parallel society” of radical Muslims thriving outside the values ​​of the nation. Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Could a controversial French plan of action to tackle “parallel societies” within the Muslim community resonate in neighboring Switzerland?

This content was published on October 19, 2020 – 11:03 am

In a speech earlier this month from Les Mureaux, a sprawling suburb northwest of Paris plagued by social and economic problems, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled an overview of measures to tackle “separatism Islamic ”and“ liberate Islam in France from foreign influences ”. which he says will be written into a law to be presented to parliament in December.

Macron’s vision rests on the belief that France’s problems with its citizens of immigrant background – who came mainly from former French colonies in the north and sub-Saharan Africa – are caused by their misinterpretations of Islam. According to Macron, “Islam is in crisis everywhere in the world today” and the solution to France’s problems lies in the creation of a “French Islam which can coexist peacefully with the values ​​of the Republic”.

Its proposed measures have drawn criticism from observers, researchers and governments in the Islamic world. Turkey, for example, called it a “provocative plan and a populist insult to Muslims, which covered up France’s failure to integrate its immigrants.”

However, the dramatic beheading of a French college history professor on October 16, which police treat as an act of terrorism (see infobox below), added even more urgency to Macron’s agenda.

Murder of Samuel Paty

French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on October 16 in front of his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in the northern suburbs of Paris, by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee born in Moscow, shot dead by police. The attacker lived in the city of Evreux north-west of Paris. He was previously not known to the intelligence services.

Earlier this month, Paty showed his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a free speech class, angering a number of Muslim parents. Muslims believe that any portrayal of the prophet is blasphemous.

The murder sparked outrage in France and sparked condemnation from President Emmanuel Macron and political parties. Tens of thousands of citizens paid tribute to the teacher on October 18 in different French cities. The murder echoed an attack five years ago on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after the cartoons were published.

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Geneva researcher Redha Benkirane, who has studied contemporary Islam and interfaith dialogue in France and Switzerland, says Macron’s vision goes against a cornerstone of French society: the separation between religion and state .

“The irony is that if Macron leads the defense of secularism in France, his proposals in fact strengthen the intervention of the state to shape the religious convictions of its citizens,” said the Swiss researcher.

Switzerland, which shares both a border and a language with France, has not included secularism in its national laws; on the contrary, the management of relations between religion and society is left to its 26 cantons under its federalist system. spoke with Mallory Schneuwly Purdie, senior researcher at the Swiss Center for Islam and Society, for a perspective on what sets countries apart when it comes to integrating religion into daily life, and whether Islam is also “in crisis”, as Macron said, in the Alpine state.

What are the fundamental differences between the French and Swiss models regarding the relationship between religion and government?

Mallory Schneuwly: Legally and culturally, Switzerland still recognizes the contribution of historic Christian churches to the creation of common values. The management of religious communities is regulated at the cantonal level, which is why there are 26 different ways of managing the relationship between churches and the state. Switzerland also continues to partially fund churches, through the cantons, and the state collects taxes from people belonging to a church and redistributes them to the community.

France does not formally recognize any religion nor give it the right to special treatment under the law. As a result, the French state does not subsidize any religious community, with the exception of prison chaplains, because inmates cannot provide for their own spiritual needs. In France, religious communities must be financially self-sufficient.

Macron’s plan for religious separatism

1- Forcing Islamic organizations which request funding from the French State to sign a “secular charter”

2- Strengthen control over private schools and the regulations that manage their work

3- Impose strict restrictions on home schooling

4- Call for a better understanding of Islam, and promote the teaching of Arabic to achieve an Islam which coexists peacefully with the Republic, and is free from “foreign influences”

5- Monitor international funding entering places of worship

6- End the importation of imams trained abroad within four years; this measure concerns 300 imams sent periodically to French mosques by Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.

7- Establish “clear criteria” for the training of imams in France. Imams will no longer be trained abroad, and will be forced to undergo training in France. Increase control over the funding of this training.

8- Denounce the “ghetto” system that has developed in some communities

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How similar is the situation of Islam in Switzerland to what is happening in France?

Mallory Schneuwly: In Switzerland, we do not think in the same terms to closed [ethnic or religious] communities like in UK or other countries [like France]. In Switzerland, we are very attached to the term “migration” and to urbanization issues. There are not the same types of urban centers as in France [and] in Switzerland, migration from Muslim countries is much more diverse than in France, where people practicing Islam are largely of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian origin. In the Swiss context, there is migration from the Balkans (Kosovo, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, southern Serbia), [so] the Muslim population in Switzerland is more pluralistic. But it should not be denied that in Switzerland, in certain neighborhoods, around certain urban centers [like] Geneva, Lausanne, Winterthur, St. Gallen or Basel, there are small enclaves that can become closed communities.

Are these enclaves a threat?

Mallory Schneuwly: At the current scale, they’re not a real danger. But we must be vigilant on the directions that these enclaves can take and the actions they engender. If you are a community that just wants to live apart and have no contact with political authorities, it doesn’t hurt. It is problematic for the authorities, it is problematic for the neighborhood, but it is not problematic for the rule of law. On the other hand, it becomes a problem if you have an enclave which puts itself in opposition with the society, which wants to fight it, which wants to establish other rules and norms. One example is that of young people who listen to music in public parks who then start vandalizing the butcher shop for selling pork. There it becomes more problematic because the problems turn into landlocked activism. The attitude towards society is what determines the level of danger.

On behalf of French secularism, Macron expressed his determination to “build an Islam that can be at peace with the French Republic”, to train imams locally, to limit access to private Islamic schools, and to strictly control activities. cultural and sports. associations. Could Bern and the Swiss cantons take similar initiatives?

Mallory Schneuwly: There are political parties that would like to have more control over the preaching, training and funding of imams or mosques. But this will not be possible if the Muslim communities in Switzerland remain legally organized in civic associations, because control then falls under private law and not public law. It is a bit of a paradox that we have in Switzerland. We want more control over mosques, but in order to do that we need to give them more legal rights – and we don’t want to do that. After parliament in the [French-speaking canton of] Neuchâtel passed a law allowing the legal recognition of religious communities [including Islam], [centre-right and right-wing parties] threatened to launch popular initiatives against the legislation.

Some observers have said there may be an electoral agenda behind Macron’s plan to reform Islam. Does the existence of direct democracy in Switzerland prevent politicians from playing the same game?

Mallory Schneuwly: Clearly, the two countries are on an equal footing here: in Switzerland, during electoral and electoral campaigns, we see political parties playing questions of immigration, religion, violence against minors … emotions that turn people on. Several townships will hold elections next year, and in March the whole country will vote to ban the burqa. Our political system based on direct democracy can limit unhealthy tactics by [individual] The politicians. But what happened during the minaret initiative or the images of women in niqabs on campaign posters is one way of playing on emotions. It’s pretty much the same game.


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