Muslims around the world reacted angrily, and many saw the speech, which centered on protecting the ideal of French secularism, as an attempt to turn to the far right.
The proposal, which will be officially presented as a bill in December, expands a 1905 law that formally separated religion from state.
It would, among other things, allow the state to control international funding entering French mosques, limit home education in order to prevent Muslim schools run by what Macron calls “religious extremists” and create a special certificate program for French imams.
“Behind this law, there is a real stigma,” Nagib Azergui, founder of the Union des democrats muslim français (French Muslim Democrats) political party, told Al Jazeera. ” [The proposal] establishes a direct link between Muslims, terrorism and radicalization. ”
Azergui said he feared the consequences of this could be an increase in Islamophobia across the country.
“We are in a state of vigilance where people call the police and say that my neighbor who has a beard or wears a scarf is a threat.”
The French Ministry of the Interior recorded 154 Islamophobic incidents in 2019, an increase of 54% compared to 2019.
The Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF), which uses a different calculation method, said it recorded around 2,000 cases of Islamophobia in the same year.
In response to Macron’s speech, 100 prominent French Muslims signed an open letter calling on the government to stop stigmatizing Muslims, especially women and working class Muslims.
“Stop stigmatizing Muslim women, whether they wear a headscarf or not, whose clothing choices have become a matter of national debate,” they said. “Stop the escalation of empty political and media debates. Stop the indictment of any speaker, Muslim or not, who does not subscribe to the racist discourse that has become omnipresent on our screens.
The speech came amid a renewed national debate over the hijab.
Wearing the hijab – a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion – is prohibited in French schools and for public servants in their workplaces.
Last month, a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party left a National Assembly hearing, claiming the presence of a veiled student went against the country’s secular values - a blow that revived the debate on the hijab.
Days earlier, a social media storm erupted when a French journalist attempted to link a cooking video of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab to the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. French channel BFMTV tweeted a video of Imane Boune, a 21-year-old food blogger, giving cooking tips to low-budget college students. In response to the message, Judith Waintraub, of the right-wing Le Figaro Magazine, commented: “September 11”.
In his speech on Friday, ridiculed by some on social media as a “sermon” because it was delivered on Muslim holy day, Macron acknowledged some of the government’s failures in his treatment of immigrant populations.
“We built our own separatism ourselves,” Macron said. “For too long, the authorities had amassed mainly immigrant populations in poor neighborhoods with little access to jobs or public transport.”
This is why, he says, “we see children of the Republic, sometimes elsewhere, children or grandchildren of citizens from immigrant and Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa revisiting their identity through a postcolonial discourse.
“But that,” he insisted, “was a form of self-hatred that the Republic should fight against.
In an editorial in Le Monde, Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, wrote that the government could only blame itself for having abandoned such populations.
“You shouldn’t be surprised at the result,” Hafiz said. “Eventually, certain populations become autonomous, freeing themselves from the laws of the Republic to live according to standards that they have concocted for themselves or that extremist and communalist circles have shaped for them. Indeed, it is difficult to wake up when, for years, the dust has been swept under the carpet.
Macron’s use of the term “Islamist separatism” is also of concern, he added.
“The issue of ‘separatism’ does not concern all Muslims in any way. Far from there! ” he wrote.
“I would like to point out, with all due respect, to those who seek to draw a parallel between Islam and Islamism, to those who suggest that Islam is Islamism, and vice versa, that there is indeed a distinction to be made between Muslims. Islamist religion and ideology. ”
But some saw in Macron’s speech a positive step forward in the creation of a “French Islam”.
Hakim El Karoui, a French consultant who has written about the role of Islam in France, told Al Jazeera that he believes the speech was a positive step for French Muslims.
“It was a speech against Islamism, but it was pro-Islam,” El Karoui said.
A longtime friend of Macron’s, El Karoui is the author of two reports – The Islamist Factory and A French Islam Is Possible.
Many of the ideas presented in his research, including tracking mosque funding from abroad and creating a local imam training program in France, became key elements of Macron’s proposal.