French President wants to fight against “Muslim separatism”
Following his will to fight against religious fundamentalism, French President Emmanuel Macron presented his action plan against Muslim ‘separatism’ in a speech on October 2nd. Since that date, the French government is working on a bill that will be presented to the National Assembly in mid-November.This decision sparked lively debates throughout France.
What is separatism?
The very choice of the word ‘separatism’ is interesting to understand the debate. In fact, ‘separatism’ is a word created in recent years by French politicians. It is when, the French semiologist Mariette Darrigrand explains, “in the name of a religion or belonging, one wants to separate from the Republic, thus no longer respecting its laws, and therefore threatens the possibility of living together.” In this way, politicians make a difference between people who want to integrate into the Republic and those who do not. Since Macron’s speech on October 2nd, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, has announced that the word ‘separatism’ will not appear in the title of the bill. But what is apparent is that this law project specifically targets Muslims in France, even though this is not announced in its title.
What is in the bill?
Indeed, in an effort to fight against religious fundamentalism, Macron is trying to avoid Muslims living “separated” from the rest of society. This is what he said specifically in his speech on October 2nd. To accomplish this, home schooling will be prohibited for everyone from the start of the 2021 school year. Control over non-contractual private establishments will be strengthened. Government representatives (préfets) will have the right to cancel decisions taken by mayors (such as special swimming pool timetables for Muslim women and vegetarian meals in the school restaurants). Associations will be more controlled to avoid “indoctrination strategies”. The neutrality of public services will be reaffirmed, as public officials are not allowed to wear religious symbols.
In the field of university, Emmanuel Macron has announced the creation of a Scientific Institute of Islamology and the plan to give “labelled” training of imams in France. Even today the majority of imams in France are still trained abroad. The idea is to better control the training of imams so that French officials know exactly what and how they are being taught.
The writing of the text seems complicated because it risks not respecting the French constitution and the equality between citizens. Some politicians also fear the stigmatisation of Muslims. The president of the French Protestant Federation, François Clavairoly, highlighted the risk of ambiguity and aggressivity with a bill about “separatism.” He said that “it could be instrumentalised against Islam.” Although they are not directly concerned, some Christians are also critical of this bill. Pastor and journalist Samuel Amedro showed in an editorial the danger of leaving the state in full control over religions and the importance of acting against fundamentalism on a citizen level. He writes: “Is there not an even greater danger in accusing of separatism any confession of faith that places God above men? […] Isn’t it precisely our silence that leaves the field open for preachers of hatred, be they Christians or Muslims?”
Indeed, there is a risk that by wanting to tackle an extremist branch of Islam, the way of life of a much larger number of people is called into question. French sociologist Olivier Roy explained in a recent book that, since the state cannot attack the content of religions, it attacks their cultural expression. But if religion has the right to exist only as a form of a controlled cultural expression in the public space, the “religious side” is rejected at the margins, and it is there that the radicals will seize it.
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 Olivier Roy, l’Europe est-elle chrétienne, Seuil, 2019.