French parliament opens debate on draft law aimed at tackling Islamism

·2-min read

French lawmakers have begun debating the text of a bill to root out Islamism. Authorities maintain radicalism is creeping into public services, associations and online groups, as well as schools, with the goal of undermining France's national values.

The proposed bill is broad and controversial, with 1,700 proposed amendments, and is expected to create heated debate for the next two weeks in the National Assembly of parliament.

It reflects a priority for President Emmanuel Macron, who in an October speech painted a dark picture of a perverse version of Islam, France’s second largest religion, quietly making inroads and creating a “counter society”.

Right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has taken up the mission with zeal, and has written a short book, to be released in the coming days, entitled Manifesto for Secularism.

“Islamism is a Trojan horse hiding the fragmentation bomb of our society,” Darmanin writes, 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 Mohamed, it is normal that public officials take unprecedented measures.”

Monitoring mosques, religious associations

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 is anti-Islam.

Other critics say the bill covers ground already addressed in current laws, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen says the bill doesn’t go far enough or name the real enemy, which she calls radical Islam.

The bill seeks oversight in the functioning of religious associations and places of worship, including mosques, and aims to clamp down on foreign financing in order to plug up entry points for Islamist ideology in the everyday lives of France's Muslims.

In a bid to protect children from indoctrination, the text requires all children from the age of three to attend 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.

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, not uncommon, is not banned, amounts over €10,000 must be declared.

Among the 51 articles, the bill also aims to ensure public service employees respect neutrality and secularism, while protecting them against threats or violence.

An article, dubbed the "Paty law" after the October beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist extremist, designates a new crime for online hate speech. A Chechen refugee murdered Paty, who showed students cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed in a civics class, after information about him was spread online.