I was asked to put together a political briefing on Macron’s so-called bill to outlaw separatism. Here is an edited copy (with thanks to Zakaria K).
The ‘separatism’ Bill announced by Emmanuel Macron on the 2nd October is currently working its way through the institutions of the French executive. The proposed law is called the “Bill to Reinforce Secularism and Republican Principles”, the term ‘separatism’, once considered, has been removed. The Bill looks to update the 1905 law that officially separated church from state.
The French Minister of interior, Gérald Darmanin announced on BFMTV 3 weeks ago that the completed draft will be presented to the Conseil d’État or Council of State. This is a quasi- legal branch of the French state that looks at bills to make sure it conforms to the French constitution.
Based on the fragments that announced beforehand, it seems there are some constitutional difficulties with the bill. For example, the odd statement by Mr Darmanin that those that refuse a doctor from the opposite gender may get up to 5 years in prison, remains questionable within the French constitution. According to Rim Sarah Alouane, a French academic, “There is no way this law can be fully deemed constitutional”.
On the 9th December, the text will then be presented to the Council of Ministers (Conseil des ministre) which is a committee within the French executive that consists of the President and senior ministers (similar to a core cabinet). This is a highly symbolic date because it coincides with the anniversary of the 1905 founding law. The government seeks to fast track the bill through parliament so that it becomes law by July.
The bill has been published in draft form and can be found here: https://www.dalloz-actualite.fr/flash/projet-de-loi-separatisme-texte-de-l-avant-projet-de-loi#.X7aFyC17TOQ
What do we know so far about the contents of the bill?
• To prohibit home education. This will make it near to impossible to remove children from state education to be schooled at home and to introduce a child ID system for all children above 3. (Note, this will have an impact on Catholic and Jewish communities as well, unless the bill can be worded in a way to outlaw Muslim home schooling alone. There are some exemptions, but they mostly seem to be on health grounds.)
• To extend administrative powers to shut down ‘extremist’ schools that operate outside of the state sector.
• To regulate Islamic teachers that ‘incite extremism’, this allows local authorities the powers to close down weekend schools and after school madrassahs.
• The Bill looks to strengthen ‘women’s rights’ but does not include the much trailed policy of fining or jailing someone that refuses a female doctor or refuses the teaching of a teacher (Indicated by Gérald Darmanin in an interview with the “La Voix du Nord”).
• The government also wants to strengthen the monitoring of hate speech on social networks by the establishment of a ‘Centre for magistrates’.
• Foreign donations about 10,000 Euros to associations will be subject to a ‘declaration of resources’.
• A so-called anti putsch provision is also planned to prevent any takeover of a mosque by an ‘extremist’.
• To increase powers to ban anyone from giving sermons in places of worship if they have been convicted of “terrorism, incitement to violence or hatred”.
• To create a special certificate programme for French imams.
Macron’s political context cannot be separated from this bill. He has Presidential elections in 2022 and he is losing ground to the National Front. Marine Le Pen has accused the government of being soft on Islam and Macron knows his party, en Marche, that remains an outsider in French Politics is likely to do very badly next year, especially since France has not competently handled the second wave of Covid.
It is also quite important to note that Macron underestimated the international response. His al-Jazeera interview and letter in the Financial Times indicates that he was surprised at the level of solidarity towards French Muslims and the intensity of the calls for boycott.
However, unlike some western countries, there does not seem to be political sympathy in broader civil society in France towards Muslims. The separatism bill has broad support from the left and the right. A former minister in the socialist government, J-P. Chevènement who headed the government’s Fondation de l’islam, sent out a tweet “The veil (hijab) is for many women an identity claim. This symbol means that marriage is only possible with a Muslim. This is a manifestation of separatism.” It is open season on Islam.
What we are witnessing in France is nothing short of a liberal inquisition.