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OPINION – How France’s Anti-Separatism Law fits into wider Islamophobic persecution

FRANCE:  Since the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, France describes itself to be the epitome of justice and desires to share its understanding of human rights with the rest of the world.

However, France has taken one step closer towards tyranny and persecution. After being announced in October 2020 by French President Emmanuel Macron and months of discussions, the Anti-Separatism Bill has finally been adopted by the Parliament.

What changes is it bringing, and how is it going to affect French Muslims?

Here are the most fundamental reforms introduced by the Law. It will expand government powers to dissolve an organization, a framework which is already loose and enabled the dissolutions of two major Muslim NGO in 2020. In addition, cultural associations will be submitted to tighter fiscal and administrative control.

Organizations seeking public funds will have to sign a “Republican Contract” and abide by its conditions, which is nothing short of a philosophical submission to the State’s ideology.

The very French version of secularism (laicité) – which already requires political, philosophical and religious neutrality for any civil servant – is strengthened by extending this legal condition to non-civil servants associated with public or private bodies involved in a public service mission.

To reinforce it even more, the law targets Islamic private education by introducing new executive tools facilitating the suspension or closure of Islamic private schools.

It also severely restricts home-schooling. This new framework de facto forces Muslim parents to send their children through the public secular education system where overt religious signs such as headscarf are forbidden. The government viciously tries to weaken the actual transmission of Islam for the benefit of French secular philosophy.

Obviously, to avoid the accusation of Islamophobia, the bill does not mention by name Islam or Muslims, but Macron stated when he announced the reform, “what we need to tackle is Islamist Separatism”, indicating that the bill specifically aims at the Muslim community.

If referred to the Constitutional Council, some dispositions of the bill, especially the one regarding home-schooling, could be struck down, but the overall backbone of the bill will not be affected.

It would be a major mistake to believe that such a piece of legislation will have no concrete consequences, disconnected from a wider plan to submit France’s Muslim population to a second class status.

Mechanics of persecution

When introducing the bill, the Council of Ministers explained that it “is a structuring element of the government’s strategy to combat separatism and attacks on citizenship”, implicitly pointing at an already existing strategy. As no French Muslims ever demanded to live in a separate State within the French national territory, it is necessary to identify the institutional mechanics of this “strategy” andi ts political objective.

In 2019, former Home Secretary Christophe Castaner, in an address to the Prefects, unveiled that the State had been piloting a policy aimed at stopping “Islamism”, and “communitarian withdrawal” since 2018.

By “Islamism’ , “Radical Islam”’ or “Islamist Separatism” the government means normative Islamic beliefs in and so far as, according to the French State, wearing hijab, a beard, praying or increasing one’s religiosity during the month of Ramadan is a “weak signal” of “radicalization”.

What is then “communitarian withdrawal” ? To understand this expression, it must be mentioned that France does not recognize the political and legal existence of minorities on its soil.

This stance reflects the very French idea, inherited from Jacobinism, that the nation is and must be one under the banner of the Republic. This unity must not be understood as a form of national solidarity but rather as an identitarian idea according to which equal is synonymous with identical.

Hence, “communitarian withdrawal” describes behaviors, be they cultural or religious, of a minority group of individuals, united by a specific identity, that differ from the actual norm of the majority.

The first two years of the policy were implemented in 15 unknown areas in total secrecy. As announced by the former home secretary, it resulted in 1,030 controls of public establishments (mosques, schools, cultural or sporting establishments, or public houses) believed to be run by “Islamists” and followed an explicit modus operandi.

“As soon as there are doubts about a place or an association, I ask you not to hesitate to carry out inspections and controls. And if breaches are established, I ask you to order administrative closures without hesitation,” Castaner said.

These “inspections and controls” are conducted by administrative controllers who scrutinize every piece of legislation applicable to the public establishments which means the authorities can use doubts about hygiene, the control of regulations concerning sports activities, rules concerning the reception of minors or the fight against fraud to inspect places open to the public.

Castaner described this method as “systematic obstruction.” It represents a strategy of maximum pressure on Muslim civil society to make day to day work intolerably difficult, asphyxiating a community already weakened by decades of systemic bigotry.

In the same address, the former home secretary announced that the policy was now to be implemented across the country.

In order to facilitate such an implementation, the French State created 101 “departmental cells fighting against Islamism and communitarian withdrawal”. According to the State, these cells are “a multidisciplinary team, placed under the authority of the departmental prefect, that aims to coordinate the action of all actors likely to contribute to the fight against Islamism and community withdrawal.”

Their task ? To function as a specific anti-Muslim intelligence, gather relevant information and submit it to the Prefect who will process it and demand an inspection to be carried out in case of “doubt”.

As of May 2021, it led to the closure of at least 37 mosques, 4 schools and 210 public houses run by French Muslims. In addition, some 559 Muslim-owned businesses or organizations have been closed down, and 22,222 were investigated. It also allowed the state to seize more than €43 million ($50.6 million) from an already impoverished Muslim community.

It means that, on average, 27 controls take place each business day, 569 a month, four closures are announced each month and €10 million ($11.8 million) seized each year.

The French Prime Minister Jean Castex issued a public circular on the 24th of June, explicitly identifying the higher aim of the Anti-Separatism Bill: “This obstruction policy will soon be strengthened by the dispositions of the bill to Reinforce Respect for Republican Principles (Anti-Separatism Bill).”

Through this legislation, the French government only expands its already large legal and executive powers to amplify and facilitate its anti-Islam policy.

The newly introduced framework is very clear: the French State is at war with its Muslim community, which will now have to submit to extraordinary and extreme demands of allegiance.

As the infamous Imam’s charter states, French Muslims are “bound by a pact” to France which demands a full submission to its ideology. Faith-inspired dissent is not to be tolerated. The results of this “systematic obstruction”, shocking, only point at the reality of a systematic attack on Muslims.

A very real State-led Islamophobic persecution is taking place in front of our eyes.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Anadolu Agency.

1 – https://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/lutte-contre-les-separatismes-le-verbatim-integral-du-discours-d-emmanuel-macron-20201002

2 – See Christophe Castaner hearing at the Law Commission, 8th october 2019.

http://videos.assemblee-nationale.fr/vod.php?media=8204226_5d9ca9d57c415&name=%22Commission+des+lois+%3A+M.+Christophe+Castaner%2C+ministre+de+l’Intérieur%22+du+8+octobre+2019

3 – For more details, see the works of Aissam Ait Yahya, De l’idéologie islamique française, or Alain de Benoist’s “Jacobinisme ou Fédéralisme”.

4- https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Archives/Archives-ministres-de-l-Interieur/Archives-Christophe-Castaner/Interventions/Discours-d-ouverture-de-M.-Christophe-Castaner-lors-du-seminaire-des-prefets-consacre-a-la-lutte-contre-l-islamisme-et-le-repli-communautaire

5 – Ibid.

6 – https://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/dyn/15/comptes-rendus/cion_lois/l15cion_lois1920045_compte-rendu

7 – https://www.cipdr.gouv.fr/islamisme-et-separatisme-clir/

8 – See the monthly press releases by the Home Secretary regarding its struggle against “radical Islam”, available here : https://www.interieur.gouv.fr

9 – Official wording of the Anti-Separatism Bill. See https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/download/file/pdf/cir_45206/CIRC-AA

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