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ANALYSIS: What is actually contained in France’s new law against Islamic extremism?

A cacophony of complaints - some justified, most plain wrong or wilfully distorted - has been hurled at Emmanuel Macron’s proposed new law to defend French democracy from radical Islam, writes John Lichfield.

ANALYSIS: What is actually contained in France's new law against Islamic extremism?
President Emmanuel Macron admitted that France has created its own 'separatism'. Photo: AFP

On Wednesday, the draft law will finally be published and presented to the French government. Its title has changed. Some of its proposals have been modified. There is no specific reference to “Islamism” or Islam or any other religion.

Macron has been accused in recent weeks of lurching to the Right; of attacking Islam itself; of re-inventing French “secularism” until it becomes an attack on personal and religious freedoms, rather than a defence of them.

The attacks have come from some leaders in the Muslim world; from part of the French Left; and – in shrill and often ignorant terms – from some voices in the liberal media in the United States.

It is worth reciting a few facts. The proposed law has been developed in consultation with moderate Muslim leaders in France. It has been rejected in advance as too weak by the French right and Far Right.

Most of its proposals, with some amendments, have been approved by France’s fiercely independent, constitutional watchdog, the Conseil Constitutionnel. Macron has resisted (rightly) pressure from the French Right and the fiercely “secular” part of the Left for more draconian measures such as an outright ban on the Muslim headscarf in France.

Extreme ideas put forward in media interviews by the interior minister Gérald Darmanin (such as jail sentences for people who refuse to see a female doctor) have never been included in any version of the draft law.

OPINION The French interior minister is becoming a danger to Macron and France's reputation

The law was proposed two weeks before the murder of teacher Samuel Paty. Photo: AFP

It is also worth pointing out that the proposed law is NOT a response to the three Islamist terrorist attacks in France in October, including the beheading of the history teacher, Samuel Paty.

It is, in part, a response to the 30 or so other serious Islamist attacks in France in the last eight years.

Macron presented the outline – then called “a law against separatism” – in a speech in the far western suburbs of Paris on October 2nd, two weeks before Mr Paty’s horrific murder.

This brutal killing followed a mendacious and inflammatory campaign in radical Islamic social media against Mr Paty and his illustrated civics lesson on the rights and wrongs of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

It also followed a misleading campaign in parts of the Muslim world against Macron’s speech outlining his plan to resist the growing influence of extremist versions of Islam.

Much of the criticism, in both Muslim and US media, both before and after the October terrorist attacks, has ignored important elements of that speech.

READ ALSO How publishing Prophet Muhammed cartoons has become a quasi-religious act in France

Macron said in Les Mureaux on October 2nd: “We have created our own form of separatism…We have created districts where the promises of the Republic are no longer kept.”

He promised urgent new initiatives for the multi-racial French suburbs and to combat racial and religious discrimination. Without such action he said, the banlieues would remain a “fertile soil” in which extremist, Islamist propaganda would grow.

Regrettably, President Macron also seems to have forgotten, or indefinitely shelved, that element of his speech. Government officials speak of a “work in progress”. Hmm. It would be a great mistake if no mention is made of these promises when the draft law goes to the French cabinet tomorrow.

So what exactly IS in the new law, now called a law to “strengthen republican principles”?

Originally, the law contained a proposal to all but ban home-schooling for children over three. The government believes that some Muslim children, especially girls, are vanishing into radical schools which teach extremist interpretation of Islam but not much else.

School ID numbers, already given to most French children, are to be allotted to those taught at home and in wholly independent schools, outside the French public and licenced private education system. This was grossly misrepresented in part of the US media last month as an ID system for Muslim kids only.

 

Following advance criticism from the Constitutional Council, the school clauses have now been watered down. The freedom of parents to teach children at home will be maintained but under stricter regulation and inspection.

The draft law also bans the publication of information on-line which identifies people “with the intention of putting their safety or lives at risk”.

Local councils would be banned from agreeing to religious-based demands, such as female-only opening hours for swimming pools. There will be measures to widen the local (ie non-foreign) finances of places of worship.

All religious or other associations which receive public subsidies would have to sign a charter on respect for “Republican values” – recognising that “religions are not political movements”. There would be rules to try to prevent radical minorities from taking over places of worship.

The terms of the charter are being drawn up by the main French Muslim umbrella group, representing nine Islamic organisations, the Conseil français du culte musulman.

Why is any of this necessary?

A growing number of younger Muslims say they regard French state laws as inferior and contrary to the laws of Islam.

The vast majority of French Muslims – 70 percent according to one survey – are either non-practising or accept that the French secular state protects their religious freedom and that secular laws take precedence over religious law. They find themselves squeezed between radical interpretations of their faith and the undoubted Islamophobia of some French people and political parties.

In short, the proposed law defends France’s secular and democratic value. It also defends the right of French Muslims to worship free from foreign-subsidised radical propaganda.

The widespread mis-interpretation of Macron’s plan can be explained in several ways.

Interior minister Darmanin and others have muddled the original balanced approach with comments that have sounded more like an attack on Islam than an attack on Islamism.

France’s commitment to a “secular” state, in which all faiths are protected but none promoted, is often misunderstood or wilfully misrepresented abroad. But it is also exploited and distorted by some French pundits and politicians – not just on the far right – to disguise their Islamophobia.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

At its core, French secularism is little different from the British or American devotion (pre-Trump and Johnson at any rate ) to tolerance, democracy and the rule of law.

The struggle against Islamist intolerance is not just a French struggle. Many foreigners understand that. Many Muslims understand that, in France and elsewhere.

But Macron’s defence of France and his own approach would be infinitely strengthened if he recalled his own excellent October 2nd speech.

The President spoke of combating radical Islam. He also said that extremism and “the soil in which it grows” must be “addressed in parallel …over years and years.”

We will have the law to combat radicalism tomorrow. Where are the proposals to combat discrimination and to help the struggling inner suburbs? 

Member comments

  1. Let’s see what the law will be, and what it’s actual effect/impact will be. I have my doubts on if we will actually see improvements. In the 30 attacks in France cited that partly lead to this law, several of the biggest ones actually originated in Belgium or had ties to Belgium. The Charlie Hebdo 2015 terrorists got their weapons in Brussels, the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people was planned by a terrorist cell in Belgium, and the Thalys attacker boarded the train with his weapons in Belgium. The other biggest attack, in Nice that killed 85 people, was by a Tunisian who was legally living in France, who had already been reported to police 5 times. I’m concerned that lawmakers are ignoring real security measures, like technology infrastructure that allows better cross-border policing cooperation. I fear that the cultural debate and focus on secularism value is distracting from and ignoring real security needs, which to my knowledge are still unresolved and at risk.

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POLITICS

Revealed: France’s funniest politicians and their best ‘jokes’

Politicians' jokes are more usually met with a groan than a laugh, but France's annual prize for political humour has been awarded - here are the zingers judged the best in 2022.

Revealed: France's funniest politicians and their best 'jokes'

According to the jury on the Press club, Humour et Politique awards, the funniest politician in France is the Communist leader (and 2022 presidential candidate) Fabien Roussel.

His award-winning zinger is: “La station d’essence est le seul endroit en France où celui qui tient le pistolet est aussi celui qui se fait braquer.”

It translates as ‘the petrol station is the only place where the one holding the gun is also the one who is robbed’ – a joke that works much better in French where ‘pistolet’ means both a pistol and the petrol pump. 

On a side note for British readers – Roussel also looks quite a lot like left-wing UK comedian Stewart Lee, so maybe he has funny genes.

Second prize went to ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy with his withering assessment of Valérie Pécresse, the candidate for his old party in the 2022 presidential election, who did extremely badly.

“Ce n’est pas parce que tu achètes de la peinture, une toile et des pinceaux que tu deviens Picasso. Valérie Pécresse, elle a pris mes idées, mon programme et elle a fait 4.8 pourcent”

“It’s not because one buys paints, canvas and brushes that you become Picasso. Valérie Pécresse, she took my ideas, my manifesto and she got 4.8 percent of the vote.”

While these two were jokes – in the loosest sense of the word – the prize can also be awarded to politicians who make people laugh inadvertently, such as last year’s winner Marlène Schiappa who, when announcing plans to ban polygamy, felt the need to tell the French, “On ne va pas s’interdire les plans à trois” – we’re not going to outlaw threesomes.

Here’s the full list of finalists for the funniest political joke of 2022 – somehow we don’t think you’re at risk of split sides with any of these.

Ex-Prime minister Edouard Philippe talking about hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon: “Il faut une certaine audace pour que quelqu’un qui a été battu à une élection où il était candidat puisse penser qu’il sera élu à une élection où il n’est pas candidat!”

“It takes a certain audacity for someone who was defeated in an election where he was a candidate to think that he will be elected in an election where he is not a candidate!”

Ex-Assemblée nationale president Richard Ferrand: “Elisabeth Borne est formidable mais personne ne le sait.”

“Elisabeth Borne is great but no-one knows it.”

Ex-Macronist MP Thierry Solère: “Mon anatomie fait que si j’ai le cul entre deux chaises, je suis parfaitement assis.”

“My anatomy means that if I have my ass between two chairs, I am perfectly seated.”

Some information that might be useful for this one – the French phrase avoir le cul entre deux chaises (to have your ass between two chairs) is the equivalent of the English ‘falling between two stools’ – ie a person who cannot make up their mind what or who to support. Further information; Solère is a largish bloke.

Hard-left MP Eric Coquerel: “S’imaginer qu’on va remplacer Jean-Luc Mélenchon comme ça, c’est une vue de l’esprit. C’est comme se poser la question de qui va remplacer Jaurès.”

“To imagine that we will replace [party leader] Jean-Luc Mélenchon like that, is purely theoretical. It is like asking the question of who will replace Jaurès.”

Jean Jaurès is a revered figure on the French left, but not currently very active in politics, since he was assassinated in 1914.

Rachida Dati to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo: “Votre présence au Conseil de Paris est aussi anecdotique que votre score à la présidentielle.”

“Your presence at the Council of Paris is as anecdotal as your score in the presidential election.”

There’s no doubt that Hidalgo did humiliatingly badly in the presidential election with a score of 1.75 percent. Daiti didn’t stand in the presidential elections but she did put herself forward to be mayor of Paris in 2020 and was convincingly beaten by . . . Anne Hidalgo.

So that’s the ‘jokes’, but there were also some entries for inadvertently funny moments.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo: “Tous les matins, je me lève en me disant que tout le monde m’aime.”

“Every morning, I wake up and tell myself that everyone loves me.”

But the undisputed queen of this genre is the green MP Sandrine Rousseau, whose ideas and policy announcements seem to have provoked a great deal of mirth.

Je voudrais qu’il y ait une possibilité de délit de non-partage des tâches domestiques – I would like there to be the possibility of a crime of not equally sharing domestic tasks

Les SDF meurent plus de chaleur l’été que l’hiver – The homeless die from heat more in the summer than the winter

Il faut changer aussi de mentalité pour que manger une entrecôte cuite sur un barbecue ne soit plus un symbole de virilité – We must also change our mentality so that eating a steak cooked on a barbecue is no longer a symbol of virility.

If you prefer your humour a little more scientific, Phd researcher Théo Delemazure has done a study of which politicians and political parties are funniest when speaking in parliament.

He analysed how often speeches raise a smile or a laugh (which presumably includes sarcastic laughter) and concluded that the party that gets the most laughs is the hard-left La France Insoumise.

They are also the party that speaks most often, however, when he calculated the laughter rate per time spent speaking, the prize went to the centre-right Les Républicains.

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