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French secularism and the growing threat of Islamic radicalization

A boy beheaded a 47-year old history teacher Samuel Paty when the latter showed a caricature of Prophet Mohammed in the class discussion. When the police ordered him to put down his weapons, he failed to comply and acted in a threatening way. The 18-year old boy named Abdullakh A shouted “Allahu Akbar” as the police shot him to death.

Responding to the whole situation, the French President Emmanuel Macron visited the school where the victim worked. Reacting to the whole situation he said, “One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not. We must stand all together as citizens.” Macron called the incident “Islamist terrorist attack”.

Even though, Muslims are a minority in Europe still they form a significant number. It was estimated by Pew Forum that the total number of Muslims in Europe was about 44 million (4.4 crores) which is approximately 6% of the total population in 2010. France has the largest number of Muslim population in Europe followed by Germany. As of 2016, there were 5.7 million (57 lakhs) Muslims in France which constituted about 8.8% of the country’s total population. 

Europe is battling against the problem of radicalized Islamists for a while. The 2004 Madrid train bombings could be called the deadliest Islamic attack. The terrorists put explosives in a train in Madrid, Spain in 11 March, 2004. The incident killed 193 people and injured around 2,000 individuals. The investigation found that the attack was carried out by an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell. The 7/7 or 7 July 2005 London bombings was another misfortunate attack on the civilians by radicalized Islamists. Islamist suicide attackers targeted people travelling in London’s city transport system. 56 people were dead including the 4 bombers and 784 others injured.

These incidents directed by Islamist terrorists are not based only in other parts of Europe but have found roots in France too. The infamous Charlie Hebdo owes allegiance to the fact that the radicalized Islam is a major problem in France too. Charlie Hebdo is a left-wing weekly satirical news magazine founded in 1970 and headquartered in Paris, France. The magazine published some satirical caricatures of Prophet Mohammed, a religious figure in Islam. The controversy followed because depiction of the Prophet is prohibited in Islam, and adding to that, some cartoons were even nude. Unlike many other nations, 1905 law on the separation of states and churches in France allows its people to criticize religions and religious figures. 

However, the law couldn’t stop Islamists’ ire. On the Wednesday of 7 January 2015, Charlie Hebdo staff was gathered for an editorial meeting. Around 11:30 in the morning, two hooded and armed men entered in the office. They killed around 12 staff members while 11 others were injured. The people killed range from psychoanalysts to columnists for the magazine. The gunmen were identified Chérif and Saïd Kouachi and were linked to Al-Qaeda.

France is the fountainhead of “laïcité” or secularism. However, because of the increasing Islamist terrorist attacks, the nation had to make some changes in the law in order to salvage the grim reality radicalized Islam offers. In 2004, France banned the headscarves in public schools saying that the state institutions should be religiously neutral. France became the first European nation to ban burqas in public in 2010. The law banning burqas and face-covering niqabs was drafted on the grounds to promote open and equal interaction in the society. 

The French President is planning to introduce a “Seperatism Bill” which will directly affect the Muslims living in Fance. However, the exact details of the bill are not disclosed but it is believed that the bill will stop foreign imams and increase the number of imams trained in France. The bill also includes a tight scrutiny of the foreign funding into Islamic religious institutions. Macron said that the government needs to know where the money comes from, who gets it and what for.

On September 7, French Citizenship Minister and Interior Minister confirmed that such a bill was being drafted. If everything goes well then the French President might be presenting the bill in the French Parliament for debate in the month of December this year. The critics argue that the bill will alienate the Muslim population of the nation. There are legal hurdles too which the bill have to pass as the France is a secular nation and bill might sound discriminatory against the Muslims.

In a left-wing news site Médiapart, 100 Muslim academics and activists signed a joint statement. It read, “More than the necessity to fight terrorism as a criminal phenomenon, President Macron is today participating, with his speech, in constructing a Muslim problem, targeting all believers and their faith.” president Macron defended his stance by saying that his focus is on radical Islam and not on the faith in general.

However, the proposed bill is not limited just to tackle a social evil that is radicalization. Much more than that, the bill also has a political element according to the experts who closely follow French politics.

Emmanuel Macron is thought to be a centrist political leader who has moderate views and doesn’t leans to much either right or left. His main opposition comes from a 52-year old lady named Marine Le Pen who is a far-right wing politician. She is a leader of the National Rally party. Marine has her enough share of controversial remarks against Muslims. In 2010, fighting for the leadership of the party she compared Muslims praying in the street to Nazi occupation. She was charged for inciting racial hatred.

Next French Presidential elections are expected to take place in 2022. The most worrisome thing for the French President is that in the recent polls, she is fighting neck-to-neck with him. Moreover, the government’s Coronavirus handling didn’t go very well with the French people. According to the Politico poll of polls, Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings are just at 39% while 60% of the people in current situation disapproves his governance. Experts allege that Macron’s Muslim separatism bill is a gimmick to appeal to the right-wing people in order to win 2022 French Presidential elections.

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