On October 2nd of 2020, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, voiced his continued plans of integrating secularism into France to combat separatism present in the Republic. The speech was given in Les Mureaux, a town close to where the beheading of a teacher occurred, Samuel Paty after he openly talked about the use of freedom of speech and allowed the depiction of Prophet Muhammad caricatures in the classroom.
Determined to bring an end to the extremist attacks on the Republic, the speech was accompanied by other analogous policies to strengthen Republic values, laws, and separate religious and radical influences from the country in order to create a new French Islam – “Islam of the Enlightenment.” Additionally, a program instated in 1977, allowing countries to send imams to France and lead sermons without French supervision, will be abolished and replaced with a certification program to allow imams the “license to preach.” Macron’s plans will move forward if approved by the French parliament in December of this year. All across French Muslim communities and other countries with large Muslim groups such as Iran, Palestine, Turkey, and Jordan, Macron has faced backfire for his planned religious-affiliated regulations.
The statements made by Macron had struck French Muslim communities with both fear for their undetermined outcomes and consequences, and infuriation. Al Jazeera reported statements made by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, given through a broadcast Cabinet meeting shortly after Macron’s speech. Rouhani summarizes the anger he and Muslim groups felt in response to the French president’s words: “Insulting the Prophet is insulting all prophets, human values, and amounts to undermining ethics.”
Posted on Twitter, the foreign minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif similarly expressed the lack of focus on Muslim values and feeling targeted, “Muslims are the primary victims of the ‘cult of hatred’ … Insulting 1.9B Muslims … for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech.”
While Macron expressed his intentions of fighting the “ghettoization” of Muslim groups to help decrease the gap between these groups and the rest of the population, many Muslims found the president’s words to carry a negative connotation when expressing his plan of “freeing Islam in France from the foreign influences.” The definitions of these influences were not made entirely clear by Macron and have been misconstrued to mean the same groups who currently feel as if their religious values are being overlooked.
Also posted on Twitter briefly after the speech, member of the French National Assembly Alexis Corbiere talks about how the draft law’s plans diverge from the actual cause of France’s Islamist “separatism”: “Macron explains that the focus of the development of radical Islamism is the degradation of the Republic in certain working-class neighborhoods but he does not make a single proposal for public services to return to these neighborhoods.”
Underneath the controls planned to be imposed on imam training and private religious teachings, Corbiere expresses the lack of interventions to address economic divisions and is not alone in feeling as if Macron’s discussions diverged from the main issues striking these low-income Muslim households. Additionally, Macron’s speech over France’s separatism appears to be generalized towards groups of Islam, adding to the related critiques of Macron prioritizing secularist free expression over Islamic values. Oliver Roy, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, expressed this view through his speculations on the imam training regulations, “We don’t impose a certain rabbi on Jews, or a certain pastor on Christians.”
Delivery of October’s speech was a continuation of one given in February, where Macron first introduced plans to combat “communiterrorism” through secularism, certifying imams to lead sermons in the French mosques, and other policies. February’s speech came shortly after a stabbing occurred outside the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine company that frequently includes cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in their magazines.
It is not only this single event that ignited tension and called the French president forward to speak of what will be done about the attacks. Multiple attacks in the past have taken place outside these offices, including the 2015 shooting where twelve people were killed inside the headquarters. Also more recently, just last month, two people near the place were stabbed and heavily injured. Followed closely after Macron gave his speech, the murder of Samuel Paty occurred and added to the list of previous attacks that called forward Macron and plans of action.
As of now, none of these plans have been passed by France’s parliament. By 2021, the next steps to be taken regarding these attacks and what this means for Muslim groups will be made clear to the public.
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