The National Assembly of France on 16 February approved legislation designed mainly to counter a rise in Islamism in towns and cities which the government says threatens national unity. The legislation did not single out any particular religion, but it targeted practices such as forced marriage and virginity tests, making it obvious which religion the French state was launching a crackdown on.
The law included tough measures against online apologists for acts of violence, stricter surveillance of religious associations, and tighter restrictions on educating children outside mainstream schools.
The Muslim population of France is estimated to number about five million people, the family origins of many of whom are in Algeria, Morocco or other parts of its former empire.
The country has suffered a wave of Islamist militant attacks in recent years and is busy tackling religious extremism. French identity and domestic security will be big issues in the presidential election slated for 2022.
Presented to parliament on the 115th anniversary of the law that enshrined the separation of state and religion in France, leftists are branding the bill as an attack on Islam while the conservative find it too weak.
The legislation represents a “powerful offensive” by the secular state, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. “It’s a tough text…but necessary for the Republic,” Darmanin told RTL radio ahead of the vote.
Parliamentarians in the lower house of France passed the bill by 347 to 151 votes. President Emmanuel Macron’s left-of-centre ruling party and its allies hold a majority here. The legislation will now move to the senate, where the centre-right opposition dominates.
The debate around the law got charged up following the 16 October beheading of a school teacher, Samuel Paty, by a teenage Islamist who said he wanted to punish him for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class on free speech.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has accused Darmanin of not tackling radical Islam head on.
“You are restricting everyone’s freedom to try to modify the freedoms of a few Islamists,” she told Darmanin in a debate last week, referring to the curbs on home-schooling.