France's anti-separatism bill may increase discrimination

Muslims are not the problem, they are part of the solution

Critics of France's draft law to combat "radical Islamism" say the proposed measures are inefficient and will further stigmatise Muslims. They assert that involving Muslims in the process of addressing radicalisation is essential. Lisa Louis reports

Irfan Thakar and Omar Ahamad feel misunderstood as Muslims in France. They are members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Saint-Prix, a northern suburb of Paris. As the imam, the 30-year-old Thakar regularly leads the prayer at the Moubarak mosque, which features a green-and-white carpet and large windows that let in lots of light.

"I am French," declared Thakar, sitting in a room adjacent to the prayer room and sipping a glass of multivitamin juice. "And, yet, I have to explain that over and over again to non-Muslims," he said. "Many people think Islam is incompatible with France – but that's simply not true."

Ahamad, sitting in an armchair next to him, nodded his approval. "We are being treated as if we belonged to a different nation, a different race," he said. "That's also due to the fact that the media only talks about Islam when there has been another terror attack."

They mention the speech President Emmanuel Macron gave in the suburb of Les Mureaux, just 30 kilometres west of Saint-Prix, in early October. "Macron talked about 'Islamist separatism' and said that Islam was in crisis," Thakar said. "How can he say something like that? That's highly stigmatising."

The alienation Thakar and Ahamad have felt is likely to increase should a series of new measures proposed by France's government pass.

Lawyer and author Asif Arif (photo: private)
Asif Arif accuses the Macron administration of double standards: "The government is banning the Collective Against Islamophobia, which fights against the discrimination of Muslims. But it hasn't disbanded the far-right group Generation Identitaire, which clearly carries out illegal actions, such as checking migrants' papers on the Franco-Italian border two years ago"

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Increased surveillance of Muslim associations and mosques

The proposed measures follow three recent terror attacks in France in which assailants killed a total of four people and severely injured two people in and around Paris and the southern city of Nice. The government has increased surveillance of about 50 Muslim associations and 75 mosques. France also intends to expel more than 200 non-citizens suspected of having been radicalised.

A bill that will be put before the French cabinet on Wednesday would increase surveillance of all mosques in France, as well as their financing, with the government also aiming to add more oversight to the training of imams. The draft law would also limit home-schooling, create new rules against online hate campaigns and permit imprisonment for intimidating public servants on religious grounds. The bill could reach Parliament in early 2021 and come into force a few months later.

Thakar and Ahamad are not opposed to surveillance of mosques and imams suspected of engaging in extremism. "It's in our interest to do something against these radical fanatics who have nothing to do with our vision of Islam," Ahamad said. "We also need to protect our own families against them."

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