President Macron vows crackdown on radical Islam in France

French leader acting to eradicate its influence on public organisations as he faces re-election

PARIS • President Emmanuel Macron of France has outlined measures designed to rein in the influence of radical Islam in the country and help develop what he called an "Islam of France" compatible with the nation's republican values.

In a long-awaited speech on the subject, Mr Macron on Friday said the influence of Islamism must be eradicated from public institutions even as he acknowledged government failures in letting it spread.

The measures include placing stringent limits on home schooling and increasing scrutiny of religious schools, making associations that solicit public funds sign a "charter" on secularism. While these measures would apply to any group, they are intended to counter extremists in the Muslim community.

Under the measures, the widespread practice of bringing over foreign imams to work in France, where they are often accused of preaching an outdated or extreme version of Islam, would be ended.

The issue of the effects of Islamism has been a persistent one in France, amid fears of the kinds of terrorist attacks the country has faced in recent years, putting pressure on President Macron as he faces reelection.

Many of the proposals from Mr Macron on Friday were ideas that had been floated in the past or ones he had already approved. His speech assembled it all into a comprehensive package that the government is expected to present as a Bill in December.

"What we must attack is Islamist separatism," Mr Macron said in front of six of his ministers in Les Mureaux, a town north-west of Paris. "Secularism is the cement of a united France," he added, calling radical Islam both an "ideology" and a "project" that sought to indoctrinate children, undermine France's values - especially gender equality - and create a "counter-society" that sometimes laid the groundwork for Islamist terrorism.

But Mr Macron also recognised that France bore responsibility for letting that ideology spread uncontested. "We built our own separatism ourselves," he said.

For too long, the authorities had amassed largely immigrant populations in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods that had little access to jobs or public transportation, leading to a "ghettoisation of our republic", he said.

The speech was postponed several times this year as the President searched, sometimes publicly, for the best approach and language. The stakes were high, as the setting indicated: Mr Macron's speech and answers to journalists, which lasted nearly two hours, were broadcast live on television and the Internet.

In a sign of how delicate the issue is for Mr Macron, a member of his party walked out of a parliamentary hearing last month because she objected to the veil worn by a student union leader who was testifying, setting off days of heated debate.

Crucially, Mr Macron's announcement came as France's political establishment gears up for the next presidential election in 18 months.

Accused by both the far-right and traditional conservatives of being lax against radical Islam, President Macron has recently used words and adopted positions on social issues that have signalled a clear departure from his more liberal stances at the start of his term.

Over the summer, Mr Macron reshuffled his Cabinet with a view towards the next election, handing a key job to Mr Gerald Darmanin, a conservative, hard-charging protege of the former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Darmanin, now the interior minister and head of the national police, has quickly helped set the tone for the remainder of Mr Macron's term.

Even though official data shows steady or declining crime rates overall in France, Mr Darmanin joined political rivals on the right to denounce what they claim to be the country's supposed growing insecurity. Mr Darmanin began using and strongly defending the vocabulary of the far right to describe a France supposedly "turning savage" - or undergoing an "ensauvagement", a loaded word used by the right to target non-white immigrants from France's former African colonies.

The tough talk on crime also helped set the stage for Mr Macron's speech, which is likely to set off fierce debate over the coming months as lawmakers consider the Bill.

It is also expected to sharpen tensions within Mr Macron's party, as the President's rightward tilt has already alienated its left-leaning members.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2020, with the headline President Macron vows crackdown on radical Islam in France. Subscribe