France shuts more mosques ahead of controversial ‘separatism bill’ debate

France shuts more mosques ahead of controversial ‘separatism bill’ debate
The French interior minister announced the closure of nine Muslim places of worship, one day before he met with French Muslim leaders to discuss a controversial new bill.
3 min read
16 January, 2021
Some have said that the new separation bill unfairly target the French Muslim community [Getty]
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said nine Islamic places of worship were closed down in recent weeks. 

The closures are a continuation of plans by the French government to tackle what it sees as “Islamist separatism”.

“In accordance with the instructions of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, we are taking determined action against Islamist separatism,” Darmanin said on Twitter.

“Among the 18 places of worship which were under special surveillance at my request, 9 were able to be closed,” he said.

Administrative reasons were cited as the rationale in the closure of eight mosques.  

French newspaper Le Figaro reported that three of the places of worship were in the French department of Seine-Saint-Denis. 

On 2 December, Darmanin announced he was launching “widespread action” that would target 76 mosques.

The French government’s relationship with its Muslim community has become strained in recent months, following three deadly Islamist attacks, most notably the murder of Samuel Paty, a French middle-school teacher.

Tensions also flared between France and Muslim countries after President Macron in October defended the publishing of offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and called Islam a religion "in crisis" worldwide.

Elsewhere in France, 34 checks have been carried out on Muslim places of worship. These checks include tax audits and legal proceedings. 

The closures come ahead of a controversial new bill, which is due to be discussed by a special committee of the National Assembly on Monday. 

The ‘Supporting Republican Principles Bill’, also known as the ‘separation bill’, tightens the rules regarding when homeschooling is permitted, requires mosques to register as places of worship, and also requires them to declare any foreign funding over €10,000. 

Additionally, it creates a new offence for online hate speech, which allow the state to quickly detain individuals who reveal the personal information of public servants, with harmful intent. This was a direct response to the murder of Paty. 

The separation bill plans to extend existing laws regarding the wearing of religious symbols, including headscarves, to prohibit not just civil servants, but also all private contractors of public services.

It also applies restrictions to virginity certificates and includes measures that seek to tackle forced marriages.

While elements of the bill do have support among the Muslim community, the French government has also been accused of unfairly targeting and dscriminating against the Muslim community.

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“The repression of Muslims has been a threat, now it is a promise. In a one hour speech Macron burried [sic] laïcité (separatism) emboldened the far-right, anti-Muslim leftists and threatened the lives of Muslim students by calling for drastic limits on home schooling despite a global pandemic,” French human rights activist, Yasser Louati tweeted following the announcement of the bill by President Macron.

Ahead of the special committee, Darmanin met on Saturday with the French Council of Muslim Worship, to calm fears of what has been described as “reforming Islam in France.”

A statement released by the council following the meeting said the bill, "contains in particular the points of agreement: on the compatibility of the Muslim faith with the principles of the Republic, on the rejection of the use of Islam for political purposes, on non-interference by States in the exercise of Muslim worship in France, on the principle of equality between men and women and on the rejection of certain allegedly Muslim customary practices.”

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