Why France's Islamist Separatism Bill Is Causing Controversy

foreignpolicy.com
5 min read
fairly difficult
While the French far-right believes the bill could do more to fight extremism, the country's Muslim population feels the legislation is unfairly targeting their community.
Why Has France's Islamist Separatism Bill Caused Such Controversy?

On Feb. 16, France's National Assembly passed a controversial bill meant to protect the country against the dangers of what the government deems "Islamist separatism," the latest French effort to reinforce the country's traditional embrace of a secular identity. The bill passed handily, by a vote of 347 to 151, though the left abstained and the far-right felt it didn't go far enough. Next month, the bill will head to the Senate, dominated by conservatives, where the bill's passage is pretty much guaranteed.

Despite plenty of centrist support, including from President Emmanuel Macron, the bill has proved controversial, especially with French Muslims, who feel the legislation—which doesn't name Islam or Muslims—unfairly targets them. An official in the French president's office said the bill "is not against Islam. It is against people who in the name of a wrong or reconstructed vision of a religion behave in a way contrary to the republic."

The French effort is part of a broader push in other European countries. In Switzerland, a right-wing political party is pushing a proposal to ban facial coverings such as niqabs or burqas; a referendum is set for March 7. France was the first country in Europe to ban full-face coverings in public in 2011; however, other countries in Europe still have partial or total burqa bans, including Norway, Bulgaria, Denmark, Austria, Latvia, and Belgium.

What does the French bill do?

Broadly speaking, the bill is meant to reinforce France's lay tradition by discouraging behavior seeking to impose religious viewpoints in the public sphere.

First, the bill expands the "neutrality principle" forbidding not only civil servants but "all private contractors of public services" from sharing political opinions or…
Cailey Griffin
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