France’s Emmanuel Macron Targets ‘Islamic Separatism’ With Proposed Law

PARIS—French President Emmanuel Macron took aim at radical Islam Friday, announcing plans to outlaw what he called “Islamic separatism” in communities where he said religious laws are taking precedence over civil ones.

Mr. Macron said the law, if passed, would empower authorities to shut down associations and schools that he said indoctrinate children, and monitor foreign investment in religious organizations in France. It would also improve public services in poor suburbs, he said.

The bill, which will go before Parliament early next year, risks escalating tensions between Muslim groups in France and authorities who enforce the country’s strict secularism.

France began introducing bans on wearing Islamic dress such as face coverings in public areas years ago. Since then, the social and economic alienation of French Muslims has only deepened.

Groups that practice radical forms of Islam, Mr. Macron said, were trying to create a parallel society governed by different rules and values than those espoused by the Republic.

“What we need to take on is Islamic separatism,” Mr. Macron said, during a visit to Les Mureaux, a suburb northwest of Paris.

The French leader is under pressure to harden his stance on radical Islam in France as the 2022 presidential election approaches. His advisers see the bill as a way for Mr. Macron to outflank Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant party National Rally.

France’s banlieues—the working-class suburbs that ring its major cities—have become fertile recruiting grounds for Islamist groups. France was one of the West’s biggest sources of Islamic State militants when the terror group controlled swaths of Iraq and northern Syria. Hundreds of French nationals traveled to Islamic State territory, many bringing children. Others have mounted terrorist attacks in France that have killed more than 250 people over the past five years.

Last week, two people were seriously wounded in a knife attack near the former office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The suspect, a Pakistani immigrant, later told police that he was avenging Prophet Muhammad after the magazine republished the cartoons that had prompted a deadly attack against its staff in 2015, according to France’s antiterrorism prosecutor.

Mr. Macron said the government was partly to blame for the growing influence of some religious groups in parts of France. Religious associations are filling a void left by the government in poor suburbs, providing services such as child care, homework help, cultural and sports activities.

Some associations use these activities solely as a pretext to preach radical Islam, Mr. Macron said. He said the bill, if passed, would severely restrict home schooling to prevent children from being enrolled in clandestine religious establishments.

Anouar Kbibech, president of one of the country’s largest Muslim organizations, Rassemblement des Musulmans de France, welcomed Mr. Macron’s speech. He said he worried, however, that decisions to close down an association might become arbitrary.

“This is a risk,” said Mr. Kbibech.

Mr. Macron said the bill doesn’t target France’s entire Muslim community, one of Europe’s largest.

The government has been working on a plan for years to tackle radical Islam. It recently started rolling out pilot programs in 15 different areas.

Since February 2018, it has shut down 212 bars and restaurants, 15 mosques or prayer rooms, 13 associations, 11 childrens homes and four schools.

Authorities now plan to extend the program to the entire country. The government said it would work closely with the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an elected body intended to provide national representation for the Muslim community.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at [email protected]

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