Macron government seeks to give Islam a French-style makeover

The French government on Saturday continued its efforts to reshape Islam in France and rid it of extremism, introducing a new body made up of clergy and laity – and women – to help lead the largest Muslim community. from Western Europe.

While France has been bloodied by past Islamic extremist attacks, hundreds of citizens have gone to fight with jihadists in Syria in recent years, and thousands of French soldiers are now fighting extremists in Africa, few would dispute that the radicalization is a danger.

But critics also see the efforts as a political ploy to lure right-wing voters to President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party ahead of April’s presidential election.

The new body, called the Forum de l’islam en France, is presented on Saturday by the French Ministry of the Interior. Proponents say it will keep the country – and its 5 million Muslims – safe and free from foreign influence, and ensure that Muslim practices in France adhere to the cherished value of secularism in public life.

Critics, including many Muslims who see religion as part of their French identity, say the government’s latest move is another step in a process of institutionalized discrimination that holds the entire community responsible for violent attacks by a few. -some and constitutes another barrier in their public life. Lives.

The new body will include imams, influential civil society figures, eminent intellectuals and business leaders. All of its members are hand-picked by the government, and women will make up at least a quarter of its members, according to French media.

It replaces the French Council for Muslim Worship, a group created in 2003 by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior. The Council served as an interlocutor between the government and the religious leaders. It is dissolved this month by the Macron government because, according to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, it was no longer fulfilling its role in the Muslim community and French society when it was reeling from the attacks of these years that have claimed hundreds of lives.

“We want to start a revolution by ending (foreign influence) on Islam,” Darmanin said in a recent interview with the daily Le Parisien. “Islam is not a religion of foreigners in France, but a French religion that should not depend on foreign money and any authority abroad.”

In his plan, Macron envisages measures such as training imams in France instead of bringing them from Turkey, Morocco or Algeria – a plan that many in the Muslim community approve of.

Muslims are divided on the project. Some believers visiting the Grand Mosque of Paris for Friday prayers have cautiously welcomed the idea while others fear it is going too far in trying to control their faith, or say the government has singled out Islamic institutions but dare not suggest such changes to Christians.

Muslims in France have long complained of stigma in everyday life, ranging from being singled out by police for identity checks to discrimination in job hunting. Whenever extremist violence strikes, by foreign-born perpetrators or by young people born in France, Muslims in France are suspected and pressured to speak out against the violence.

Islam is the second religion in France, with no single leader and multiple strains represented, from moderate to Salafist with a rigorous interpretation of religion to downright radical upstarts.

Last year, the French parliament approved a law aimed at strengthening the surveillance of mosques, schools and sports clubs.

The government says it was necessary to protect France from radical Islamists and to promote respect for secularism and women’s rights. The law, which has raised concerns in parts of the Muslim world, has been used to shut down several mosques and community groups.

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