French President Emmanuel Macron has announced new legislative aiming to tackle religious separatism, a calling card of radical Islam. It has the potential to transform France.

Macron’s Highly Anticipated Speech Against ‘Radical Islam’

It was one of the most eagerly anticipated speeches in Macron’s tenure. Its topic was nothing short of a paradigm shift towards radical Islamism and a commitment to fighting against religious parallel societies, which are the breeding ground for terrorism. It will likely mark a turning point and the beginning of the end of the French denial of reality in the fight against what Macron – without any euphemisms – labels “radical Islam.”

Macron’s government had long been concerned about signs of radicalization within French Muslim communities. Some Muslim men’s refusal to shake hands with women, swimming pools which provide men and women alternate time slots, and the instruction to girls aged four and over to wear a full-face veil are all measures which have been viewed as highly detrimental by many within Macron’s government. This is particularly the case since France follows a strict form of secularism, a strict separation of religion and public life. The principle was enshrined in French law in 1905 after a violent dispute with the Catholic Church.

This secularism, however, is not appreciated by everyone. According to a 2016 Ifop Institute poll, almost one-third of French Muslims are putting Sharia law above the republic’s laws, a development Macron rightly described as “unacceptable”. These tendencies have remained a solemn issue for the country.

New Laws Will Tackle Religious ‘Separatism’

The laws announced on Friday during Macron’s speech are supposed to tackle religious “separatism”. When asked, Macron admitted that the new law would primarily target the radical forms of Islam. After all, other religion’s detrimental excesses had so far been “marginal phenomena,” according to the French President.

Macron repeatedly used the word “wake-up call” in his one-hour speech and appealed to all French people to be vigilant and stand united against those who sought to divide the country. He called for a society-wide fight against Islamist fanaticism, which Macron expressly referred to as a “political ideology”.

For years, the problem of radical Islam in France has been controversial throughout all social classes. Macron’s task to find the right words was thus tricky. But he managed. He neither fell into the trap of right-wing populists and fascists, who consider Islam as a whole to be incompatible with France’s values nor into that of leftist ideologues who brand any criticism of Islam as Islamophobia.

Long Overdue Legislation

Instead, Macron announced a far-reaching, coherent, and long overdue legislation. From the financing of mosques, the training of imams, the far-reaching control of religiously influenced cultural and sports clubs, and the general ban on home tuition, Islamist ideologues, who have been indoctrinating young people for too long, ought to be stopped with the changes.

It is no exaggeration to describe Macron’s speech as historical and the announced law against religious separatism as seminal. Historical because, for the first time, a French president described France’s problems with radical Islamism as the result of a complex historical mixture, namely a post-colonial society that has not fully dealt with its historical traumas such as the Algerian war.

At the same time, he named the French Republic’s failure by blaming France for creating separatism in the first place. France has allowed a “ghettoization,” a separation of entire population groups according to origin and social milieu, thereby creating the infamous banlieue neighborhoods.

Macron’s Request: ‘Islam of the Enlightenment’

The most drastic measure of the law is the abolition of the right to homeschooling. This affects around 50,000 French students who do not attend a state or a privately organized but state-recognized school. According to the Ministry of Education, their share is negligible at 0.5 percent, but it has increased by 10,000 in one year. In the future, distance learning should only be possible for “strictly medical reasons.”

Above all, however, attempts to prevent foreign influence in the financing and training of imams in France. The Muslim representatives now must submit rules for certified imam training within the next six months. Shortly before these announcements, Macron had received the representatives of all the country’s major religions in the Élysée Palace.

Finally, Macron pleaded for an “Islam of the Enlightenment.” France must develop into an academic center of excellence for Islamic culture, history, and religion. He announced ten million euros for the Fondation de l’Islam de France and the creation of a scientific institute for Islamic studies.

Macron concluded his speech by stating that radical Islam, which has grown over decades and has been responsible for 250 killings in France since 2015, will not be eradicated in a few days but will still be ultimately defeated – which ought to be an excellent message for the French and a wake-up call for many European nations.

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