Turkey today condemned French President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to rid France of ‘Islamic separatism’, saying his statements ‘encourage Islamophobia’.
Eighteen months before a French presidential election in which he is expected to face a challenge from the right, Macron described Islam as a religion ‘in crisis’ worldwide on Friday.
Turkish President Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Macron’s ‘dangerous and provocative’ vision ‘encourages Islamophobia and anti-Muslim populism’.
The ruling AKP party’s spokesman Omer Celik added Macron‘s ‘talk about a “French Islam” is a dictatorial approach and utter ignorance’.
He said: ‘Macron’s point of view only provides ideological munitions to terror groups like the Islamic State.’
On Sunday, the Turkish foreign ministry said Macron’s initiative would have ‘grave consequences rather than solve France’s problems’.
Macron’s plan to ‘liberate Islam in France from foreign influences’ adds to a growing list of disputes between the French leader and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish officials frequently attack Macron, who last year said NATO was showing signs of ‘brain death’ by failing to stand up to Turkey’s unilateral military intervention in Syria.
Macron and Erdogan are currently feuding over maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and, most recently, the escalating conflict in Azerbaijan’s Armenian separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Emmanuel Macron described Islam as ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world’ as he unveiled his proposal to battle Islamic radicalism, saying it had created a ‘parallel society’ living outside of French values.
In a keynote speech lasting more than an hour, France’s head of state said on Friday that Islam was in crisis due to ‘an extreme hardening’ of positions in recent years.
He said the government would this year present a draft law aimed at strengthening secularism in France against what Macron described as ‘Islamist separatism’ in the country.
Macron insisted ‘no concessions’ would be made in a new drive to push religion out of education and the public sector across the country.
He coined the term ‘separatism’ to describe the underworld that thrives in some neighborhoods around France where Muslims with a radical vision of their religion take control of the local population to inculcate their beliefs.
But members of the nation’s six-million-strong Muslim community — the largest in Western Europe — immediately accused him of stirring up Islamophobic and racist feeling so as to appeal to far-Right voters ahead of the presidential elections.
In a speech broadcast live from Les Mureaux, north of Paris, Mr Macron said ‘we must tackle Islamist separatism’ while not ‘stigmatising all Muslims’.
A new law will allow the dissolution of religious groups that ‘attack the dignity of people, using psychological or physical pressure, and break the values of France’.
There will also be an end to the system of ‘seconded Imams’ which allows extremist clerics and other preachers to be trained abroad before moving to France.
‘We ourselves are going to train our Imams and Chanters in France, and therefore we must detach this link which is what is called consular Islam,’ said Macron.
He said all French Imams would have to be certified from now on and could be shut down at any time.
The equivalent of more than £9.7million will be spent to work France’s Islam Foundation – a moderate organisation which promotes traditional Muslim study in culture, history and science.
Macron said this would help to ensure the dominance of a religion ‘respects the values of the Republic’.
The head of state added that there would also be closer scrutiny of the curriculum at private schools and stricter limits on home-schooling for reasons other than a child’s health problems.
Some 1,700 private Muslim school and colleges currently teach around 85,000 children in France.
Community associations that receive state subsidies will have to sign a contract avowing their commitment to secularism and the values of France.
The new measures will also include a ban on the wearing of religious symbols for employees of subcontractors providing public services, such as transport operators.
The rule already applies to public servants.
Macron said there had been increased reports of abuses by sub-contracting staff, including bus drivers refusing women entry for wearing clothing considered too revealing.
He emphasised that it was necessary to ‘liberate Islam in France from foreign influences,’ naming countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Macron stressed that the measures did not seek to stigmatise or alienate France’s Muslims but to bolster ‘our ability to live together’.
He urged better understanding of Islam and said the problem of radicalisation was partly a product of the ‘ghettoisation’ of French cities and towns where ‘we constructed our own separatism’.
‘We have concentrated populations based on their origins, we have not sufficiently created diversity, or ensured economic and social mobility in segregated areas,’ he said.
Radical Islamists have swooped in, taking advantage of ‘our withdrawal, our cowardice,’ he added.
But Macron was immediately criticised for stirring up Islamophobic and racist feeling to appeal to far-Right voters ahead of the presidential elections.
Yassar Louati, a prominent civil liberties activist based in Paris, has said: ‘The repression of Muslims has been a threat, now it is a promise.
‘In a one-hour speech #Macron burried #laicite, 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.’
Rim-Sarah Alaoune, a French academic, also took to social media to say: ‘President Macron described Islam as “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today”. I don’t even know what to say.
‘This remark is so dumb (sorry it is) that it does not need any further analysis… I won’t hide that I am concerned.
‘No mention of white supremacy even though we are the country that exported the racist and white supremacist theory of the “great replacement”, used by the terrorist who committed the horrific massacre in #Christchurch.’
Friday’s speech came as a trial was underway in Paris over the deadly January 2015 attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket by French-born Islamic extremists.
Last week, a man from Pakistan stabbed two people near Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in anger over its publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Earlier this month, divisions were highlighted when MPs walked out when a university student entered parliament in a headscarf.
And in January, a renewed debate about freedom of expression erupted when a teenager received death threats for attacking Islam in an expletive-laden Instagram rant.
Macron’s long-awaited address came 18 months before presidential elections where he is set to face a challenge from the right, as public concern grows over security in France.
The proposed law is expected to go before parliament for debate in the first part of next year.
This article has been adapted from its original source.