Gerald Darmanin, France’s Interior Minister, in an interview with RTL radio in February 2021, commented on the proposed Anti-Separatism Bill. Darmanin describes the bill as tough but necessary, calling it “an extremely strong secular offensive.” The bill passed the lower house of the French parliament on Friday, July 23, 2021. Darmanin sponsored the bill with the support of his party, La République En Marche.
The bill received an even share of criticisms from across the political spectrum. With close to 70 different articles, the bill’s provisions empower the state to increase regulations on religious schools, ban extremist preachers, and even close places of worship that are suspected of hosting extremism. Both the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister agreed that the threat of Islamic separatism that the bill addresses is real. Macron calls the threat a growing counter-society that denounces equality, French values, and secularism. The bill also has a provision for “religious neutrality” since France has not been keen on implementing bans on head coverings.
The government defended the bill as a crucial step to reinforce France’s secularist system. On the other hand, critics cry foul over the bill’s provisions that may infringe on religious rights. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, presider of the National Assembly’s La France Insoumise calls the bill “anti-Muslim.” His bloc voted against the bill along with the Socialist Party (SP), Les Republicains, and the French Communist Party. The bill’s passing in the National Assembly was fueled by Macron’s La République en Marche and its affiliate parties on the other aisle. The National Rally abstained from voting.
The bill comes after a series of religious violence and lethal attacks. In October 2020, Samuel Paty was beheaded near his school for displaying cartoon depictions of Muhammad during a civics class discussion. On the other side of the same social issue, a mosque was vandalized in April 2021, days before Ramadan. The Grande Mosquee de Pantin was vandalized with graffiti that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
France hosts one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe. The effects of the massacres committed by Islamic militants in January 2015 still reverberate throughout the country. This being one of Macron’s points in supporting the Anti-Separatism Bill. In February, when the National Assembly was debating on it, Macron described the bill as a way to “free Islam in France from foreign influences.”