Decried and mocked in equal measure, Paris announced another policy widely seen as targeting the country's embattled Muslim community.
When the right-wing French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin declared in December of last year, "never at any given time is Allah superior to the Republic," he meant it.
Now the French government has set up a new inter-ministerial committee on secularism that will evolve into the bureau of secularism in a move widely believed meant to teach Muslims to "love the Republic."
In a lengthy Twitter thread by the "Committee for the prevention of crime and radicalisation," a French government agency announcing the new committee declared that laicite is "first and foremost freedom."
The debate over secularism in France has intensified since Samuel Paty, a teacher who showed students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a lesson on freedom of expression, was beheaded near Paris last year.— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 12, 2021
Listen to today’s episode of The Daily.https://t.co/dzzqjKvbJa
Laicite is a French brand of secularism that is austere and draconian. French politicians have increasingly used secularism as a tool to discriminate against the country's growing Muslim population.
The proposals set out by the committee on secularism seeks to convince people, in particular Muslims, that only laicite protects different "cults" from practising their faith equally because the country has no official religion.
Despite not adopting France’s extreme version of secularism, countries like the United Kingdom (UK), which have no official separation between church and state, have a vibrant and free society where people of different faiths can practice their religious convictions.
In the UK, Christian priests sit in the Upper House of Parliament, also known as the House of Lords, make and debate laws. At the beginning of each legislative day, a Bishop reads a prayer. The UK is not, however, in danger of suddenly becoming a theocratic state.
"The secular Republic is indivisible: one cannot sort or separate the citizens, distinguish them according to their beliefs. The laicite makes us a single nation, not an addition of communities," the new committee on secularism is set to propagate.
France, however, does have exceptions. For example, under the Concordat in Alsace-Moselle, the Strasbourg region of France is governed by a set of laws dating to 1801, which allows regional authorities to fund religious activities and makes religious education in schools compulsory.
While the rest of France abrogated the Concordat in 1905, signed initially under the Napoleonic period, the region of Strasbourg was under German control at that time.
When the region became part of France after World War I, those unique laws remained in force.
'Emancipation of women'
The committee on secularism is also set to convince Muslim women that secularism is a "means of emancipation" and "women's freedom" to choose how to practice their faith or lack thereof.
Following the announcement, some were quick to point out that in public schools, many Muslim girls have their freedom denied to wear what they want following the hijab ban in 2004.
Whereas others accused the government of using words that are often cliches of the far-right and "emancipating" women subject to conditions that it "does not apply to French and Muslim women who decide to cover their hair."
Macron announced the government would this year present a draft law aimed at strengthening secularism in France https://t.co/f934YvzV6l— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) October 2, 2020
As part of the proposals, the state will also deploy officials that will inspect local politicians and incite them to carry out secularist themed events.
The committee on secularism will also ratify the establishment of a "secularism day" on December 9, the anniversary of the law of 1905, which established secularism in France.
Reactions to the proposal were widely mocked, with some calling the proposals a "big joke."Some warned that the government's claim that it was neutral towards religious matters was far from the truth.
"The neutrality of the state is no longer so when this state gets involved in affairs that do not concern it, like the Charter," said one critic referring to the "Charter of Imams", which the French President Emmanuel Macron has pushed in a bid to define an Islam of France.
The Charter would, among other things, forbid Muslims in mosques from criticising and denouncing state racism.
Under the proposals set forth by the committee on secularism, blaspheming and speaking out against a religion, which many believe is set to apply only to Muslims, is a vaunted and cherished right. Criticising the state, however, could be seen as a sign of extremism.
With the French presidential elections less than nine months away and Macron's disapproval ratings hovering around 60 percent, the flurry of anti-Muslim proposals is a bid to take votes from the far-right.
France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen is ahead in the polls for the 2022 presidential elections and is known for her anti-Islam and anti-Muslim stances.
Copyright © 2021 TRT World