France: Understanding the Roots of the Anti-separatism Bill

France: Understanding the Roots of the Anti-separatism Bill

Understanding France’s decades long attacks via law and policy against ‘problem’ communities, notably ‘Blacks’, ‘Arabs’, ‘Muslims’ and the ‘Banlieues’ is a prerequisite for anyone trying to make sense of the current anti-separatism bill. Yasser Louati argues that the only way to challenge French state racism is a new political sophistication on the part of those sectors of civil and political society genuinely trying to find a way forward.

When Emmanuel Macron took the stage on October 2020 to launch his war against “Islamist separatism”, public opinion had been prepared for a new move against France’s multifaceted ‘problem’: Arabs, Blacks, Muslims and the Banlieues. A few months prior, a massive march had been organised against police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of the racist murder of George Floyd in the US by a white police officer. If French elites were quick to call out America’s racial problem, they were less prone to look at the same racist violence that has been applied for decades against colonial and postcolonial immigrants and their descendants on French soil. It was therefore with utmost contempt that the demands of anti-racism protestors were rejected. Two terms were quickly imposed on the public debate: “separatism” and “ensauvagement” which can be translated to “turning into wild beasts”.

Describing France as being subjected to a coordinated campaign by “radical Muslims” to secede from the French Republic and create a “parallel society”, Emmanuel Macron called for a brutal repression of organised Muslims, charities, schools, places of worship and any initiative by Muslims to take part in civil society. Although in total violation of France’s commitments to protecting fundamental rights, the French president justified, just like his predecessors, that in the case of non-white minorities, the country is dealing with second class citizens that deserve exceptional measures.

For the candid observer of French society, the striking peculiarity of French Muslims is their negligible political weight and their incapacity to effectively organise. Had French Muslims been capable of mounting a coordinated political campaign against the Republic, they may not currently be suffering under the crushing weight of anti-Muslim laws (hijab ban in 2004, ban against veiled Muslim mothers attending school outings 2012, ban against veiled Muslim women from working as nannies and banning of long skirts for Muslim female students in 2015, full face veil ban in 2019 etc.)  and virulent campaigns against their presence and visibility in the public space.

This essay will show the anti-separatism law is about preventing the existence of Muslim citizenry and how this is in direct continuation of France’s colonial policies.

In France before George Floyd

When on 22 June 2020, over 20,000 people rallied in Paris against systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of the George Floyd murder, a shock wave was sent through the government, mainstream media and opinion makers.  The video of a white police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck played a role in mobilising French Black and Arab organizers whom had already been calling out France’s state brutality through law enforcement and systemic discrimination.

This particular period of repression which can be traced back to the beginning of the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks quickly became a state campaign of reprisals against the country’s Muslim communities to the point of prompting United Nations Rapporteurs from the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council to issue a public call to “protect fundamental freedom”. Indeed, over 4000 raids had been carried out mostly against Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship with a tiny fraction leading to investigations for acts of terrorism. For instance, domestic intelligence had already warned as early as January 2016 that the state of emergency and France’s répression-only model were ineffective as clearly stated in the leaked Jounot Report from the National Secretariat for Defense and National Security (SGDSN).

Furthermore, as then president François Hollande (2012-2017) was unrolling his continuous justifications for an already decried state of emergency, it turned out that only 25 violations in connection with terrorism had been reported after 3062 raids and only four of them had led to investigations on terrorism grounds. The remaining 21 were related to “apology for terrorism” such as expressing publicly views perceived to support terrorism, e.g. Facebook posts. Of course, the interpretation of such apologies was the sole monopoly of the government. In sum, only 0.13% of those raids were actually effective. But in the meantime, thousands of innocent people were subjected to state brutality and humiliation with kids being sent into foster care or exposed to parents being held at gunpoint and whole communities being humiliated by the ransacking of their mosques. The consequences of such operations are yet to appear as children who witnessed them could suffer from long term trauma with zero guarantees that this will not fuel resentment once they become adults.

But brutal repression was not sufficient for François Hollande who took the matter further and called for a change in the citizenship code. Surfing on the national trauma provoked by the November attacks, François Holland was convinced by his adviser Marc Guillaume to go as far as amending the constitution in order to allow the government to strip of their French nationality dual-citizenship holders should they be accused of terrorism even if they are born in France and even if it means making them stateless. The rationale was that terrorists could not be French and should therefore be sent to their country of origin, even if they were born in France and have no connection to their parents’ or grandparents’ place of birth. The last time such a measure was applied before being revoked after 1945 was by the pro-Nazi Vichy regime that targeted the French Jewish population. Despite the President and his administration’s insistence that the measure was needed to fight terrorism, the project was dropped after a massive outcry from civil society and the international embarrassment it provoked in violating article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Council of the State failed to hide its own embarrassment.

Denying Citizenship

French law already has provisions allowing the government to strip individuals of their citizenship should they “join a foreign army”, which would include ISIS, Al Qaida, AQMI or, for that matter, the Israeli military, as clearly stated by article 43 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. This in turn raises the question of why the French President would decide to apply a historic far right idea in the aftermath of a national tragedy? Whenever far right terrorism has struck France as it did regularly throughout the last century, there was no question of stripping the perpetrators of their citizenship, even after they attempted to overthrow the government. There was nothing to gain for François Hollande in making such a move aside from fuelling racism against a designated enemy within and flexing his muscles to score political points. As for the effectiveness of changing the citizenship code, it does not require exceptional analytical skills to deduce that terrorists who have decided to die won’t be deterred by the prospective loss of their citizenship.

The outright display of state violence in the aftermath of attacks and the incapacity of successive governments to properly assess the situation and send a message of unity and leadership has set the stage for the passing of dozens of repressive laws. So far 17 laws have been adopted with an average of one law every two years since 1986 . This accumulation of “anti terrorism” laws is such, that the then head of the Paris Bar Association Frédéric Sicard  declared in 2016 that “France can turn into a dictatorship within a week.” One of the country’s most prominent legal scholars, Mireille Delmas Marty, urged the public to realise how France is entering an era of “soft despotism”.

Surprisingly though, even if terrorist attacks are only possible when domestic and foreign intelligence fail, not once have the latter been held accountable. After each attack, it turned out the terrorists were on a watchlist but were forgotten or slipped through the net. Mohammed Merah, the Kouachi brothers, Khaled Kelkal, to name the most known “notorious” ones, all had been on the radar of intelligence services.

Such failures are unforgivable given the 17 anti terrorism laws that have been adopted and the fact that France adopted the Surveillance Law (Loi Renseignement) that officially legalised mass surveillance by the state and obliges ISP’s to send their clients’ internet data.

But for the government and the media, the only culprits were Muslims, even if they are by far the first victims of international terrorism. In the case of France, many Muslims fell victims to the latest wave of attacks. The first victim of the Bastille day attack (14/07/2016) was indeed a veiled Muslim woman. The attacker must have seen she was clearly Muslim. Yet he nevertheless decided to run her over, killing her instantly. Yet the French state and the media could not resist the temptation of using the “Us Vs them” narrative and again doubled down on holding French Muslims accountable for each attack.  These structural problems are in fact concealed in the Islamophobia that follows each terrorist attack so that Muslims are held accountable for the failures of the French government to protect its own citizens.

Meanwhile, state brutality is not the only violence faced by minorities in the country that prides itself on being the “country of human rights”. Discrimination is a daily reality for millions of individuals. In a 2015 study, researcher Marie Anne Valfort from the Paris School of Business concluded that Muslims have to apply five times more frequently in order to get a single response from prospective employers.

More broadly, the state of discrimination against anyone who does not fit the “right profile”  in France is so bad and so embedded in the functioning of the economy that even France Stratégie, a think-tank attached to the Prime Minister’s office, warned that unfair access to employment and promotions costs the French economy around €150bn per year.

The Everyday Visibilisation and Demonisation

This visibility of Muslims has been epitomised by the Muslim headscarf which is perceived as the banner of political Islam and therefore justifies new legislation. The mobilisation of the law to crack down on Muslims can be traced back to the 2004 hijab ban which opened a Pandora’s Box and ushered in a series of Muslim specific laws. In 2004, the headscarf was banned on the grounds that it violated the law on secularism, better known as “Laïcité”. Yet this justification does not stand. Laïcité is about the religious neutrality of the state, not users of state services. In other words, agents working for the state are prohibited from wearing religious symbols, not users like students or people who enter administrative buildings. Students’ right to wear religious symbols had even been reaffirmed by the Council of the State (highest administrative authority) with its 346893 ruling of 29 November 1989.

Studies from a wide range of institutions have continuously proved the structural nature of racism to the point that second and third generation children of immigrants face major hurdles to integration. For example, the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) conducted a study between 2008 and 2009 and confirmed what many had been highlighting for years. If 93% of descendants of immigrants declare “feeling French”, they are in return “denied Frenchness” and they are seldom perceived as such. The end result is that children of immigrants end up doing less well than their parents, according to the institute.

The same INED concluded that children of North African immigrants die at a higher rate. According to Michel Guillot, children whose parents are from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have a mortality rate that is 70-80 % higher than youngsters of the same age but whose parents are not immigrants.

The killings of Adama Traoré, Amine Bentounsi, Wissem El Yamni, Babacar Guaye, Liamine Dieng or Cedric Chouviat, the raping of Theo Luko with a baton and many others for the past 30 years at the hands of the police were not merely accidents or a series of mishandlings of volatile situations. According to the country’s ombudsman “80% of people corresponding to the profile of ‘young man perceived as Black or Arab’ declare having been stopped and searched by the police in the last five years (against 16% of all other respondents)”. These profiles therefore have “twenty times more” probability of being stopped and searched by the police. Given that the French Police are notorious for the unchecked use of violence (its supervisory body, the General Inspection of the National Police is composed of police officers and is discredited for failing to sanction acts of police brutality) as seen during the Yellow Vest movement (2018-2019), the anti Labour Reform rallies of 2016 (to name a few) what can be said about the Banlieues where non-white minorities are concentrated and which have been the laboratories of repression for decades?

Separating from the savages

It is from this social volcano that 20,000 people defied the government in June 2020 and marched against systemic racism and police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The calls were simple. Marchers wanted an end to racial profiling, police brutality, justice for the victims of it, and for non-whites to have equal opportunity. Rather than hearing the calls of peaceful demonstrators, and failing to remember the 2005 Banlieues uprisings for the same reasons, Emmanuel Macron criticised the march and initiated a campaign against so-called “separatism”. This was amplified by an even more racist assessment from his Minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin. The latter expressed his worries in the face of people who are becoming “wild beasts” (ensauvagement).

The rhetoric was far from harmless nor was it a slip of the tongue. Using the term “ensauvagement” in reaction to marches of Blacks and Arabs is, to say the least, blatant racism which endorses the idea that, once again, France is dealing with a different kind of human being that deserves a different kind of treatment.

This came in the form of a 90-minute speech by Emmanuel Macron himself in the town of Les Mureaux on the western edge of the greater Paris area. In the now famous speech about “Separatism”, the President’s positioning towards Muslims took an even more radical turn.

Just like previous governments had to brand their own Muslim enemy (fundamentalism, communautarism, radicalisation…), “separatism” is Emmanuel Macron’s new hype against which he vowed a ruthless campaign 18 months before the presidential election. Among the measures he called for were a review of how “laïcité” would be reviewed and amended in the face of this exceptional enemy: Muslim citizens.

“What we need to tackle is Islamist separatism. It is a conscious, theorised, politico-religious project, which materialises by repeated deviations from the values of the Republic, which often results in the constitution of a counter-society and whose manifestations are the dropping out of school of children, the development of sporting, cultural community practices which are the pretext for teaching principles which do not comply with the laws of the Republic. It is indoctrination and through it the negation of our principles, equality between women and men, human dignity… We must reconquer everything that the Republic has allowed to happen and which has led part of our youth or our citizens to be attracted by this radical Islam,” said Macron.

Using isolated incidents to describe the ‘realities’ of ‘Islamist separatism’, Emmanuel Macron complained about public transportation employees who “deny women the right to ride the bus because of their indecent dress code”. This was in reference to an incident that had taken place in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. A bus driver had refused to let a woman climb onboard. The incident quickly sparked another controversy about Islamists imposing their ideas on society. It turned out that the woman was not denied access to the bus because of her dress but because she was smoking, which is prohibited.

What matters is not reality but the description of reality by the President in order to sell his ideological project and justify the upcoming repressive measures. Among these measures, Macron called for intervention of the state in Muslim charities’ elections should the wrong people be elected, the shutting down of organisations accused of “separatism”, the shutting down of private Muslim schools and to apply “administrative and financial pressure” on organisations targeted by the government.

The repressive nature of such measures cannot be understated. In a secular country, especially in a country that has been lecturing the rest of the world on its unique model of “laicité”, the government is absolutely prohibited from meddling in religious affairs just as religion is prohibited from influencing the government. This was enshrined with the 1905 law of separation of church and state after decades of bitter struggle with the Catholic Church. But with the anti-separatism law, Emmanuel Macron called for the legalisation of an already existing illegal and unofficial government interference in Muslim organisations. In other words, there is laicité, but not for everybody, just like during the colonial era when the 1905 law was passed and applied in Metropolitan France but not in the colonies. The aim is to keep colonised Muslims under strict control.

In the case of 21st century France, Emmanuel Macron expressed what the deep state has already been trying to contain for years. The newer generations of French Muslims feel French enough to demand full citizenship and not shy away from organizing and calling out the government.

The shutting down of CCIF, Barakacity, MHS (private school) and the dozens of raids carried out against Muslim charities and mosques were meant to destroy or intimidate any organization that dares to send the message that it is normal for Muslims to organise and to exercise their rights as citizens. In the case of CCIF, it was strictly on empty accusations. The government had no case. The one presented by the Minister of Interior was solely based on the government disagreeing with the organisation’s approach to combating Islamophobia and accusing its leaders of being an “Islamist organisation”.

The Minister of Interior launched a series of raids against Muslim charities despite having no legal grounds to do so and effectively obtaining nothing from them. His intentions were made clear. The goal was to “send a message to Islamists” as he said, regardless of whether they violated the law or not.

The intimidation continued for the next several months. In March 2021, 89 mosques and other Muslim organisations were targeted which created a feeling of fear and resentment among Muslims. Throughout 2021, Emmanuel Macron and Gerald Darmanin made it acceptable to use the coercive means of the state to target people based on their religious affiliation under the fallacious accusation of separatism.

To this day Macron and his government have still failed to give the name of one single Muslim leader, public figure, organisation or legitimate representative who called for separatism from the French Republic. French Muslim leaders and representatives could actually be blamed for accepting to constantly prove their loyalty as repression tightens on them and their communities. Instead of calling for civic resistance like any other segment of French society would (yellow vest, anti-labour reform movement, the red caps, feminists, environmentalists etc), they collaborated with the government in its communication campaign to legitimise the anti-separatism law.

The Grand Mosque of Paris and its Rector Chems Eddine Hafez even went the extra mile in supporting the government’s crackdown on Muslim communities. When Macron called for a charter of Imams that would regulate the public discourse of Muslim clerics and what can and cannot be preached inside mosques, the former not only accepted the idea instead of rejecting it but doubled down by coming up with the most radical version of the charter. In this document, Imams are prohibited from calling out Islamophobia, criticising French military intervention, required to demand the faithful to pledge allegiance to the Republic, avoid speaking of foreign conflicts (in other words the occupation of Palestine) etc. Just like their predecessors in the colonies, state recognised Muslim leaders are expected to be the transmission belt between the state and “the community”.

The ongoing shutting down of organisations founded and managed by Muslims is meant to bring back under control the struggle against racism and frame it according to the wishes of the French government. The historic rift between state sponsored anti-racism organisations like SOS Racisme or LICRA lies in how racism is viewed. For the latter, racism is only a series of incidents perpetrated by intolerant neo-Nazis and far-right extremists, not a structural problem that transcends political allegiances on the left and the right.

Because the descendants of postcolonial immigration, mostly from Africa and the Caribbean, have concluded that the state will not act sincerely nor meaningfully against racism, nor dismantle the racist foundations of the French Republic that have been inherited from the colonial era, and because historically speaking, state sponsored organisations like SOS Racisme and LICRA have always minimised the extent of racist policies and even participated in fuelling national controversies against Muslims, many have decided to setup independent organisations. This search for political and organisational independence was and still is intended to fight racism politically and not just view it as a moral problem.

This opposition between heavily subsidised anti-racists and autonomous Black and Arab activists has been going on for decades with one camp using the government as a platform and the other, being constantly demonised as radical and “communautarist”.

This control is now official with the agreement between LICRA and the Grand Mosque of Paris. LICRA is a historic name in the anti-racism sphere in France. Founded in 1927 as the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, LICRA has nevertheless been for the past 20 years a major actor in toning down the anti-racism struggle to limit it to a moral issue. Furthermore, the organisation has vehemently opposed the rise of new anti-racism organisations by racialised communities.

For its historic president Alain Jakubowitz, Islamophobia is a fraud. In 2017, as academics from around the country organised a series of lectures on Islamophobia in the University of Lyon II, LICRA allied with the far-right and leftist Islamophobes from the Printemps Republicain in order to pressure the dean of the University and cancel the event. After days of controversy, the University gave in and the event was cancelled to the dismay of the dozens of lecturers and speakers who were scheduled to speak.

Regardless of this track record, the Grand Mosque of Paris signed an agreement with LICRA to assist “victims of anti-Muslim bigotry”. In other words, the government dismantled all anti-Islamophobia organisations (CCIF and the Coordination Against Racism and Islamophobia) in order to make way for its agents to take control of the issue.

Macron and his government initiated another race to the bottom by holding French Muslims responsible for the murder of Samuel Paty on 16 October 2021 despite the killer having no connection with them. The national tragedy was therefore cynically used by the government to further justify its anti-separatism campaign.  The government openly waged the demonisation campaign against so called “Islamo-leftism” or the alliance between leftists and Islamists in order to ‘overthrow’ the Republic. The Minister of Education Jean Michel Blanquer accused “Islamo-leftists in universities” of bearing an “intellectual responsibility” for the killing of Samuel Paty. Even long discredited and mocked former PM Manuel Valls was given a platform to accuse Jean Luc Melenchon, head of the Insubmissive France party, of being directly responsible.

Such accusations do not correspond to reality. The French Left has been unable to influence public debates for years but for Macron, his Minister of Education and Minister of higher Education to warn of a leftist threat is stretching credulity. Twenty first century Islamophobia has been overwhelmingly fed by the French Left, from the Communist Party which had already campaigned for the banning of the headscarf in schools to the Socialist party which made a name for itself with the promotion of “cultural insecurity”, the left-wing version of the Great Replacement theory, to Melenchon and his affiliates who have supported all the anti-Muslim campaigns of the past 20 years.

French Muslims under siege

As the government was pushing its anti-separatism bill, a multi-layered political marketing campaign was being waged to portray a France under siege from organised

Islamists whose aim was a parallel society at best or the abolition of the Republic at worst.  This campaign was orchestrated against the concept of “Islamogauchisme” with universities portrayed as left wing bastions offering shelter and a platform to political Islam. Despite the fallacious nature of “Islamoleftism” and the fact that historically speaking, the French Left has a responsibility in the mainstreaming of Islamophobia, and in thwarting attempts by immigrant workers to self-organise, the Minister for higher education Frederique Vidal called for an investigation into Universities  because, “Islamoleftism has gangrened French society”.

Coming from the Minister of Higher Education, herself being a career academic, the anti “Islamo-leftism” campaign provoked an outrage in the ranks of academia to the point of prompting the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, a state research organisation and the largest research agency in Europe) to issue a press release calling out the Minister and reminding the general public that “Islamo-leftism” is not a scientific reality.

The non-avowed objective by the government was to threaten academics should they be tempted to oppose it during its ongoing campaign against separatism. As the government was waging its war against organised or would-be organised Muslims, any potential ally had to be scared off. The move was specifically aimed at humanities that have for years been accused of seeking excuses to support, terrorism, criminality, opponents of the Republic etc.

In that sense, the French government is doing exactly what other authoritarian governments are doing in their own countries against social sciences. Emmanuel Macron is no different to Hungary’s Victor Orban or Japan’s former PM Shinzo Abe, both of whom vowed to crack down on social sciences for allegedly being breeding grounds of opposition.

The toxic anti-Muslim hysteria sparked by the anti-separatism bill entered the halls of parliament as deputies and senators “debated” how to make even harsher its provisions including a ban on “oriental dances”, “waving foreign flags” (a practice of North African communities at wedding ceremonies), “banning the headscarf for minors” etc. Even centrists, who would have normally been expected not to buy into far right rhetoric, demanded “a prohibition on polling station assessors from wearing a religious symbol”, i.e the Muslim veil again. One of its members said: “we were shocked to discover that a veiled woman could be an assessor at a polling station in our country”. Others came up with stories of Muslim students praying in university hallways and therefore demanded a “ban on prayers in universities”. The blatant targeting of Muslims and the one-upmanship to show who could come up with the toughest measures against them prompted Senator Ester Benbassa to call out the “fury” of her peers against Muslims.

To further make it impossible for Muslims to act as citizens and take part in the public debate, so called “community lists” were prohibited from being registered during elections. This was a direct assault on many initiatives in France where non-white political candidates who do not find space in established political parties end up running as independents or launching new political parties.

Robin Reda, the Essonne’s 7th constituency (south banlieue) MP and member of Les Républicain, proposed an amendment seeking to allow the deportation of “any foreign national who has habitually attended a place of worship which has been subject to closure. On the other hand, another member of Les Republicans Eric Ciotti and winner of the first round of the party’s primaries for the presidential election, called for the “imprisonment of women wearing the full face veil”.

Who are the real separatists ?

The bill was finally passed on 24 October and the government’s stunt succeeded. Aside from shutting down “Generation Identitaire” whose members all flocked to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and even sought to hold public office, the government did little to nothing to address real life secessionism. In contrast, the social separatism initiated by the wealthy who refuse to pay their taxes (€60- €80 bn per year), by white supremacists who set up their own training camps and even their “whites only” bars, or the geographic separatism that leads to the concentration of the rich and wealthy in specific areas has so far not prompted the government to act.

Just like Macron’s bragging about shutting down “212 Islamist bars”, France’s manufactured obsession with “separatism” is actually an obsession with the normalisation of the Muslim presence and for Islam to become a French religion. In the country that has a long track record of persecuting religious and ethnic minorities (Jews, Italian and Polish immigrant workers, Poles, Spaniards fleeing the civil war), the problem is cast as lying with Muslims themselves.

The ease with which prominent organisations like CCIF and Barakacity were shut down raises questions about the organisational models adopted by Muslim communities. The example adopted by organisations like the CCIF failed miserably and became a liability for French Muslims. After 15 years of existence, millions of euros raised and despite positioning itself as the legitimate protector of Muslims against Islamophobia, the CCIF left the country and shut itself down without putting up a fight. No campaign, no demonstration and no resistance was shown despite the accumulated means and the promises made to stand against “state Islamophobia”. Internal civil society struggles to have an absolute monopoly over Islamophobia and to crush any other organisation that deals with the issue has led to a weakening of the civil society space and resistance to Islamophobia and racism at the state level.

Without adopting an empowerment based model that can create a network of training and solidarity that can in turn mobilise against any campaign to shut organisations down, Muslim NGOs and chapters are doomed to follow the same fate, and worse still, create the environment where other organisations become easy targets for suppression as has happened with the shutting down of another historic French anti-Islamophobia organisation, the CRI (Coordination Against Racism and Islamophobia).

The silence, if not the active collaboration of national Islamic institutions with the Macron government as it was pushing its “anti-separatism bill”, is the other problem that urgently needs to be addressed by French Muslims. As they are “represented” by clerics and heads of organisations that systematically throw them under the bus and never stand up to anti-Muslim policies as they are expected to, the time is ripe perhaps for French Muslims to reevaluate their relationship with religious organisations and their leaders.

Furthermore, how can French Muslims be properly represented when such “leaders” have not been elected, have no clear mandate and therefore have no one to answer to? How can they be expected to be politically effective when as foreigners they fear for their residency cards or the status of their citizenship applications?

The year 2021 marks the exposure of the blatant bankruptcy of Muslim organisations in the face of state Islamophobia. Over-centralisation and dependence on foreign regimes have so far kept French Muslims from effectively organising. French Muslims are diverse and cannot be represented by one single organisation. Decentralisation might be the solution.

Just as it applies to any community, especially religious ones, no one is entitled to tell French Muslims how they teach and practise their religion as long as they adhere to the common ground of freedom, justice and equality for all.

The French Left has on the other hand failed to mobilise against the anti-separatism bill. Perceived as a bill that “only” targets Muslims, its efforts were concentrated on the “comprehensive security bill” that aimed at the reinforcing the powers of the police and to further shield them from accountability. Rather than seeing the connection between the “anti-separatism” and the “comprehensive security” bills, the Left once decided to focus and what seems to affect it first, as if Muslims are not part of the civil society they pretend to protect. But this comes as no surprise for those who dealt with the 2015-2017 state of emergency. During the first week after its promulgation, the French Left was nowhere to be found as Muslims were being retaliated against by the government. It only decided to mobilise once the raids carried against Muslims were then carried against opponents of the COP 21 summit, environmentalists, anarchists and union leaders.

This should be further incentive for French Muslims to reassess their relationship with the Left. Alliances are only possible between equals and so far French Muslims joining of “alliances” has only been as validators to Leftists who impose their vision, their strategy and their lexicon without consideration of their Muslim allies’ points of view.

For Emmanuel Macron political Islam has no place in France. From the declarations made by the current administration and its predecessors, although no definition of “political Islam” exists, the term covers any Muslim that takes part in civic and political life while identifying as Muslim. Just like in the colonies, Muslims have only the right to exist as believers and witnesses, not actors of the world they live in, let alone opponents of the status-quo. Muslims are not allowed to have a say in politics but politicians can visit mosques at times of elections to seek Muslim votes or ask religious leaders to act as go-betweens to discourage Muslim candidates from running against incumbent public office holders. The practice is well known in the Banlieues where local imams or rectors of the mosque are always involved in mobilising their communities for the Mayor, the MP etc.

Elected as the anti-Le Pen choice, Macron has ended up with a government that finds Marine Le Pen “too soft on Islam”. In a surreal debate, the latter was even accused by the Minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin of not “naming the enemy” and for not being hard enough on “Islam, not Islamism” while she positioned herself as protecting religious liberties and having no problem with Islam as such, but with the ideologies derived from the Muslim faith.

If Emmanuel Macron was successful in one thing, it is to have created a political chaos that will benefit him. The rise of Zemmour and that of his supporter Eric Ciotti in the conservative Les Republicans party means that Macron will use his crackdown on Muslims as a political asset while at the same time positioning himself as more moderate than his opponents on the right. But a Macron re-election will only further division and social discontent. With a second and final mandate, he will have free rein to accelerate his brutal neo-liberal reforms while having all the legal tools he needs to crush dissent.

The successful passing of the anti-separatism bill has indeed paved the way for years of repression and the strangling of civil society. How far the next government will go is an unknown, but the accumulation of resentment since the Yellow Vest movement and the widespread feeling that politicians are failing to deal with the explosion in inequality and poverty leaves the door open to any possibility.

Yasser Louati is head of the Committee for Justice and Liberties (CJL) in Paris and host of the podcast “Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati”.  He can be found on Twitter @yasserlouati.

Help us reach more people and raise more awareness by sharing this page