France debates bill against 'disease' of Islamic radicalism

Paris (AFP) –


The French parliament on Monday began debating a controversial new bill against what the interior minister described as the "disease" of Islamic radicalism eating away at the country's unity.

President Emmanuel Macron has pushed the legislation -- which would tighten rules on issues ranging from religious-based education to polygamy -- after a spate of attacks blamed on extremists late last year.

The lower house National Assembly kicked off two weeks of what are expected to be tense debates on the legislation, for while the left says it stigmatises Muslims, the right argues it fails to tackle the core issue.

The legislation is dubbed the anti-separatism bill as ministers fear radical Muslims are creating communities separate from France's staunchly secular identity. It has been bitterly criticised in Muslim countries.

"Our country is sick from separatism, above all Islamism which is damaging our national unity," Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told parliament.

"You have to know what to call the disease, you have to find the medicine," he added. "This text does not fight religions but the Islamist takeover bid," he added.

The law was in the pipeline before the October killing of Samuel Paty, a junior high school teacher who was beheaded in the street after showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class.

But the killing, committed by an 18-year old Chechen after a virulent social media campaign against the teacher, gave fresh impetus to the bill.

It prompted the inclusion of the specific crimes of online hate speech and divulging personal information on the internet.

Under the legislation, doctors also would be fined or jailed if they performed a virginity test on girls.

- Attacked on left and right -

Polygamy is already outlawed in France but the new law would also ban authorities from issuing residency papers to polygamous applicants.

Paty's death came amid a spate of jihadist-inspired attacks in France this year, including a knife assault outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and deadly stabbings at a church in Nice.

Macron has become a figure of hate in some Muslim countries and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the draft law an "open provocation".

In France, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon opposes a text that he says "stigmatises Muslims".

On the right, the parliamentary group leader of The Republicans Damien Abad said the text ignores issues such as radicalisation in prison and migration.

Meanwhile French far-right leader Marine Le Pen -- who analysts believe will be Macron's main rival in 2022 elections -- last week outlined her own plan, which include a ban on Muslim headscarves in all public places.