Does A French Anti-Extremism Bill Infringe On Civil Rights?

A new French law first drafted at the end of March in the French Senate could make the country stronger, proponents say. But critics contend that the reverse is true. Instead, they say, it will weaken civil rights and increase divisions in the country. President Emmanuel Macron defended the bill by suggesting that it would increase the country’s core principles of liberty and equality. Many question whether that’s the whole truth.

The civil rights law would place a stringent cap on the funds that certain groups receive from abroad.

Director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council Benjamin Haddad said, “What the French government right now is trying to tackle is what they see and what a majority of the French population sees as rising radicalism in certain neighborhoods…It’s obvious that some of that conversation is being hijacked by populism movements.”

Haddad wasn’t afraid to point out that President Macron is often criticized for his inability to attack radicalism while also courting the right-wing conservative voters who are responsible for putting him into office. This is especially problematic since the next election is only a year away.

Legal scholar Rim-Sarah Alouane said that the law would reduce civil liberty protections: “I see a blatant attack on freedom of association. This bill has no safeguards of potential abuse from public authorities.”

It’s an issue of balance: terrorist attacks have intensified over the past few decades while civil rights groups have mobilized to tackle the issues of the century.

Macron said on October 2, 2020: “We have created our own form of separatism.”

He was specifically referring to neighborhoods where income has stayed low while unemployment has stayed high. Many see these “banlieues” as incubators for extreme forms of thinking. But the bill has support even from people who grew up in these areas.

National Assembly member Anissa Khedher defended her initial support of the bill: “Many people in France and abroad have tried to vilify and twist this bill. This law is not against Islam or about Islam.”

Opponents of the bill disagree, including Alouane, who said, “In France, a good Muslim is an invisible Muslim.”

Her opinions bring to light the greater divides apparent in French society, where even the best of intentions can result in stark divisions based on principle.

Parisian banlieue resident and university student Hajjar Aboulharjan took offense to Macron’s earlier comments. Aboulharjan said, “Islam is not in crisis. Radical people are in crisis.”

But other French Muslims support the bill, including Abdella Aboulharjan (Hajjar’s uncle), who said that he did not “feel oppressed” by the “very balanced” law.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin recently said that a whopping 89 mosques around the country were under investigation for suspected separatism connections. The announcement spurred civil rights groups to hit the streets. 

Political risk advisory firm managing director Mujtaba Rahman said, “There is no doubt — and everyone knows there is no doubt — that [the bill] is aimed at radical, anti-Western Islamic movements.”