One bill and one law are currently garnering critique : the bill to Strengthen Republican Values and the Global Security Law.
The Global Security Law aims at reorganizing the French security services made of three main components: the police, the military and the private security agencies. Debates have rapidly focused on the 24th controversial article (added by the political majority) which limits the use and dissemination of police’s images and photos by asking for the explicit agreement of the concerned police forces, in order to avoid harm or threat to police personnel, hence criminalizing the filming or recording of police. The law has triggered protests before and after its adoption (at the end of 2020), the most significant happening last week (end of January 2021) when more than 33000 demonstrated against it. Amnesty International has condemned “arbitrary arrests”, while the French Human Rights organization has also expressed concerns.
It is in this volatile political context that the parliamentary debate on the Law to Strengthen Republican Values is taking place. Macron’s position has progressively shifted over the last few months. Indeed, since the Fall 2020, Emmanuel Macron’s rhetoric has evolved from “war on terror”, to “war on Islamism” to finally become “war on separatism”. As such, the President’s ambitions to create a “Republican Islam” has translated into heavy handed interference within the management of Islamic activities, such as his involvement in the Charter of Republican Values and in the creation of the National Council of Imams (see http://www.euro-islam.info/2021/02/05/imams-in-lyon-reject-macrons-charter-of-republican-values-local-resistances-to-the-french-state-islam/) . It has been coupled with active sanctions towards those who refuse to comply with this new politics, exemplified by the dissolution of CCIF (Comity Against Islamophobia in France), an anti-racist association and Barakacity, a humanitarian NGO.
At the time of this writing, the content and focus of the law on Republican values has not been finalized. The bill addresses various domains: the status of secularism, education, religious associations, etc. More than 2650 amendments have already been proposed by the French deputies . Among the most debated measures is the possibility of state control over religious associations which would translated into the requirement for this type of association to seek renewal of their statues every 5 years. It would allow the state to grant this renewal at the condition that the associations are conforming to the republican values defined by the state. Another controversial point is the principle of shared responsibility which means that an entire association could then be locked down (and held responsible) for one of its members’ conduct or action.
As the bill has moved to the House of Deputies, the parliamentary debates shed light on the internal divisions of the political majority. This internal rift is caused by the convergence of the left wing (which accuses the majority of being Islamophobic) and the right wing opposition (that denounces lukewarm measures). For example, the newspaper Libération noted that the never-ending issue of the veil , has once again been raised in during the parliamentary debates.
According to the newspapers La Croix, deputies will ultimately have to strike a balance between religious freedom and security. From this perspective, French historian, Jean Baubérot, has expressed concerns about the undermining of the true value of “laïcité” in favor of electoral calculations. In his views, the debate does not have to be between the “French Republic” on one side and “religious beliefs” (Islam in the present case) on the other: they are not in competition and have their own spheres of competences. According to him, the 1905 Law is twofold: it aims at countering those who would like to impose their religious views but also those who attempt to reduce the freedom of religious believers. By stressing the historical ambiguities of the context surrounding the adoption of the 1905 Law, Baubérot emphasizes that remaining faithful to the genuine sense of “laïcité” does not mean refusing changes and accommodations. As such, he advocates for the use of legal principles (as opposed to values) because these principles are continuously adapted by the French Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel: equivalent of the US Supreme Court) to fit the ever-changing social and cultural context.
In the same vein, political scientist, Franck Frégosi, points at the lack of historical perspective among French politicians as if France and Islam only “met” in the 1980s, hence ignoring a long shared history and silencing the French colonial past.