President Macron announces his plan to fight “ Islamist separatism”

On February 18, French President Emmanuel Macron held his first speech aiming at fighting “separatism” in France. Announced a few months ago, this one and an half hour discourse  finally took place on the eve of municipal elections during a visit of the President in Mulhouse, a 15 000 inhabitants city in east France. The choice of Mulhouse was highly symbolic, as the city is ruled by the concordat (a juridical statute inherited from the Napoleon period), which involves for instance that cult ministries are state employees. Moreover, Mulhouse is one of the territories targeted by previous Macron’s policy towards “derelict territories” of the Republic and benefits from specific city policies and supports.

The use of the term “separatism”  drew the media attention, while President Macron justified  it as a way to avoid the even more controversial term  “communitarianism”. Separatism refers to  “those who want to leave the republic”. The head of state presented general working guidelines in order to better organize “French Islam”, notably through the limitation of foreign influence. Macron said 300 imams were sent to France every year by Muslim countries like Algeria, Morocco and Turkey, and that those who arrived in 2020 would be the last to arrive in such numbers.

Two concretes measures have already been announced. Firstly Macron decided to suspend the ELCO programmes (Teachings in languages and cultures of origin) [Enseignements langues et cultures d’origine] at the start of the school year 2020. Originally the ELCO aimed to help children at maintaining a linguistic and cultural link with their country of origins, to facilitate their potential return. In that respect, nine countries signed partnerships with France from the 1970s and were involved in the training of school children in France as they designed and financed languages teachers. Such procedure has been criticized and sometimes accused of proselytism due to this foreign intervention and the quasi absence of state regulation. Secondly, Macron announced the end of “consular Islam” and specifically targeted the foreign interference notably through the funding of mosques. Just as with ELCO, France has an official agreement with Muslim majority countries to send detached Imams, mainly from  the Maghreb and Turkey. Macron assigned the task to CFCM (the French Council of Muslim Faith) – a council designated by French state as a major interlocutor of “French Muslims” but which suffers from a lack of legitimacy and recognition – to make concrete proposals to train French Imams, compatible with the republican values. Further measures should follow.

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