France’s Draft Law Against Islamism: What Makes French Secularism Different from Indian Secularism?

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A draft law has been presented within the French cabinet on 9th December 2020 to curb the rise of ‘radical Islam’ within the country. The draft bill will aim at an increase in the surveillance of Islamic groups within the country.

Introduction

The French cabinet under the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex has put forth a new law. The law aims to curb ‘radical Islam’ within the country. The bill has been introduced following the rise in terror attacks within the country over the past few years. It got accelerated into being following the beheading of Samuel Patty. The bill would focus on more surveillance in mosques and would advocate a limit on homeschooling. This is to ensure that all children within the country get exposed to French schooling approved by the government.

Online hate campaigns will also bear a brunt of the force projected by the bill as severe restrictions will exist on such campaigns. The government would become involved in the training of imams. Restrictions will arise on places of worship with relation to public funding. This will happen only if such places incite religious tensions or violence among its members. The intimidation of public servants on religious grounds will also be restricted. The term ‘republican principles’ got included within the Bill. The title was changed from Law against Islamic separatism to Strengthening Republican Principles. The title got changed as the previous title could lead to the stigmatization of French Muslims.  

The Opinions on the Bill 

The bill has seen increased support among the French populace, as a necessary change to curb the rise of extremism within the country. But experts have stated that the necessity of the bill comes into question. Title V of the 1905 French law on the separation of the Churches and State provides adequate checks and balances on religious institutions. A major part of the new bill focuses on the elimination of religious coercion. The contention arises that the rules laid down in the 1905 law are adequate to curb religious extremism. The point arises that the proper implementation of the existing law would prove to be adequate as a measure to quell religious extremism within the State. The bill has received condemnation from other nations such as Turkey and Pakistan.

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The countries have accused the President of being discriminatory towards Muslims. President Emmanuel Macron has received backlash in many instances. The accusations begin from the curbing of the freedom of speech of the press to the controversial Yellow-Vest movement against the tax laws imposed by the government. Thus, the underlying agenda of the Bill comes into the picture as the President gears up for his reelection campaign in 2022. 

French Secularism v. Indian Secularism 

French secularism has been defined through the 1905 act which separates that relation between the church and the state. This was introduced as a measure to curb the growing influence of the Catholic Church upon French governance. The French model of secularism known as laicite focuses on eliminating religious differences. The principles of French secularism advocate the elimination of the religious identity of a person. The principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity are to take their place instead.

The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools is an example of the nature of French secularism. It bans the wearing of any religious symbols by the children studying in schools. It includes the schools that come under the direct control of the French government. This was seen as an extension of the principle of laicite as it was passed as a measure to ensure that religion and state stay different. But the law was found to be discriminatory against Muslim schoolgirls.

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The other religions have found multiple ways in adapting their beliefs along with the law which Islam was unable to do. This brings up the bigger question of whether the principle of laicite still stands today. Indian secularism promotes all religious beliefs. It also promotes religious differences within the country. The Indian model of secularism focuses on the separation of religion and State. This occurs while religious differences are not eliminated.

All religions have the freedom to express themselves according to their customs and practices within the purview of the law. Such a form of secularism is known as positive secularism. It promotes religion by allowing an environment of peace and prosperity among all religions. The Western form of secularism has a clear-cut distinction between religion and the State. In India, the distinction is not as clear. Personal laws exist within the country with respect to each religion. Reservation allocated to individuals within the State based on communal lines. These are examples of how secularism is different in the Indian context. The implementation of a Uniform Civil Code although advocated by Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy, is not an extensive practice in India. 

Conclusion

The population of France is not the same as it was in 1905. The country is becoming a home to people of different beliefs and ethnic persuasions. This must be taken into consideration. The separation of state and religion is a concept that is becoming redundant within France. The homogeneity of the French population is reducing day by day.

The lack of expression of religious values within the country could lead to the hurting of religious sentiments of the people and the oppression of the minority. A loss of culture is also a possible outcome. In the light of the issues that have been raised following the introduction of this bill, the question of French secularism is something that needs to be answered soon for the sake of the French people and the identity of France.


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