PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron of France on Friday outlined a series of measures designed to rein in the influence of radical Islam in the country and help develop what he called an “Islam of France” compatible with the nation’s republican values.
In a long-awaited speech on the subject, Macron said that the influence of Islamism must be eradicated from public institutions even as he acknowledged government failures in allowing it to spread.
The measures include placing stringent limits on home schooling and increasing scrutiny of religious schools, making associations that solicit public funds sign a “charter” on secularism. While these measures would apply to any group, they are intended to counter extremists in the Muslim community.
Under the measures, the widespread practice of bringing over foreign imams to work in France, where they are often accused of preaching an outdated or extreme version of Islam, would be ended.
The issue of the effects of extreme Islamism has been a persistent one in France, amid fears of the kinds of terrorist attacks the country has faced in recent years, putting pressure on Macron as he faces re-election.
Many of the proposals from Macron were ideas that had been floated in the past or ones he had already approved. His speech Friday assembled it all into a comprehensive package that the government is expected to present as a bill in December.
“What we must attack is Islamist separatism,” Macron said in front of six of his ministers in Les Mureaux, a town northwest of Paris.
“Secularism is the cement of a united France,” he said, calling radical Islam both an “ideology” and a “project” that sought to indoctrinate children, undermine France’s values — especially gender equality — and create a “countersociety” that sometimes laid the groundwork for Islamist terrorism.
But Macron also recognized that France bore responsibility for letting that ideology spread uncontested.
“We built our own separatism ourselves,” he said. For too long, authorities had amassed largely immigrant populations in poverty-stricken neighborhoods with little access to jobs or public transportation, leading to a “ghettoization of our republic,” he said.
The stakes were high, as the setting indicated: Macron’s speech and answers to journalists, which lasted nearly two hours, were broadcast live on television and the internet.
Crucially, the announcement came as France’s political establishment gears up for the next presidential election in 18 months.
Accused by both the far-right and traditional conservatives of being lax against radical Islam, Macron has recently used words and adopted positions on social issues that have signaled a clear departure from his more liberal stances at the start of his presidency.
Over the summer, Macron reshuffled his Cabinet with a view toward the next election, handing a key job to Gérald Darmanin, a conservative, hard-charging protégé of the former right-wing president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Darmanin, now the interior minister and head of the national police, has quickly helped set the tone for the remainder of Macron’s term.
Even though official data show steady or declining crime rates overall in France, Darmanin joined political rivals on the right to denounce what they claim to be the country’s supposed growing insecurity.
Darmanin began using and strongly defending the vocabulary of the far-right to describe a France supposedly “turning savage” — or undergoing an “ensauvagement,” a loaded word used by the right to target nonwhite immigrants from France’s former African colonies.
The tough talk on crime helped set the stage for Macron’s speech, which is likely to set off fierce debate over the coming months as lawmakers consider the bill. It is also expected to sharpen tensions within Macron’s party, as the president’s rightward tilt has already alienated its left-leaning members.