France’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has vowed to be “intransigent” in defending France’s official secularism, promising to fight “radical Islamism in all its forms” as “an absolute priority”.
Unveiling new government policy in Paris on Wednesday, Castex told the National Assembly that the French republic was being “shaken to its foundations” by “the coalition of its enemies – terrorists, conspiracy theorists, separatists and communitarians”.
Castex, a centre-right provincial mayor who graduated from the elite National School of Administration, said a new law to combat “separatism” would be introduced after the summer break.
It would aim to “avoid certain groups becoming closed in around ethnic or religious identities,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also recently warned against anti-racist movements being taken over by “separatists”, after demonstrations against alleged police violence and racism in Paris – although the president did not say what he meant by the term.
Some members of France’s Muslim minority feel that the country’s official secularism is mainly brandished against them, although Macron himself has condemned divisive approaches to it.
Castex also set out a hard line on violence at demonstrations and petty crime, saying police would be given the resources they needed.
Local judges would be appointed to ensure “day-to-day anti-social behaviour” was punished swiftly, he said.
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‘Specifically targets Muslims’
Yasser Louati, head of France’s Justice and Liberties For All Committee, told Al Jazeera that Castex’s use of the term “separatism” is “heavily charged and specifically targets Muslims whose recent mobilisations against racism and Islamophobia irritate the dominant, conservative segment of French society”.
“The recent use of the term ‘separatism’ by Emmanuel Macron marks a new escalation in state-sponsored Islamophobia in that it perpetuates the fantasy of an enemy within, the same way France did with Jews in the past,” Louati said.
“There are no calls for secession, at least not by Muslims. But if the government interprets calls for equality as calls for separatism, then that further exposes the hypocrisy of French institutions that wrap themselves in the banner of human rights and a colour-blind republic, while calling [for] a more violent repression against minorities.”
Human rights groups previously condemned France for carrying out discriminatory raids and house arrests against Muslims after it declared a state of emergency in November 2015.
“The state of emergency that targeted over 5,000 Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship has become permanent, and I fear that the end of the summer will be violent when the government comes back to office,” Louati said.
Castex also said he was taking office at “a very particular moment” in France’s history after the COVID-19 epidemic caused France “one of the most serious crises it has known”.
He said he would be meeting trade unions and employers on Friday to agree on how to approach “all the subjects that are on the table for the coming weeks and months, starting with the plan to restart [the]
The assembly approved Castex’s speech by a large majority of 345 votes to 177 and 43 abstentions.
With reporting by Mersiha Gadzo in Toronto, Canada.