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France: Macron accused of using powers to 'systematically' persecute Muslims

A nationwide project aimed at addressing 'Islamism' and 'community withdrawal' across the country has drawn widespread criticism
Muslim worshippers pray on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, April 2021, at the Annour mosque in Mulhouse, eastern France (AFP)

France has been accused of systematically targeting its Muslim population with a raft of policies brought in by President Emmanuel Macron to address so-called "separatism and Islamism", a new report says. 

The report by British advocacy group Cage highlights Macron's use of executive powers to create what it calls a "systematic obstruction" policy to target Muslim groups and institutions in France over the last four years. 

Drafted in 2017, the policies initially aimed to address why a number of French Muslims had gone to fight in Syria and Iraq from particular regions in France. They then morphed into a nationwide project aimed at addressing "Islamism" and "community withdrawal" across the country. 

Since then, France has introduced a series of controversial laws that several human rights groups have deemed Islamophobic - including the anti-separatism law and imam charter

The "systematic obstruction" policy is implemented by the executive branch of the state, whose task is to enforce the law and establish public policies. 

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French policy operates, according to Cage, by putting maximum pressure on Muslim groups via the establishment of "department cells" in each of France's 101 government departments.

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French government documents state that the department cells aim to "coordinate the action of all actors likely to contribute to the fight against Islamism and community withdrawal."  

Cage says the policy has been used to single out Muslim organisations and gives the state "vast powers to monitor and close institutions, unilaterally dissolve organisations and seize money under the pretence of preserving Republican values and combatting Islamism and/or separatism".

The group said the policy was used to justify the closure of at least a dozen mosques, hundreds of Muslim-owned businesses and charities, and the seizure of millions of euros worth of assets because of the alleged promotion of Islamism. 

Among the organisations closed for allegedly promoting Islamist propaganda were the French Muslim charity Barakacity and the non-profit Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), which monitored Islamophobic attacks across France. Both organisations deny the charges, but both remain dissolved. 

Idriss Sihamedi, president of Barakacity, said Macron's policies were designed to make French Muslims compliant with the state.

"France has decided to target community leaders and has put every kind of pressure imaginable on people who want to defend Muslims," Sihamedi said in a statement. 

"The message to French Muslims is: we are going to colonise your religion and Islam in France will be controlled by the interior ministry."

'Institutionalised' Islamophobia

Cage used the report and a press conference in Paris on Wednesday to call for an immediate repeal of these powers. 

The group argued that its findings met the threshold of persecution as defined in international law. 

Rayan Freschi, a Cage researcher and French legal jurist who worked on the report, said it exposes how Islamophobia has been "institutionalised through an infrastructure of enforcement and mass surveillance".

"Four years ago, the French government initiated a secretive and draconian Islamophobic policy," Freschi said in a statement, referring to the systematic obstruction policy.

"This report documents how the French state has swiftly dismantled the foundations of the Muslim community's autonomy through a calculated persecution, spreading terror among an entire religious community: 718 closures, 24,884 inspections and 46 million euros extorted by the state later, it is time to stop this witch hunt against Muslims."

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