French Muslims at odds over Macron's 'anti-extremism' charter

Published January 21, 2021
French President Emmanuel Macron wants French Muslim groups to sign up to the charter as he seeks to secure France's secular system. — AFP/File
French President Emmanuel Macron wants French Muslim groups to sign up to the charter as he seeks to secure France's secular system. — AFP/File

The head of France's main Muslim organisation on Thursday slammed a “unilateral” move by three Islamic groups not to sign up to an anti-extremism charter championed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron wants French Muslim groups to sign up to the charter as he seeks to secure France's secular system in the wake of a spate of attacks blamed on radical Islamists in 2020.

But the Committee for Coordination of Turkish Muslims in France (CCMTF) and the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation (CMIG) — both catering to citizens of Turkish origin — as well as the Faith and Practice movement, announced late on Wednesday that they would not be signing up to the charter.

“Through these repetitive actions, the groups ... all risk being held responsible for this situation of division,” said Mohamed Moussaoui, the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the umbrella grouping for France's Muslim groups.

This refusal “is not likely to provide reassurance ... on the state of the representative bodies of the Muslim religion”, he added.

A source close to the issue, who asked not to be named, said the three groups refusing to sign the charter were particularly concerned about the definition of foreign interference in religion and the definition of political Islam.

The row comes at a time of severe diplomatic tensions between France and Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly lambasted Macron's bid to crack down on radical Muslims in the country.

The Milli Gorus, a pan-European movement for the Turkish diaspora, is seen as inspired by the ideas of late prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, regarded as the father of political Islam in Turkey and Erdogan's mentor.

“We believe that certain passages and formulations in the text submitted are likely to weaken the bonds of trust between the Muslims of France and the nation,” the three groups said in a statement.

“Furthermore, some statements are prejudicial to the honour of Muslims, with an accusatory and marginalising tone.”

'Important clarification'

Five out of nine groups who make up the CFCM, a body set up almost 20 years ago to enable dialogue between the government and the Muslim community, have signed up to the charter after weeks of sometimes acrimonious debates.

But the failure of the CFCM to so far show a totally united front risks robbing the initiative of the consensus within the Muslim community that it is supposed to highlight.

A government source, however, insisted that the groups' refusal would not weaken the process, adding that “the masks are coming off”.

“An important clarification is being made,” the source said.

The charter rejects “instrumentalising” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcisions, forced marriages or “virginity certificates” for brides. These practices, though prevalent in some Muslim communities, are more cultural than based on religion.

Macron railed against the promotion of “political Islam” in France in November last year after a teacher was beheaded outside his school.

He had shown pupils caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as part of a free-speech lesson.

The attack prompted a crackdown against alleged extremist mosques and Islamist associations, along with a vigorous defence of French secularism.

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