The way France is now trying to contain the very serious threat of radical Islamism and jihadi terror holds a valuable lesson for the entire democratic world, including, nay, particularly, for India. The nation that gave the universally cherished rights anthem of equality, liberty and fraternity is beset by challenges stemming from the abuse of these very rights by the Islamist terrorists who have killed nearly 300 French citizens in the last couple of years.
Ignoring the loud noises from a handful human rights activists and the leftist-liberal elements, the French Government has responded by toughening the laws against religious fanatics. President Emmanuel Macron’s hand-picked man for interior minister, Gerald Dramani, has undertaken to defeat what Macron called the “enemy within,” a hardly veiled reference to the jihadi Islam being reared in scores of mosques and madrassas in France.
After the assassination of the journalists of the controversial satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, ordinary people in France had moved towards the right (as they also have, all over Europe and North America, in reaction to the Islamist terror). But the trigger for the latest steps, legislative and administrative, was the beheading in broad daylight of school teacher, Samuel Paty, by a young Muslim terrorist after he had shown to schoolchildren the controversial cartoons to explain the right to freedom of speech. The French nation as a whole, rose to memorialise the slain teacher, undertaking not to submit to the jihadi Islamist threat.
The controversial security bill owes its origin to the renewed commitment of the French to wipe out terror from the land. To begin with, the Interior Minister has lashed out at the provision of separate 'halal' shelves in department stores for Muslims. He says this militates against the universal principle of equality and fuels separatism. Just as the Frech look down upon the wearing of hijab by Muslim women and turbans by Sikhs, the action against the public display of halal food on separate counters is meant to reinforce the 'republican values'.
The French live by the principle of what they call 'laicite' --- a complete separation of religion from the state, faith in a secular, egalitarian order, with no intrusion whatsoever of religion in public affairs. It is why the Government has now moved to ban schooling in madrassas attached to various mosques. This undermines republican values and inculcates in young minds subversive ideologies, say the official French spokespersons.
Funding of the mosques too is under the government lens. Some of the mosques in recent weeks were forced to be shut down after it was found these harboured terrorists and imparted an extremist theology. Another controversial move to bolster the morale of the police, which is hard put to maintain order in the face of unending protests by the anti-Macron elements, is the security bill. It has already cleared the lower House of Parliament and most likely will become law after passage in the upper chamber. It prohibits the public and the press to film the police while on official duty and publish the pictures on various new and old media outlets.
The ban is inspired by the recent video of a Black musician being beaten by a couple of policemen, which provoked widespread protests throughout the country. The police were accused of being racist, a charge denied officially, though Macron conceded a few policemen may be racist in their personal capacity. But the proposed ban on the members of the public filming the police and publishing the pictures on social media platforms aims to curb the rise in anti-police sentiment among the people.
Over the last three weekends, tens of hundreds of people have held angry protests in Paris and other major cities and towns in the country. Several hundred protesters were arrested last Saturday in Paris alone, with the Interior Minister calling them anarchist thugs. The minister fiercely defended the security bill, saying it is necessary to protect the police against wanton vilification and physical attacks against them and their families.
Barring the left-liberal cabal, the ordinary people, outraged by the serial jihadi terror killings, and seemingly endless protests --- remember the violent Yellow Vest protests two years ago against political, economic reforms? ---- wholeheartedly support the measures against the misuse of madrassas and mosques for breeding separatism and for bolstering the morale of the police. Those opposing these urgent steps to counter Islamic terror, ironically, cite the French republican principles to seek their rollback.
But if the Republic itself is under threat from the 'Islamist enemy within', as President Macron calls the jihadi terror, abuse of the French way of life has to be stopped by all means. The security bill and other measures constitute the bulwark of liberty of the millions against the threat posed by a few hundred demented Islamist extremists.