Protesters say French law against radicalism is anti-Muslim

PARIS – Activists gathered in Paris on Sunday to demand that the French government drop a bill aimed at eradicating Islamist extremism which protesters say could violate religious freedom and make all Muslims potential suspects.

French lawmakers hold a key vote on the bill on Tuesday, which is expected to be approved by both chambers of parliament. The legislative debate comes amid lingering fears of extremist violence after a radical Islamist beheaded a history professor and other recent attacks.

The centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron argues that the bill is necessary to protect French values ​​like gender equality and secularism, and to prevent radical ideas from taking root and inspiring violence.

But those who demonstrated on Sunday said France already has the legal tools to do so and the bill stigmatizes the country’s No.2 religion, even though the majority of French Muslims do not espouse extremist views.

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Some have described it as a political ploy by Macron to win over conservative and far-right voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.

“It’s not worth attacking an entire community because someone has done a horrible act,” said Zeyneb Bouabidi, a woman from the Paris suburb of Conflans-Saint-Honorine, where teacher Samuel Paty has beheaded in October after showing his class caricatures of the Prophet. Muhammad published in the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper for a discussion of free speech.

Bouabidi has described being occasionally discriminated against at university and in his work because of his Arabic-sounding name, and fears laws like this will make matters worse.

“They make comments like ‘go back to your country.’ But I am in my country! I was born in France, ”she said.

A collective of Muslim, anti-racist, left-wing, pro-Palestinian and other militant groups organized a rally on Sunday near the Place du Trocadéro in front of the Eiffel Tower to demand the removal of the bill. About 150 people participated in the peaceful protest, including Muslims and non-Muslims.

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The government insists the bill does not target Muslims. It seeks to put an end to the issuance of virginity certificates, the practice of polygamy and forced marriage. It would crack down on fundamentalist education by requiring all children three and over to attend school, and tighten the rules on the funding and operation of mosques and religious associations.

Other religions, from Buddhists to Roman Catholics, have complained that they could also suffer the fallout from the bill.

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