AN ANALYSIS OF FRANCE’S ANTI-RADICALISM BILL IN NEXUS WITH SECULARISM IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

An Anti-Radicalism law, also known as the Anti-separatism Bill or Reinforcing Republican principles law, was enacted in France to tackle religious fundamentalism and radicalization, mainly Islamic radicalism as it has been a part of politics and governance. It is one of its kind legislation that has been enacted in the country to maintain or preserve its secular nature. The law is seen by opponents as a political tactic by President Emmanuel Macron to gain support from conservative and far-right supporters ahead of the presidential race which is to take place soon. The supporters of this law suggest that it is not Anti-Islam as it nowhere mentions the word ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslims’ but makes use of words like religious fundamentalists. Hence, it is not Anti-Islam law but is Anti-radicalization law.[1]

WHAT IS RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM?

Religious fundamentalism is a much talked about issue in the current era with national and world politics being centered around it. For the unversed, religious fundamentalism refers to extreme and irrational belief upon religion and religious activities or acts permitted by religion. It is deemed to be dangerous in the modern era where most of the countries have such societies where different religious sects and sub-sects exist together. The root cause of terrorism in today’s world is also religious fundamentalism. Every religion in the world has fundamentalists who strictly adhere to the preaching of their sect, but Islamic fundamentalism is the one that is considered the most perilous of all as it has made its inroads in the governmental functioning of several countries. It is indeed unfortunate that a peaceful religion like Islam is being subjected to gross aspersion because of such fundamentalists.

THE RELIGIOUS MISE EN SCENE IN FRANCE

The governing structures of all countries are different – some of them are secular while some are theocracies. Secular nations are the ones that do not have a state religion while theocratic nations have a state religion, that is, their countrymen are governed by rules and regulations which are derived from religion. Countries like India and France are secular nations, that is they have their own laws which are based upon general principles of fairness, justice, and humanity. In recent years, France has been facing the wrath of Islamic fundamentalism and radicalization. First, the number of refugees from other countries has increased in France, and second, the frequency of radical Islamic terrorism has increased in the nation. France has never revised its open borders policy, which has resulted in a significant number of refugees from other countries arriving in France. When the Syrian civil war was at its height in 2012, the number of Muslims requesting refuge in France surpassed one lakh each year. During the years 2015-16, when ISIS seized control of many regions in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, the number of Muslims seeking refuge in Europe rose drastically. In 2017, a record 1.5 million individuals sought asylum in Europe, and by 2019, the figure had risen to two million.[2]

In a bid to endorse and practise secularism, several European nations, including France, publicly welcomed migrants. Later, however, these same individuals began to question France’s constitutional and secular principles, as well as those of other European nations. The second factor is the rise in extreme Islamic terrorism in France, with the same Muslim refugees at the core of these events. In the past five years, there have been ten significant terrorist incidents in France, resulting in the death of more than 250 people. The gravity of this issue was realized in the year 2020 when a teacher named Samuel Paty was beheaded outside a school in Nice, France where he taught, as he had allegedly shown cartoons of Prophet Mohammad to his students and had made fun of him.[3] This added fire to the seriousness with which religious radicalism was perceived in France. This incident was termed as an instance of Islamic terrorism in the country. It gave impetus to the need for anti-radicalism laws in France.[4]

THE ‘PATY’ LAW

Recently, the Legislative Assembly of France with a voting ratio of 347 to 151 with 65 abstentions passed the Anti Radicalism Bill. The bill is known as Art. 18 is dubbed the “Paty Law” after Samuel Paty, the teacher who was decapitated outside his school west of Paris. Paty was murdered when information about his school was revealed in a video. Endangering a person’s life by disclosing data about their private life and location is a crime under the law. If a person publishes personal information on a government employee or official on social media, he would be fined Rs 40 lakh and may face a three-year jail sentence. If a person scares a French government official or public figure into going against France’s secular principles, he would be sentenced to five years in jail and fined Rs 65 lakh. As part of a larger effort to combat extremism, the measure would tighten the supervision of mosques and religious institutions. In addition, the law prohibits the issuing of virginity certificates. Fathers, brothers, and fiancés often demand virginity tests to ensure a woman’s purity before marriage. A year in jail or a fine of €15,000 (USD $18,153.00) would be imposed on any physician who performs virginity tests under the law. Foreigners in polygamous marriages may be denied a renewal of their residence cards under current French legislation. The new legislation aims to make it easier for polygamists to be removed from France. In addition, the new law aims to combat forced marriage by encouraging third parties to notify city officials if they suspect marriage is taking place without both parties’ permission. It would also mandate all children aged three and up to attend school, as well as tightening regulations governing the financing and operation of mosques and religious organizations, putting even more pressure on fundamentalist preaching.[5] If a parent wishes to home school his or her children, he or she must first get authorization from the French government and provide a compelling justification for doing so. Representatives from the government will guarantee that sports are free of gender discrimination. For example, there used to be a separate swimming pool for boys and girls, but the French government no longer permits it. According to the new legislation, all religious organizations in France will be required to report all foreign contributions to the government. If the financing exceeds Rs 8 lakh, they must notify the government, and if they do not, the French government would cease providing financial support to religious organizations in the nation. Different organizations and institutions that get special government assistance will be required to sign an agreement pledging to uphold France’s constitutional and secular principles. Such statements that create strife and discord amongst groups shall not be uttered in religious organizations. Those guilty of engaging in terrorist operations in France will be barred from participating in religious organizations for a period of ten years. Another aspect of this legislation is that religious symbols will no longer be allowed to be shown in France. Until recently, Muslim women could not wear burqas or hijabs in French government offices, but now that rule will apply to private businesses as well. [6]

DOES INDIA NEED AN ANTI-RADICALISM LAW?

 This law enacted in France is a revolutionary step taken towards tackling religious fundamentalism at large. Being a secular country as mentioned explicitly in its Constitution, France’s government ought to adhere to secular values to bring in sustainable progress. It does not mean that they are anti-religion, they are just not in favour of religion being basis of governance and radicalism coming in way of development and peace in our country. India is also a secular country as mentioned in the Constitution of India, 1950. Though the word was inserted into the Preamble of our Constitution at a later stage, it has always been a part of its governing framework. Laws in India have their foundation stone placed upon secular values. Considering the question of whether such a law is a part of the Indian legal system, it is to be noted that there is no comprehensive law that deals with religious fundamentalism or separatism or radicalism as people say it, but there are many provisions under different state and national laws which directly or indirectly tackle religious fundamentalism and hence try to save the secular framework of our country. Anti-conversion laws are in force under many Indian states, the law against triple talaq, yardsticks related to the funding of religious institutions from Indian and abroad are all part of many centre level statutes. India has also been facing the wrath of Islamic radicalization and the 1992 blasts, 2008 26/11 Mumbai attacks, etc., are examples that substantiate this statement. However, it is crucial to have an exclusive law in India like the Anti-Radicalization Law of France, given the fact that the topic of religion is often misused by the politicians in spreading hatred among the masses and securing their vote banks. However, a religion neutral terminology must be used in such a statute if enacted in India as if this is not done so, it would be against and disrespectful towards secularism in India which is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Author(s) Name: Debalina Roy (Student, Xavier Law School, XIM University, Odisha)

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References:

[1] DNA Special: What does France’s anti-radicalism Bill say? 10 pointers (Zee News, June 26, 2021) https://www.dnaindia.com/world/report-what-does-france-anti-radicalism-bill-say-islamic-fundamentalism-2875996.

[2] Asylum statistics (Eurostat Statistics Explained, June 27, 2021) https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Asylum_statistics

[3] PTI, rance votes on anti-radicalism bill that worries Muslims (The Hindu, 26th June, 2021) https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/france-votes-on-anti-radicalism-bill-that-worries-muslims/article33850963.ece

[4] Ibid.

[5] Daniel Graziano, France lawmakers approve anti-radicalism bill (The Jurist, June 26, 2021) https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/02/france-lawmakers-approve-anti-radicalism-bill/

[6]  DNA Special: What does France’s anti-radicalism Bill say? 10 pointers (Zee News, June 26, 2021) https://www.dnaindia.com/world/report-what-does-france-anti-radicalism-bill-say-islamic-fundamentalism-2875996

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