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France passes bill that worries Muslims

Lawmakers in the French parliament’s lower house on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs to safeguard…

Lawmakers in the French parliament’s lower house on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs to safeguard France from extremists to promote respect for French values, one of President Emmanuel Macron’s landmark projects.

The wide-ranging bill, titled “Supporting respect for the principles of the Republic,” covers most aspects of French life. It has been hotly contested by some Muslims, lawmakers and others who fear the state is intruding on essential freedoms and pointing a finger at Islam, the nation’s No. 2 religion.

The bill bolsters other French efforts to fight extremism, mainly security-based.

Detractors say the measures are already covered in current laws. Some voice suspicions about a hidden political agenda.

The bill mentions neither Muslims nor Islam by name. Supporters say it is aimed at snuffing out what the government describes as an encroaching fundamentalism that is subverting French values, notably the nation’s foundational value of secularism and gender equality.

Top representatives of all religions were consulted as the text was drafted. The government’s leading Muslim conduit, the French Council for the Muslim Faith, gave its backing.

Ghaleb Bencheikh, head of the Foundation for Islam of France, a secular body seeking a progressive Islam, said in a recent interview that the planned law was “unjust but necessary” to fight radicalization.

Among other provisions, the bill would ban virginity certificates and crack down on polygamy and forced marriage, practices not formally attached to a religion. Critics say those and other provisions are already covered in existing laws.

Some Muslims said they sensed a climate of suspicion.

“There’s confusion… A Muslim is a Muslim and that’s all,” taxi driver Bahri Ayari said after worshipping at midday prayers at the Grand Mosque of Paris.