By Massimo Introvigne — Anti-cultism is back in France. Media around the world have covered President Macron’s announcement of a new law against “separatism,” explaining it as a measure against radical Islam. It is surely true that Islam is targeted but, not for the first time, a law introduced to fight Islamic radical groups is then used against other religious movements. The Russian law against extremism is an obvious example.
The “general concept” of the law has been unveiled by the French Minister of Internal Affairs, Gérald Darmanin, on Twitter, as it is now increasingly common on world politics. We publish the document tweeted by Darmanin, to make it more easily accessible.
The draft announces the “end of home schooling” in general, “except in cases justified by medical conditions.” Obviously, this provision will target a number of Christian communities and not the Muslims only.
The draft also explains that places of worship will be put under increasing surveillance and “preserved […] from the diffusion of ideas and statements hostile to the laws of the Republic.” Again, the law cannot target Muslims only for obvious constitutional reasons. What about a priest or pastor criticizing abortion or same-sex marriage, which are part of the laws of the French Republic, but also claiming that certain “laws of the Republic” penalize the poor and the immigrants?
Hidden in a law ostensibly aimed at Islamic radicalization is a provision that allows religious and other associations to be dissolved (the Russian word “liquidated” is not used, but the substance is very much the same) in case of “attacks on personal dignity” and “use of psychological or physical pressures.”
When reading this, and considering the French anti-cult tradition, I immediately suspected that the provision will be used against groups labeled as “cults,” and “psychological pressures” is reminiscent of the old idea of “brainwashing.” In Darmanin’s tweet the Minister of Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, was copied.
On October 10, Schiappa gave an interview to Le Parisien confirming that “we will use the same measures against the cults and against radical Islam.” Last year, the official French anti-cult mission MIVILUDES was moved from being an independent structure under the Prime Minister to becoming a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ anti-radicalization system. Anti-cultists protested that this may lead to the demise of the MIVILUDES, but Schiappa now explains that with the new law it will be reinforced and move from mere “analysis” to a more active role. The former politician and anti-cult activist Georges Fenech and the president of the largest French anti-cult organization, UNADFI, Joséphine Lindgren-Cesbron, will become members of the MIVILUDES. Anti-cult propaganda will be further promoted. Among the main aims indicated by Schiappa is identifying the “cults” that could be legally dissolved and banned because of “attacks on personal dignity” and “use of psychological or physical pressures.”
Much in the new draft law is constitutionally problematic, not to mention possible interventions of the European Court of Human Rights. These developments confirm, however, that anti-cultism is alive and well in France and that, as in happened in other countries, what is introduced as “a law against radical Islam” may end up targeting a wide variety of religious organizations.