France's anti-extremism law: On the 115th anniversary of France's famed laïcité laws that separate church and state, President Emmanuel Macron yesterday unveiled a controversial new bill meant to tackle religious extremism. While the bill doesn't single out Islam by name — that would be illegal under France's constitution — officials have made clear that its aim is to rein in Islamic extremism and organizations that support it. The proposed law comes as Macron is under tremendous pressure to respond to a recent spate of Islamic terror attacks in France, which has lost more of its people to terrorism than any other EU member state and seen thousands of its citizens join ISIS in recent years. The new law would scrutinize funding for religious institutions, restricts home-schooling, tightens rules on online hate speech, and even singles out punishment for doctors who issue "virginity certificates." It still needs to be approved in Parliament, where Macron (just barely) controls the lower house. Although close to 80 percent of French people believe that "Islam has declared war on France," debate over the law is expected to be fierce, with far-left and far-right groups saying it doesn't actually go far enough, while other critics say that the law needs to be part of broader efforts to better integrate French Muslims into society.
Back in June, we considered the "rough road ahead" for French President Emmanuel Macron after his political party, La République En Marche (LREM), took a thrashing in local elections. Since then, things have only gotten tougher for the man once hailed as France's centrist savior.
Here's a snapshot of what's on Macron's plate at home, and what comes next.
Terrorism: France is grappling with a resurgence of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. The gruesome beheading of a high school teacher on the outskirts of Paris last month, followed by a deadly rampage at a church in the southern city of Nice several days later, sent shockwaves through a country that has lost more of its people to terror attacks in recent years than any other Western country.
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"So this is one where I'll be honest with you, I got it wrong. I really thought that Europeans had learned their lesson from that first wave, and they would never let themselves kind of be subject to another large wave of infections." Public health expert Dr. Ashish Jha tries to put the recent COVID surge across Europe into a global context. Ian asks if the alarming spike proves that the United States has not, in fact, been the outlier of incompetence when it comes to corralling the virus.
Watch the episode: Dr. Ashish Jha on COVID-19 and the dark winter to come
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, with the view from Europe:
What is going on with the recent terrorist attacks in Europe?
Well, there have been both the attacks in - one in Paris, the awful beheading, the subsequent attack in Nice, and the attack in Vienna. They've all been evidently acts by individuals without any planning, without any coordination, without any sort of major other thing behind it. That's the good news. The bad news is, of course, that these things happen. And it's very difficult for the security authorities to deal with. I mean, the Vienna case, it's obvious that there had been warnings about this particular individual, and I'm quite certain that will be quite a number of questions to be answered about that later on.
Emmanuel Macron in trouble: These are trying times for Emmanuel Macron, as the French president suddenly finds himself dealing with three major crises at once. First, France is currently reeling from a massive second wave of coronavirus, which has forced Macron to order a second national lockdown. Second, he is facing rising social tensions at home over the (long-fraught) question of integration into French society, after an Islamic beheaded a teacher who had shown derogatory images of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a lesson on free speech. The killing of three people outside a Nice church by a knife-wielding man of Tunisian origin yesterday heightened the sense of crisis. Lastly, Macron is facing a backlash from much of the Muslim world over his controversial comments in response to the teacher's murder, in which he pledged to crack down on extremism but also seemed to target Islam in general. There have been anti-French protests across the Muslim world, and several countries have called for a boycott of French goods. Macron doesn't face voters again until 2022, but he's already had to reset his presidency a few times. And his rivals — particularly from the far right, anti-immigrant National Rally party— may start to smell blood in the water.