EDITORIAL: Whilst tensions remain high between France and the Muslim world President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to crack down on what he calls ‘Islamic separatism’ has given rise to a fresh controversy. Last week, Islamabad and Paris were involved in a diplomatic row after Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari said in Twitter post that “Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews. Muslim children will get ID numbers (other children won’t) just as Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on their clothing for identification.” She had based her remarks on an article she shared with her post, which claimed a new French bill singles out Muslims children for giving them identification numbers to ensure they attended school. This meant Muslim children would be marked and discriminated against as the ‘other’.
Comparing President Macron’s treatment of Muslims with that of Nazis of Jews drew a searing riposte from French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll. The minister, she said, spoke in “deeply shocking and insulting terms” of the president and the whole of France. “These hateful words are blatant lies” added Muhll, “imbued with an ideology of hatred and violence.” Unfortunately, the spokesperson did not seem to have cared that her own words constituted an attack on the faith of the minister rather than what was said. Yet she felt she could take to the moral high ground to declare “such slander is unworthy of this level of responsibility.” Thankfully, both sides calmed down when it emerged that the entire nasty episode was triggered by wrong reporting. Caught in the controversy, the website that carried the article the minister had based her comments on published the clarification that in its earlier version it was incorrectly stated that the ID number would be exclusively for Muslim children. The legislation is to apply to all French children. Subsequently, Dr Mazari rectified her tweet, as suggested by the French Ambassador to this country.
The wider issue resolved, it is for France to decide how best to create harmony in its society. The country has the largest number of Muslims – 8.8 percent of the population—in any European country. Many of them living in ghettoized communities do not send their children to regular schools, preferring to teach them at home where they are subjected to radicalizing influences. The new legislation makes home schooling a crime. The aim, of course, is to stop children from being radicalized. Pakistan should be able to identify with the situation as it tries to grapple with its own problem of extremism by introducing modern subjects along with religious education in madressahs, albeit with little success so far. It should be perfectly understandable if France wants to tackle that problem in its own way.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020