On April 10, Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech before the Bishops of France in Paris. He addressed the prelates by saying that “the association between the Church and the State has declined and that it is important for both you and me to mend it.” Some observers, especially from leftist groups, regarded this statement as an act of questioning secularism, which is a pillar of the republic, as they felt that that there was no "repairing" to be done.
Historically, the debate has been sealed since 1905, the date of the notable law on the separation of Church and State, which prescribes two fundamental principles still implemented today: “The Republic guarantees the freedom of conscience and the freedom of exercise of worship, but, the state does not recognize, finance, or subsidize any religion”.
Secularism is essentially a French theory, often difficult to comprehend in other languages, especially in Arabic. It is difficult to export abroad. Besides France, it is challenging to understand this concept, even in Europe.
In reintroducing the debate on the status of the Catholic Church, Emmanuel Macron has apparently taken note of the return of religion in France. Confronted with poverty and a confused society, people turn to religion. The implementation of marriage for everyone, including homosexual unions, has incensed Catholic elements in France and thus divided the country in two.
Macron is walking on a thin line since French secularism forbids the state to meddle in religious affairs, only to perpetuate public order. It is an ongoing debate that has not ceased making headlines.Christian Chesnot
What Emanuel Macron wants to say to us is that the state is secular but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are too and that it is his duty to bring together all French citizens, whatever their faith or belief, since the country needs all the potential to bounce back. Hence he has reached out to the Catholics.
Here, Emmanuel Macron is not forgetting about the Muslims, the second religion in France, which has few places of worship. Catholics do not face this dilemma, since the great majority of churches and cathedrals were built before the law of 1905, hence received the aid of the State. For the Muslim community, it is a convoluted situation as they have to build a mosque on their own because, as the law of 1905 dictates, “the Republic does not subsidize any religion ...”
The great majority of French Muslims are migrants from the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) and black Africa (Senegal, Mali, Niger, etc.). Very often to fund their mosques, they revert to their countries of origin for funds. Earlier, this link was tolerated but now it is being questioned.
In a recent interview, Emmanuel Macron did not mince words when he said: “I do not want any more mosques that use secret capital.” A large number of Muslim places of worship are subsidized by the followers themselves, but it would appear that there is still much transparency needed.
The fact that Islamophobia is fueled by a militant communitarianism, it is crucial that all cards are laid on the table and that Islam gets its place in the Republic and it disposes itself off of its radical leanings.
Emmanuel Macron promises acts and reforms in this sense. All of his predecessors failed to create an Islamic structure in France. The French president is walking on a thin line since French secularism forbids the state to meddle in religious affairs, only to perpetuate public order. It is an ongoing debate that has not ceased making headlines.
Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.