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After two bloody attacks, France plans crackdown on radical Islam

In the wake of two bloody terrorist attacks, the French government is planning new legislation to crack down on radical Islam. Right-wingers are worried the new law isn't enough, but opponents are afraid it could alienate France’s large Muslim minority and turn more people against the state. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Paris.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Returning now to today's news from France of convictions in the 2015 "Charlie Hebdo" killings in Paris and controversial new legislation the French government is planning, in order to crack down on radical Islam.

    From Paris, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Paris and its landmarks are eerily quiet because of the coronavirus lockdown.

    But the tranquility is a mirage, because a battle is taking place for the soul of France, and its core principle of secularism, where religion should never interfere with citizens' rights.

    The beheading in October of Parisian teacher Samuel Paty by a Chechen Islamist was the catalyst for change. Paty was killed as the "Charlie Hebdo" terrorist trial began. He was targeted for showing people cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on free expression.

    The cartoons triggered the 2015 attacks that led to today's convictions.

    President Macron clearly has one religion in his sights.

    President of France Emmanuel Macron (through translator): Samuel Paty on Friday became the face of the republic, of our desire to break terrorism, to diminish Islamists, to live as a community of free citizens in our country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Two days after Macron's speech, three worshipers at Nice's Notre Dame Basilica were butchered by a Tunisian extremist, Brahim Aouissaoui, who was apparently inspired by the slaughter of Samuel Paty.

  • Gilles Kepel:

    You have to fight an atmosphere of jihadism which is being widespread by those entrepreneurs of wrath or hatred on the Internet, and that will lead others to take a butcher's knife and stab you.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Professor Gilles Kepel is one of Europe's most prominent experts on jihadism.

  • Gilles Kepel:

    It's not at all impossible to win the battle. And this is why the support of, among others, the vast majority of our Muslim compatriots is so important, so crucial, because they are the first ones who are targeted. And they are the ones who want to get rid of those guys. And this is why this is not at all an anti-Muslim law.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The new law will ban foreign imams from training clerics in France. Financing of mosques will be more tightly controlled. Homeschooling will be restricted to prevent religious indoctrination.

    Paris' great mosque, with its North African design, is the spiritual home of France's six million Muslims.

  • Chems-Eddine Hafiz (through translator):

    We need to be very careful. I think we are in a very sensitive situation.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Chems-Eddine Hafiz is rector of Paris' Great Mosque.

  • Chems-Eddine Hafiz (through translator):

    The Muslims of France are peaceful people that want to live peacefully an authentic Islam, a religious practice, not an ideological one, and that's extremely important.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In the current climate, devout Muslim Naouelle Garnoussi feels increasingly alienated in her own country.

  • Naouelle Garnoussi (through translator):

    I am French. My grandmother is French. My grandmother's name is Annick. My great-grandmother's name was Antoinette. It can't be more French than that. But sometimes, I feel like I am not French anymore, only a Muslim. And that's not easy to live with.

  • Chems-Eddine Hafiz (through translator):

    I have told the president, whatever happens, I will be your partner when you decide to go against Islamist separatism. But I will remain extremely vigilant about any attempt to take French Muslims hostage in this matter.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But that moderate promise of cooperation is opposed by many Muslims around the world. This protest in Bangladesh was one of the more vigorous.

    International opposition to President Macron's support for the Mohammed cartoons and also his crackdown on Islam is being led by Turkey's President Erdogan. Erdogan has even gone so far as to question the state of President Macron's mental health. Erdogan has warned Europe that no good will come from hostility towards Islam and Muslims. And he's called for a widespread economic boycott of all French products.

    President pf Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator): It is a matter of honor for us to stand sincerely against attacks on our prophet. They want to relaunch a crusade. These are the signs of Europe's return to the barbaric era.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Erdogan's rhetoric has also laid down a challenge to Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration right-wing National Rally Party.

    She was soundly beaten in the 2017 presidential election by Emmanuel Macron. But the latest opinion polls show them nick and neck. Le Pen is going to run again in 18 months' time and is confident of winning.

  • Marine Le Pen (through translator):

    It is within parallel societies that fundamentalists have come to recruit within our country. Islamism is at war against us. And so I want to see a willingness to take action.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Le Pen believes the new law doesn't go far enough because it doesn't limit mass immigration.

  • Marine Le Pen (through translator):

    This Islamic fundamentalism is a fundamentalism that is imported. It wasn't born in France's homes. It was imported. As long as we refuse to see that, we refuse to put in place the right solutions.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Clementine Autain is a lawmaker with the left-wing Insubordinate France Party and accuses the president of adopting right-wing policies to try to neutralize the threat from Le Pen.

  • Clementine Autain (through translator):

    The new law is a war machine against all Muslims. And I think it's a dangerous strategy. It's a strategy that could antagonize them, let them fall into certain ideologies, not necessarily jihadist, but at least a radical Islam that evidently turns its back on the republic.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Patrick Pelloux worked for the French satirical publication "Charlie Hebdo" until 2015, when two Islamists murdered 11 of his colleagues, and he couldn't bear to continue.

  • Patrick Pelloux (through translator):

    We are at a crossroads. It's now or it's over, meaning that the concept of enlightenment, the philosophy of living together, the law, the defensive laws, French society's emancipation, the continuity of its history, and its civilizing conquests would stop.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    These images underscore the disconnect between France and some of the Muslim world.

    It's the funeral in Chechnya of 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, killed by French police after beheading the teacher Samuel Paty. The young Chechen was given a hero's send-off.

    Back in Paris, troops on the streets are supposed to make the French feel more secure, but their very presence means another terrorist outrage is expected soon.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

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