ANKARA: French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday that he will restrict other countries from sending imams and Islamic teachers to France in what he said is an attempt to counter “foreign interference.”
A new law is also being prepared to ensure transparency over how mosques are financed, the French leader said.
The moves are part of a longstanding campaign to have more say over imams and Islamic teachers sent to France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community.
Macron highlighted the risk of “separatism” and “foreign interference” in the way Islam is practiced in the country.
He said the French Muslim Council (CFCM) has been instructed to focus on training imams on French territory, and ensuring they speak French and do not spread radical views.
France will receive its last intake of imams in 2020.
Macron said France will establish bilateral agreements with other countries to allow French authorities to have control over school courses and their content starting in September.
France currently has agreements with nine countries whereby their governments can send teachers to French schools to teach students originally from these countries on culture and language, without any supervision from French authorities.
From September, France is not expected to provide classes in other languages by using curricula of other countries, including Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia.
The move is designed to halt the rising number of teachers who are unable to speak French and are disconnected from the national education system.
“From September, the teaching of culture, and in foreign languages, will be removed from everywhere on Republic soil,” Macron said.
Turkey is the only country with which France has yet to reach an agreement on the issue.
“Turkey today can make the choice to follow that path with us or not, but I won’t let any foreign country feed a cultural, religious or identity-related separatism on our Republic’s ground. We cannot have Turkey’s laws on France’s ground. No way,” Macron said.
Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, assistant professor at London Metropolitan University, said Turkey’s educational and religious activities abroad have provided Ankara with a perfect tool to control and monitor the diaspora.
“It is part of Turkey’s longstanding ambition and extra-territorial policy to be a leader in the Muslim world. Mosques and educational institutions have become a political tool and a propaganda method in Ankara’s hands,” he told Arab News.
According to Ozturk, Turkey’s illiberal regime is strengthening its grip on Islamic preaching abroad.
“Following the failed coup attempt in 2016, the ruling Justice and Development Party, and especially President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, emphasized establishing political and religious domination over diaspora Muslims in their struggle against the religiously motivated movement of Fethullah Gulen, believed to be the mastermind behind the coup attempt,” he said.
Mosques abroad have cooperated with the Turkish intelligence agency, sparking fears over “imams spying on their followers,” he said.
“Now Turkey is accused of exporting domestic politics via religious apparatus,” Ozturk said.
France has around 300 imams from abroad, working across 2,500 places of worship around the country. About 150 imams are sent from Turkey, 120 from Algeria and 30 from Morocco.
Ankara has not responded to Macron’s announcement.