Can state backed and handpicked Muslim representatives gain the trust and legitimacy of the country's Muslim population? The French government hopes so.

The French government announced that in a matter of days, it would seek to dissolve the state-backed French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) created almost 20 years ago. 

Founded in 2003 by the then French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, the CFCM, from its inception, has been a controversial body with no legal standing but acts as a conduit between the French state and its Muslim population.

Now the government of President Emmanuel Macron is calling for its dissolution because it says the body has been "completely paralysed" and unable to do the government's bidding. 

It accuses the body of posing in front of cameras to remind people that Islam was "a religion of peace and love" instead of talking about the government's talking points on Islam, including alleged radicalisation and extremism. 

The new body that the government aims to replace CFCM with will be called the "forum of Islam in France." 

Macron's right-wing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wants the new body to remain uninfluenced by foreign governments and to show an active commitment to the state ideology of secularism. 

Rayan Freschi, a legal jurist in France and a researcher at the British-based human rights organisation CAGE, says that the French state wants to enjoy a monopoly of influence over its Muslim citizens. 

"They're trying to establish a community whose leaders are fully submitted to the State's ideology," says Freschi speaking to TRT World

The state wants to ensure that there is "no faith inspired political dissent," adds Freschi.

The attempt to replace CFCM with the new body is a recognition that the first attempt was "indeed a failure and this is a second shot," says Freschi, the difference this time he adds is that "it's way more organised."

Unlike their counterparts amongst other faiths in France, a test will be applied to French Muslim leaders under the new scheme. 

They will have to promise to have little contact with their countries of origin and eschew any links with transnational religious movements. 

A similar test, for instance, has not been applied to the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Vatican City. 

Nor has pressure been applied to the country's Catholic Church following revelations that more than 3,000 priests and church lay workers had abused more than 300,000 children and that the state would step in and vet who it considers acceptable to lead church congregations.

For the country's Muslim community, that double standard is part of what Freschi calls a growing pressure and intensity on the country's Muslim community that is unheard of. 

Following the establishment of the "forum of Islam in France," says Freschi, it's going to be "extremely difficult for any mosque in France not to join the new structure."

"The very harsh pressure the State exercises on those who refuse to join" will mean that, unlike CFCM, the state will bring its power to bear on people who believe that the French state has no business interfering in the affairs of the Muslim community. 

Macron's party over the past few years has incrementally ratcheted up his government's anti-Muslim policies, which has included the closure of Muslims schools, mosques, Islamic charities, organisations monitoring Islamophobia, publishing houses, and even pressuring mosques to sign a charter that forbids talking about discrimination and racism faced by the community.

The French human rights defender, Elias d'Imzalene, calls Macron’s policies a "radicalisation" of the French state, which has resulted in a broad consensus targeting the country's Muslim population.

D'Imzalene believes that when French government policies against the Muslim community is taken as a whole, it amounts to an attempt to reduce the influence of Islam amongst its practitioners. 

By doing away with CFCM and creating a new body, the "French administration and the security services, will choose the Muslim community's 'representatives' with the first criteria being: betrayal of the Muslim community and its principles," says d'Imzalene speaking to TRT World.

Macron's approach to Muslims, says d'Imzalene, represents "proof" that French secularism is once again "reconnecting with its colonial" disposition to "police us, our customs and beliefs and the control of our religion and its believers."

Source: TRT World