An anti-cult revival in France after three terrorist attacks?

Two recent attacks, barely a month apart, by Islamic extremists has intensified France’s struggle with political Islam, but it may also be reviving the government’s controversial campaign against “cults,” according to new religious movement specialists. After the attacks in October, one involving the beheading of a teacher accused of blasphemy by his killers, President Macron publicly stepped up his campaign against political Islamism, taking measures to deport at least 200 individuals who were considered a radical threat by security forces would now be deported from France. Macron also announced a new law as a measure against radical Islam. The provision focuses on Islam, but also can be used to target other religious movements, writes Massimo Introvigne in a release from his center on new religions, CESNUR (October 11).  A draft of the law announces the “end of home schooling” in general, “except in cases justified by medical conditions.” Introvigne writes that this provision will target a number of Christian communities along with the Muslims.

He adds that the draft also “explains that places of worship will be put under increasing surveillance and ‘preserved […] from the diffusion of ideas and statements hostile to the laws of the Republic.’ Again, the law cannot target Muslims only for obvious constitutional reasons. What about a priest or pastor criticizing abortion or same-sex marriage, which are part of the laws of the French Republic, but also claiming that certain ‘laws of the Republic’ penalize the poor and the immigrants?” Introvigne writes that there is also a provision that allows religious and other associations to be dissolved in case of “attacks on personal dignity” and the “use of psychological or physical pressures.” In light of France’s anti-cult history, he argues that the provision will be used against groups labeled as “cults,” and that a term such as “psychological pressures” is reminiscent of the old idea of “brainwashing.” Last year, the official French anticult mission MIVILUDES was moved from being an independent structure under the Prime Minister to becoming a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ anti-radicalization system.