France has denied planning to selectively track Muslim children with ID tags after a false story went viral around the world

LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty ImagesFrench President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday.
  • France has denounced a false viral claim about a new system designed to track students’ attendance.
  • On Wednesday, France set out a new bill meant to prevent Islamic extremism by giving all children in France identification numbers to ensure they are attending school. France is concerned that homeschooling and dropping out lead to radicalisation.
  • A viral claim on social media, however, had said only Muslim children would be tagged, leading Pakistan’s human-rights minister to accuse Macron of “doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews.”
  • France’s ministry for European and foreign affairs tweeted Sunday that the claims were “absolutely false.”
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The French government has moved to quash a false viral story about a new plan to track students’ attendance.

President Emmanuel Macron first outlined details of the plan last week in a bill meant to stamp out Islamic extremism. Under the bill, all children would be assigned identification numbers meant to track and ensure their attendance in school.

Though the plan came in response to a string of recent terrorist attacks linked to Islamic extremism, a false narrative quickly emerged as reams of tweets and news reports claimed that only Muslim children would be tracked.

“Any so-called information pertaining to alleged intent to register children being schooled in France based on religion, belief or origin, is absolutely false,” the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs wrote in a tweet Sunday.

One of those who proliferated the misinformation was Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s minister for human rights, who tweeted Saturday that “Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews.”

Mazari later deleted the tweet and clarified that the information was incorrect.

France is concerned that children who drop out of school or are homeschooled are in danger of being radicalized. “We must save our children from the clutches of the Islamists,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told Le Figaro on Wednesday.

The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs tweeted Sunday: “All children must attend school. Home schooling will be limited to exceptional circumstances.”

Every child in France who attends a state school already has a number, called “identifiant national élève,” but the new bill would expand that to private schools and homeschooling. The bill is set to be discussed by French ministers on December 9.

Macron’s criticism of Islam sparks a backlash

The backlash is the latest episode in a tense feud between France and the Muslim world that has been brewing for the past five years.

France experienced several terrorist attacks this autumn: the beheading of the Paris schoolteacher Samuel Paty on October 16, the killing of three people at a church in Nice on October 29, and the shooting of a Greek Orthodox priest in Lyon on October 30.

Paty was killed after showing his class cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad that were first published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Two extremists killed 12 of the magazine’s staff members in Paris in 2015 after the cartoons were first published.

Since 2015, 276 people have been killed in 72 terrorist attacks in France.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 27: (RUSSIA OUT) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) attend their joint press conference at the Summit on October 27, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Turkey have gathered in Istanbul for a one-day summit on Syrian crisis. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)Mikhail Svetlov/Getty ImagesMacron with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 27, 2018, in Istanbul.

While violent extremists make up only a fraction of the world’s Muslims, Macron said on October 1 that Islam was “a religion in crisis all over the world.”

As a result, a call for a boycott of French goods spread across the Muslim world, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying Macron needed a “mental check.”

In response, France recalled its ambassador from Ankara.

Macron, who has defended secularism, known as lacité in France, said France would not censor people to avoid causing offence. “I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw,” he said on November 1.

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