First the Hijab, and now Halal food. France’s uneasy debate in national identity and the supposed ‘place’ of Islam has now turned to tackling Halal Food. There have been many political spats and protests saying that this new ban is telling the nation’s Muslim and Jewish children that to be a truly French, you need to eat Roast Pork. What’s the true meaning of ‘French Secularism’ and has it been twisted by the Charlie Hebdo attacks?
Now, to be ‘truly French’, do you need to eat Pork? Or do you simply need to be loyal citizens that have the interest of the country at heart?

The town of Beaucaire in Southern France has removed Pork-Free school meals. Julien Sanchez, the National Front mayor of Beaucaire, abolished the scheme on the first day of the new school term because it was ‘Anti-Republican.’ This action affects about 150 – mainly Muslim – pupils who take the substitution meals out of 600 local students in total.

The opposition leader in Beaucaire, Laure Cordelet, called it “an attack on the rights of children” which “stigmatises the Maghreb [north African] community and can in no way be justified in the name of secularism”. I agree fully. Article 14 of UNICEF’s rights for children ‘All children have the right to think and believe what they want, and to practise their religion.’ Removing Halal Food from school canteens is preventing them from following one of Islam’s most prominent teachings of not eating pork.

“It’s the impact on the children that has been the hardest,” says Aïcha Tabbakhe, who is a French nurse. “My four-year-old daughter is too young to understand that she doesn’t eat pork. It’s not something she’s aware of and it’s not something we talk about. What am I supposed to tell her now? We tried to subtly tell her we didn’t eat pork at home. But she thought ‘pork’ was a type of dessert. She said, ‘Yes, I do eat it, it’s delicious.’ That would be funny if it wasn’t such an awful situation. She is totally confused and has picked up on the atmosphere. She’s crying at school and says she doesn’t want to eat at the canteen. My nine-year-old son went door to door with a parents’ association petition against this and got lots of signatures from non-Muslim parents who were upset. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Mum, I won’t eat it.’ He shouldn’t have to be worrying about this. School is supposed to be about learning and living together, not about this. Now my nine-year-old is starting to ask, ‘Why am I different?’”

The excuse used to justify this action is the fact it is ‘Anti-Republican.’ Using political views to justify an action that affects any group of people is a weak form of an argument. It’s called ‘discrimination.’ We must not, in any way shape or form use secularism to stop people practicing their faith. If this was the case, it would be total anarchy. Religion is part of our identity, and we should be allowed to freely incorporate it in daily life. After all is this not freedom of expression too?


By Zain Malik

#Editor Book Review Section


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