On Sunday, September 16, Institut Montaigne, a non-profit, trans-partisan think tank based in France released a 617-page report titled “The Islamist Factory” by Hakim El Karoui. The report outlines and defines Islamism and its development in France and Europe and calls for understanding Islam based on reason, rather than fear.
One of the recommendations proposed by the report is to mobilize the French Ministry of Education to train schools and educators on combatting religious extremism. This includes reviving the “learning of the Arabic language” since “Arabic courses have become for Islamists the best means of attracting youth in their mosques and schools.”Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s Education Minister, agreed with the report, arguing on local television programs that Arabic should indeed find a place in the French curriculum. The suggestion sparked outrage from the French far-right.
In a statement to public radio channel France Inter, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, head of the Debout La France far-right party, responded to the language proposal saying he is “totally hostile to the Arabization of France and the Islamization of the country.” In a tweet, Robert Ménard, a far-right mayor in the South of France, claimed the proposal would “legitimize the birth of another nation in France.” Other far-right politicians took to the airwaves and social media to express their disdain for the proposal, suggesting France is adapting to the “problem” [of Islamic extremism] rather than resolving it.
While the push to teach Arabic in schools may seem like an inclusive one, the motive behind it has undeniably racist undertones. Identifying Arabic as a whole as being a gateway to religious extremism and monitoring its teaching for this sole reason will do little to encourage openness and understanding toward Muslims.
This racism is amply reflected in French society. In May, it was reported that famous French restaurant, L’Avenue, had a system in place to keep out customers with Arabic-sounding names, as well as women in headscarves. Earlier this month, French rapper Médine, who is Muslim, canceled two concerts at the Bataclan in Paris over threats from far-right groups, which planned to demonstrate against his music. Far right leader Marine La Pen tweeted that the cancellation was a “victory for all victims of Islamist terrorism.” The Bataclan was the site of the 2015 November Paris attacks, claimed by ISIS, that killed over 130 people.
Linguistic oppression has long been a tool of governments to curb the influence of “outside” languages, peoples, and cultures, to censor minorities, and suppress their ability to communicate with one another to oppose colonialism, as France did in its former Arab-majority colonies of Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
Currently, only 0.2% of France’s secondary-school students study Arabic even though the language is the second-most-spoken in the country. Arabic has also influenced France’s rich street slang, firmly establishing itself in mainstream French culture, whether mainstream French society likes it or not. As France’s Muslim population continues to grow, the government must diligently work to promote an inclusive and safe society for all.