Despite France dealing with the economic, psychological and human suffering wrought by the coronavirus, President Emmanuel Macron is moving forward with controversial plans to authorize the teaching of Arabic in schools across the nation in cooperation with Tunisian authorities.
On May 2, at the same time France was preparing to first week of the lockdown, a decree was published in relation to teaching Arabic in schools, which was signed by Macron, the Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, according to French outlet Valeurs Actuelles.
The law states that France “in cooperation with Tunisian authorities” would provide “additional education in the Arabic language”. Tunisia will also have a direct role in selecting teachers for the program in France. “Depending on the needs of the language course, the government of the Tunisian Republic will select Tunisian teachers,” the text of the law reads. According to the law, this educational option would ensure “linguistic diversity” in France and would initiate the teaching for Arabic in French schools from the 1st grade. Arabic is the second most spoken language in France, with between 3 to 4 million speakers.
Under the new law, the option to study Arabic would be made available to French students all the way up until university. Although optional, the decree specifies that the results from Arabic courses will be taken into account when evaluating each student. Not limited to simply learning Arabic, students will also study Arabic culture and civilization and “notable elements of Tunisian culture”.
‘The Arabization and Islamization of France is on the march’
Since the publication of the decree, indignation has flourished on all sides across social networks. On May 2, Jean Messiha, part of the National Rally, produced a statement on Twitter slamming the new law. “By decree of April 30, 2020, the anti-national government plans to teach Arabic from elementary school at an age when children barely discover the French language. The Arabization and Islamization of France is on the march,” Messiha wrote.
For his part, Belkacem Lounès, former Rhône-Alpes EELV regional advisor and ardent defender of the Berber cause, attacked the minister violently on the Facebook page of Berbères TV, “We wonder what objective is pursuing the Minister of National education and the French government? Is this a way to appease, even to attract the sympathy of Islamists from here and elsewhere for whom Arabic is the sacred language of the Koran?” Tensions about possible implementation of the law have been flaring on and off for nearly two years. In September of last year, Hakim El Karoui, essayist and founder of the Muslim Association for Islam in France, published a report in which he advocated teaching Arabic at school. According to him, integrating the language of Muhammad into the school system would allow the central state’s monopoly of learning be brought into a more local and community setting.
A few days later, Jean-Michel Blanquer, who had just been appointed Minister of National Education, claimed that he was won over by the proposal from El Karoui, writing, “We must give prestige to these languages. Arabic is a great literary language which should not only be learned by people of North African origin or from Arabic-speaking countries. It is this qualitative strategy that we will pursue.”
Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally, vigorously rejected Blanquer’s proposal, saying, “Of course, there is a great Arab culture, but here is France, and I want us to learn French culture.” Politicians like Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of Debout la France, told BFM TV, “This is the beginning of a fatal track for the country. I do not want the Arabization of France.” The idea behind the decree actually dates back to a Franco-Tunisian agreement from March 31, 2017, initiated by Minister of National Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem at the time for former Prime Minister François Hollande. Vallaud-Belkacem had previously denounced Greco-Latin language lessons, referring to them as elitist.