Archive for the ‘French Politics’ Category
New Low for Académie française.
I suppose any institution claiming to represent the heights of French culture that includes former French President and mediocrity Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (still, amazingly, alive, though it’s often hard to tell) lacks, shall we say, all credibility.
But the election of Alain Finkielkraut to the “immortals” has introduced a new low.
Finkielkraut occupys the same place in French philosophy and culture, as, say, Peter Hitchins.
He began with some, middlebrow, writings in the tradition of Emmanuel Levinas. He celebrated Jewish culture and sometimes offered penetrating insights into post-Shoah Jewish identity. Some may admire his stand on the break up of Yugoslavia, where he was beside himself against Serbia. Fewer, perhaps, would have admired his close friendship with Croat leader, and Holocaust denier, Franjo Tuđman.
In recent years Finkielkraut has been distinguished by a relentless hatred of anything he believes threatens French identity.
If anybody wants to distinguish left-republican secularism from what Finkielkraut’s critics call his « républicano-communautariste » it is easy to do.
He explicitly attacks multiculturalism from the right, offering only a tale of woe and decline faced with immigration and métissage (Mixing, cultural and ethnic). As one can imagine he has had the courage of those going with the grain of conservative prejudice to oppose “political correctness” – a term as wide as it is vacuous.
By contrast Jean-Luc Mélenchon has explicitly defended” ” métissage” as the basis for a new class unifying republican socialist left.
Over the last year Finkielkraut has become even more obsessed – were it possible – with “l’identité française”.
He complains that France is an “auberge espagnole” (a pejorative term, in this context, for a mixture of people living together) in which the ethnically true French dare not speak out. (L’Identité malheureuse, d’Alain Finkielkraut. 2013)
Despite the occasional exalted language Finkielkraut resembles a Peter Hitchins, or a French version of Nigel Farage.
It is with no surprise that we learn that his election to the Académie française met opposition. The columnist scraped in with 16 votes out of the 28 members of the august body.
Militant atheists should ‘get over it’ and accept Britain is a ‘Christian nation’, according to communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Having previously introduced laws that ensure parish councils can avoid legal challenges for holding prayers in public meetings, Pickles this weekend urged non-believers to avoid imposing their ‘politically correct intolerance’ on others.
Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum, the communities secretary said he had ‘stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish’.
‘Heaven forbid,’ he added. ‘We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.’
In his speech, Pickles said the Government had also ‘backed British values’ and ‘stopped Whitehall appeasing extremism of any sort. Be it the EDL, be it extreme Islamists or be thuggish far-left, they’re all as bad as each other’. From here
This follows the much more strident claim by Baroness Warsi in February that,
For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”
There have been many commentaries on this bluster.
One of the best, by Matt Broomfield (Left Foot Forward), focuses on the secular alternative to Pickles’s ‘Christian nation’.
What is secularism?
Following Broomfield we note that,
Secularism is not Atheism.
Secularism is the policy of opening up society to all beliefs by making no one faith or non-faith a central part of the public sphere. This means no public subsidies for religious groups, and certainly no “established” Church. It means that education is free from religious doctrine. It means that official religious values, symbols and practices in these areas – such as schools – should be excluded.
It is not Extremist.
Broomfield states, “In his speech, Pickles aligned secularism with the extremist doctrines of the English Defence League and militant Islam, saying “they’re all as bad as each other”. In reality, secularism is not a religious or political ideology at all, so much as it is the absence of any one dominant ideology.
It is not Intolerant.
Broomfield notes that secularism has nothing to do with the Marine Le Pen’s claim that Front National schools will only lay on pork for children to eat. This is as bad as forcing people to eat Halal food (something rigorously forbidden from diet example, to all Sikhs). Le Pen is not a secularist – she has backed Catholic led-demonstrations against gay marriage and teaching gender equality in schools. Such has been the importance of this clash that Libération has a whole special section on its site devoted to it: here. Those citing the FN should look there before pontificating about its opportunistic ‘secularism’.
But more is needed.
In Britain the education system, particularly through ‘free schools’ and academies’ has been wide open to the influence of faith groups. These have imposed their narrow agenda with public funding.
Some on the ‘left’ would no doubt prefer Pickles to promote faith more broadly.
The multiculturalism that has been used to promote religious causes, from reinforcing traditional authority, to the state where active communalism, with public subsidy is promoted by municipalities like Tower Hamlets. It bolsters reactionary political influence of religious groups – the opposite the aim of secularists who wish to make the public domain open and free from bigotry.
Only a militant, that is vigilant, secularism, can fight back against this.
It requires not just the ‘absence’ of an official doctrine but a conscious effort to undermine religious dogma.
That is, not an official replacement doctrine but a call for mass pressure and activity to create free spaces for people’s ideas, culture and values.
Contrasts with the Front National.
But before one lie gets repeated again and again, nobody has ever proposed the following (as Broomfield claims), “the National Front’s plans to force Muslim schoolchildren to eat pork.”
A weaker version of this claim, closer to the truth, is made by the Bob Pitt,
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.
The Front National proposes to put pork on the menu in all school canteens.
In practice this has not meant denying an alternative.
« Il y a toujours eu deux menus dans les cantines : l’un avec porc, l’autre sans porc pour ceux qui ne désirent pas enconsommer. Naturellement, cette possibilité sera préservée dans les cantines de Fréjus, l’essentiel étant que la liberté de chacun soit préservée »
There has always been two menus in the canteens: one with pork, the other without pork, for those who don’t want to eat it. These possibilities will be maintained in the canteens of Fréjus” (Front National town).
Today Le Monde summarises the real conditions which the Front National operates within.
It debunks some myths. Essentially that there is a major issue about Halal food in French school, and that Marine Le Pen’s Party is laying down an important marker on the subject.
The question of pork is a sign of secularism in danger
But the issue is not new, the vast majority of canteens offers alternative dishes and have done for decades, and no religious organisation has recently made a special request on this subject.
Le Pen’s party will not accept halal in canteens
But there is none in the places where the party is in charge.
Impose the presence of pork on school menus
This is already the case for all menus that we could see in towns run by the FN.
- But maintaining a substitute menu
But this, too, is already the case in most FN run towns
- If the municipality cannot offer an alternative to pork dishes, would it keep the pork?
This is already the case in the past for menus in FN controlled towns.
- Finally, will the president of FN ensure that “there are always two menus”
This is mostly true for municipalities run by the FN, it is not in general the practice
So, not only is Halal Food not a major topic of controversy, but that all it boils down to in practice is that the Front National claims that it will “offer” a pork menu.
The only really major fault of their position (distasteful rhetoric aside) is that they do not guarantee to offer an alternative Halal – or vegetarian? – dish.
But in practice they do: as can be seen below.
|Ville FN||Restauration||Porc dans les menus||Substitution proposée?|
France has a new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, from the right-wing of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste).
Valls, who received a mere 5% in the party’s -primary’ to select a Presidential candidate , is known as a “social liberal”, with an authoritarian streak. Although he has progressive secularist views, and is a ferocious opponent of racists like Dieudonné, he has an illiberal streak. Valls is also accused of anti-Rom views amongst many other doubtful opinions.
He is one of the very few French politicians to refer to Tony Blair as an inspiration.
Valls is sometimes known as a “Sarkozy of the Left”.
Notable in his Cabinet is the President’s former partner, Ségolène Royal, nominated as Minister of Ecology. On the left of the Socialists, Benoît Hamon, remains but is now Education Minister.
The French Greens (EELV) have broken their coalition with the Parti Socailiste and do not participate in the new government.
This is their declaration (adapted),
The ecologists take note of the will of the President of the Republic to learn from the the municipal elections. In particular, they note that the President of the Republic has announced an end to dependence of our country on oil and nuclear power .
However, we would have hoped for a real shift in direction. The existing budget guidelines remain unchallenged and it does not seem probable that likely that a large-scale transition to new forms of energy use corresponding to our wishes, is taking place.
The ecologists will support the government whenever it engages on the path of progress and ecology, but will oppose any changes which do not meet green criteria,.
Despite the proposals made by Manuel Valls, the conditions within the government do not exist for Europe Ecologie Les Verts participation. We will, nevertheless, be vigilant partners of the government, to make sure that such a (energy) transition occurs.
Emmanuelle Cosse, National Secretary of the Executive Board and EELV
This move has proved unpopular with their own supporters, 93% of EELV backers do not agree with the decision. (93%). Daniel Cohn-Bendit has denounced their change in direction.
Reports indicate that the party is in the middle of a massive row about this step.
To outsiders it would seem that making the “transition” to a Green energy policy the principal basis for a break with the government is odd.
It is certainly not a major concern of the European left.
The reference to the budget is also far from clear.
Are they against austerity or not?
We would suggest that the stormy relations between Valls and the Greens have a more obvious origin.
The Green leader Cécile Duflot has clashed with the new Prime Minister when she was Housing Minister, and cordially detests him. They clashed last year over her stand in favour of decriminalising cannabis.
The French media has not been slow to accuse Duflot of making a “personal” choice for the rest of her party, though how far her influence extends to the EELV as a whole remains in doubt.
Does this have wider implications?
Are European Greens finally breaking with the politics of austerity pursued by centre-left leaders like France’s President François Hollande?
This is far from certain.
France’s Greens are proud of winning the town of Grenoble, with the backing of the Parti de Gauche of Jean-Luc Mélenchon against the Socialists who were allied with…..the Parti Communiste Français…
More information on that from the Alternatifs Grenoble, enfin « une ville pour tous ! »