Adventures in Laïcité

Christmas time is traditionally a period of religious tension and social stress, and the first Christmas since the advent of “laïcité républicaine” has not spared France. Last month, students in Lagny-sur-Marne (Seine-et-Marne, e.g. outer Paris) had to give up their Christmas tree after a group of students (from what I’ve read, the principle won’t say what faith they professed if any) demanded the strict application of French law concerning secularism in the schools.

Students, parents, the French press and of course the usual suspects were shocked to discover that the idea of secularism might apply to their treasured fetishes. The tree was ultimately restored, from what I can garner from the press, following claims that Christmas trees are pagan and secular, not religious, in nature. In any other country, pagan and secular are mutually exclusive terms, and if a garment is religious, a holiday damn well can be too. I did not see an exception for Druidism in the “Loi sur la Laicité”. Besides, if we are to accept claims of secularism, where does it stop? I have to wonder if an Arab girl who claims to wear a headscarf not because its a religious symbol but because she’s having a bad hair day gets the same consideration.

Alas, the passage of the holidays has not made matters better. Today’s AP feed brings news that Muslim children may be expelled for failing to eat the meat offered in the school cafeteria. The letter making this threat was sent to twenty-odd Muslim parents. There was no mention of vegetarian students. Apparently “all children must eat all the dishes served, even if only a small portion” in order to have a “balanced diet.” Now, I went to university in Strasbourg and I saw the kind of meat on offer in university cafeterias. It was years before I could bring myself to eat rabbit after living in France. French cuisine may merit it’s reputation, but the national reputation for taste does not extend to school lunches. I have the strong suspicion that no vegetarian, Jewish, or simply fussy child will ever be the target of such a decision.

Promises that this law would apply equally to all religons are revealed to be the farce they always were. I stand by my prediction: this law is a fiasco. It will solve no problems, liberate no one, and create nothing but idiocy and new contradictions. It is already serving as an excuse for the institutionalisation of bigotry.

Sheffield a la mar

I have to confess to having had a fairly sucky 2004. Most of the causes are personal, and frankly not very interesting. But, as an example, my plan to spend the holiday season in Tunisia was abruptly cancelled because my wife got chicken pox. So, needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to 2005.

The wife got over her pox just a few days before Christmas, leaving us scrambling to find a vacation that both fit our respective work calendars, didn’t cost too much, and wasn’t booked solid. Consequently, I found myself at Zaventem airport at four in the morning on Christmas day fighting a miserable crowd so I could spend a week at Benidorm, Valencia, Spain.

I can’t claim I wasn’t warned. I did know that Benidorm – and the rest of the Costa Blanca – is something of a joke in the Dutch speaking part of Europe. After a week there, I still haven’t been in Spain. As far as I can tell, thanks to daily discount charter service between Sheffield and Alicante, the Costa Blanca is simply a warm, low-tax part of Yorkshire.
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