Hanging In The Balance

As opinion polls produce results wobbling uncomfortably back-and-forth between ‘yes’ and a ‘no’, France is in the grips of a chaotic day of ‘solidarity under duress’ whose consequences for 29 May seem hard to foresee.

News that parliaments in Germany, Austria and Slovakia have approved the constitution treaty is tempered by the results of the latest poll from the Netherlands, and a growing awareness of the possible uncertainty of forthcoming votes in Denmark, Poland and Ireland (at this stage the Czech Republic has still to decide on whether to have a referendum). It is taken as read by all concerned that the constitution faces a major obstacle in the UK referendum to be held in 2006.
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Religious education in Europe

Following on from threads on Calpundit and Crooked Timber, and given that Europe seems to be at the centre of the debate over religious education in schools at present, what with the French headscarf debate and the proposals to add atheism, agnosticism and humanism to RE in British schools, I thought it would be interesting to get a picture of how the teaching of religion is handled in education systems across Europe.

Below the fold of this post, I’ve given my experiences of religious education at school in Britain and what I understand to be the present position. What I’d like is for our commenters and other contributors to add their experiences or knowledge in the comments box and we’ll see what sort of cross-continental picture we come up with. I’ll admit to being quite ignorant of the position outside Britain (though I know some of the system in France and Ireland) and hopefully we can all enlighten ourselves!
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I don’t suppose anybody’s watching ARTE tonight?

ARTE – a sort of Franco-German cooperative education channel – has been talking about the headscarf debate tonight. It’s a bit weird to watch. First, they showed a documentary about a school in Germany with a large Muslim community. Clearly, it was a relatively poor neighbourhood. The bulk of the documentary seemed dedicated to listening to teachers complain about the extra-workload all these students involve – language problems, parents forbidding their daughters to take swimming lesson, or requiring them to wear swimsuits that aren’t quite the same as the others. For a big chunk of it, we saw the teachers trying to organise a school trip to Berlin when the parents didn’t understand that the boys and girls would be staying entirely apart and would be chaperoned at all times or that they could request that the fee be waived if they were poor.

The teachers seemed to be mostly annoyed that the parents weren’t behaving the way they expected. Frankly, it looked to me like a normal day in the Montreal school system. I wasn’t really impressed by the complaining.

Then, they interviewed an imam of a fairly conservative mosque who pronounced on this and that for them, and pointed out that they could be more Muslim in Germany than in Turkey. But the parents they talked to seemed a lot less motivated by religion than a simple Archie-Bunkeresque sort of traditionalism. In one case, the father of a girl who wasn’t allowed to go on this field trip explained that he was a mostly secular second generation Turkish German and that it was the mother – a recent immigrant from Turkey – who insisted on this relative conservativism.
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The Strange Case of Odysseas Tsenai

In the news today the Comission and Spain/Poland are still haggling over the price of the constitution. Meantime from another pole of Europe, a curious story of one young Albanian, and the struggle to assert his elementary rights in his new homeland: Greece. My feeling is that in our current preoccupations, our conception of Europe lies too far to the North and too far to the West. I also think, that when we come to look at the contribution and participation of immigrants in Europe, we all too often forget the adversity they face.

Background: in 1990 the Greek Alabania border opened. Over the mountains and across the sea the Albanians started arriving in Greece. Their numbers were large but never counted: their number still constitutes material for scare stories on popular Greek TV. The actual number is unknown but it might be as high as a million all over Greece (if you include the ethnic Greek Albanians ). The first arrivals came from a country whose isolation was proverbial. They were destitute, blinded by the city lights and the consumer goods, and clueless as to what they could do to earn a living.
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