When Aïcha Tabbakhe, a French nurse, went to fill out the forms for her children’s school dinners in her small town outside Paris, she was puzzled. The box she would usually tick to say that her Muslim children didn’t eat pork wasn’t there.
“Confused, I called the town hall and I was bluntly told: ‘From now on, that’s the way it is,’” she said. “Pork or nothing.”
And I suppose ‘nothing’ is an OUTRAGE…?
For 30 years, Chilly-Mazarin has provided non-pork alternatives to Muslim and Jewish children. But from November, that will stop.
On days when the menu features dishes such as roast pork with mustard and courgette gratin, or Strasbourg sausage and organic lentils, or ham pasta bake, children whose families don’t eat pork for religious reasons will be offered nothing but the side dishes.
So it isn’t ‘nothing’, then?
“It’s the impact on the children that has been the hardest,” says Tabbakhe. “My four-year-old daughter is too young to understand that she doesn’t eat pork. It’s not something she’s aware of and it’s not something we talk about. What am I supposed to tell her now? We tried to subtly tell her we didn’t eat pork at home. But she thought ‘pork’ was a type of dessert. She said, ‘Yes, I do eat it, it’s delicious.’ That would be funny if it wasn’t such an awful situation.
If she’s too young to understand the tenets of a religion, then just maybe she’s too young for that religion. Ever think of that?
She is totally confused and has picked up on the atmosphere. She’s crying at school and says she doesn’t want to eat at the canteen. My nine-year-old son went door to door with a parents’ association petition against this and got lots of signatures from non-Muslim parents who were upset. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Mum, I won’t eat it.’ He shouldn’t have to be worrying about this. School is supposed to be about learning and living together, not about this. Now my nine-year-old is starting to ask, ‘Why am I different?’
I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that discussion!
Once a rallying cry of the left, secularism has now been appropriated by the right, and even the far-right Front National, as part of a debate on national identity – used to rail against anything seen as not French, and particularly to target and exclude Islam from the public sphere.
Good. It’s about time this tawdy & dangerous faith was treated the way it treats other faiths when it’s in the driving seat.
Earlier this year, when another Sarkozy-backed mayor, Gilles Platret, scrapped pork-free options in the Burgundy town of Chalon-sur-Saône, the Muslim Judicial Defence League took him to court.
The group’s lawyer, Karim Achoui, says: “A child would be extremely traumatised if a pork cutlet was served to him and he was obliged to eat it after he has been repeatedly told from a young age that it is forbidden food.”
If that’s the worst trauma of his life, he’s doing fine.