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French mayor’s ban on pork substitutes ‘anti-Muslim’

26th Jan 2018
French mayor’s ban on pork substitutes ‘anti-Muslim’

Mayor of Beaucaire and National Front member, Julien Sanchez has banned pork substitutes in school meals (Photo: Creative Commons)

Hajer M’tiri

A far-right mayor’s decision to ban pork substitutes in school meals has been slammed by the head of a watchdog group.

Julien Sanchez, mayor of Beaucaire town in the south of France and a member of the far-right National Front, outlawed as of January 15 alternatives to pork in school canteens, arguing substitute meals are “anti-republican” and violate France’s secular principles.

Abdallah Zekri, head of France’s Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (National Observatory Against Islamophobia), condemned what he called “an arbitrary and discriminatory decision”.

“It’s an unacceptable measure. We cannot accept that while some children are eating, others will just watch”, Zekri told Anadolu Agency by phone.

He pointed out that Sanchez’s decision is contrary to the principle of secularism, noting that secularism guarantees freedom of conscience and religion as a fundamental right for every citizen.

“He is using the respect of secularism as a pretext, but his action contradicts it. It is simply racism against Muslims. It is an anti-Muslim process,” he added, calling for the decision to be cancelled.

Sanchez’s move has been depriving around 150 mainly Muslim pupils, out of 600 students, of their “substitute meals” since January 15.

Anne Moiroud, head of the Beaucaire school district’s parents’ association, organised a picnic in the square in front of Beaucaire’s town hall to protest the decision on January 15.

“My issue is in fact that [Sanchez] seeks publicity for the National Front all throughout France but does not think of the children here in Beaucaire,” the angry parent told local news website ObjectifGard.

“It [substitute menus] has existed for 40 years. Children have the same rights as us concerning their freedom of religion, thought and expression. They have the right to eat pork or not to.”

Laure Cordelet, head of a local opposition group, said the mayor’s move “breached children’s rights” and “stigmatized the local Maghreb [North African] community.”

The decision, she added, “can in no way be justified in the name of secularism”.

Marlene Schiappa, France’s gender equality minister, also expressed her outrage, calling Sanchez “a typical example of someone brandishing secularism as an anti-Muslim political weapon, or anti-Jewish for that matter”.

A renewed controversy

This is not the first time that substitute meals have made headlines.

Gilles Platret, the mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône town in Burgundy from the centre-right Les Republican party, took a similar decision back in 2015 before a local court annulled it in 2017 on the grounds that limiting options was not in the best interests of children. He vowed to appeal.

In 2015, children at Piedalloues primary school in Auxerre, Burgundy who did not eat pork were ordered to wear at lunchtime red discs and those who did not eat meat to wear yellow disks.

Eighteen of the school’s 1,500 pupils were affected by the decision.

They were withdrawn after protests by angry parents and community leaders who said they were reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi occupation.

Former president Nicolas Sarközy made a controversial statement when seeking re-election in 2016.

He said “if a little guy’s family does not eat pork and the menu at the cafeteria is a slice of ham and fries, well, he skips the ham and eats a double helping of fries. In a republic, it’s the same rule and the same menu for everyone”.

In 2017, Michel Rotger, mayor of Chevigny-Saint-Sauveur and also a member of the conservative Republican party, announced the cancellation of alternative school menus that do not include pork to promote secular values in schools.

In April 2014 school cafeterias will stop serving non-pork options to children in towns won by the far-right National Front party in local elections previous week, its leader Marine Le Pen said.

“We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter into the public sphere.”

Le Pen’s anti-immigrant party made historic gains in municipal elections when it landed 11 mayorships, a significant electoral breakthrough for the party.

In March 2013 the school in the village of Arveyres in the Gironde region of south-west France stopped offering an alternative meal for children who did not eat pork, which is forbidden under Jewish and Muslim dietary laws.

Around 30 of the 180 children had up until then been offered a substitute meat when pork was on the menu.

Parents of some of those pupils affected took umbrage to the decision.

“We are not asking for halal or kosher meat,” one mother told France blue radio. “We just want a meal with substitute protein.”

Additional reporting by Ahmed J Versi

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