Sunday, September 05, 2010

pardon my french, pardon my halal, pardon my burqa

Michael Kimmelman published an interesting piece in the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section back on April 25, 2010, about the globalization of the French language. I'm just now getting back to this article, as I sort the heaps of paper in the home office. And finding that the article still relevant. Check out this report on MSNBC about the new controversy in France, replacing (perhaps, or perhaps only for the moment), the issue of the burqa: halal fast-food burgers.

On Wednesday, "popular French fast food chain Quick, the No. 2 burger chain in France after McDonald's, started serving halal-only food in 22 of its French outlets, targeting France's large Muslim population, an underexploited market that has long been ignored by big business...[among other things this more bacon burgers at these outlets.]

Politicians left and right have attacked the move from every conceivable angle. Some ask why halal food should be foisted on the general population, while others worry the Quicks in question will promote segregation of the Muslim community instead of acceptance. France argues that integration is the only option for minorities, and the only way to preserve social cohesion

Meanwhile, here are some excerpts from Kimmelman's piece:

Didier Billion is a political scientist with an interest in francophone culture...“A multipolar world has emerged,” he said... I am very proud of being French, but 40 years ago the French language was a way to maintain influence in the former colonies, and now French people are going to have to learn to think about francophone culture differently, because having a common language doesn’t assure you a common political or cultural point of view.”

...In a country where pop radio stations broadcast a percentage of songs in French, and a socialist mayor in the northern, largely Muslim town of Roubaix lately won kudos for protesting that outlets of the fast-food chain Quick turned halal, cultural exceptionalism reflects fears of the multicultural sort that Mr. Zemmour’s book [the controversial, pro-assimilationist French Melancholy] touches on.

It happens that Mr. Zemmour traces his own roots to Sephardic Jews from Spain who became French citizens while living in Algeria in the 19th century, then moved to France before the Algerian war. He belongs to the melting pot, in other words, which for centuries, he said, absorbed immigrants into its republican culture...

Yasmina Khadra, the best-selling Algerian novelist, whose real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul [is a] 55-year-old former Algerian Army officer who now lives in Paris heading the center, [who] writes novels critical of the Algerian government under his wife’s name, which he first borrowed while in Algeria because the military there had banned his literary work...

“Paris is still fearful of a French writer who becomes known around the world without its blessing,” Mr. Moulessehoul said. “And at the same time in certain Arab-speaking circles I am considered a traitor because I write in French. I am caught between two cultures, two worlds.

“Culture is always about politics in the end. I am a French writer and an Algerian writer. But the larger truth is that I am both.”

A footnote on Yasmina Khadra: I've read his first novel, a policier called Morituri, and it was terrific. But friends who stay abreast of such things say that his subsequent novels have focused more and more on the problem of Islamist fanaticism, in such a manner that makes his work very palatable to French Islamophobic tastes. Moreover, check out The Toby Press, which publishes Yasmina Khadra's translated work. Strange, isn't it, that most of the authors are Jewish, many of them Israelis (the likes of Amos Oz and S. Yizhar), and that Khadra is the only Arab name listed. What sort of politics does this represent, one wonders.

Another note: I tend to think that halal-only menus for a burger joint discriminate against members of the community who might want bacon on their cheeseburger. I guess Beurs who want to eat bacon-cheese can go to MacDonald's. But still.

Here's a graphic example of the predictable, and over-heated, reaction from French rightist circles.

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