Once upon a time, in the 70s, both Canada and Australia discovered multiculturalism, in a large part as a way to drown their problematic minorities of the time, namely and respectively the Quebecois and the Aboriginals…

Now in 2010, almost half a century later, France, the country which didn’t have “Multiculturalism” in its database in 1992 when I registered my Ph.D. title, is becoming “plus royaliste que le roi”.

Not only does it celebrate and give the dates of most religious celebrations, something unthinkable when I was at school, but it fights over a halal hamburger, something that didn’t exist in France when the word “multiculturalism” was coined.

In the country of 400 varieties of cheese and as many porc sausages and other “non kosher” delicacies, it’s really strange to witness the conjunction of globalization of food, in this instance a hamburger, and of the” dictatorship of virtue” as my friend Richard Bernstein put it, become the object of a common public debate.

When I first heard the news, that in the north of France, in a predominantly moslem neighbourhood, a hamburgers chain had advertised its halal products, the hysterical reactions of several french politician, in the midst of the upcoming regional elections, I had to laugh. Because frankly, it reminded me of these stories where jews made bread with the blood of young christians, therefore one couldn’t eat their food….Eating Halal meat didn’t seem such a bad idea if it meant that everyone had a choice.

Then my friend Isabelle Tahar attracted my attention on a video by the Express Editor in chief which cast a different light on the issue. It wasn’t anymore a question of offering the choice between halal meat and non kosher one (yes, non halal if you prefer, but that’s my choice, look back at my origins for more!) but between a set of halal only dishes. This is actually corroborated  by  Le Monde’s statements although this article actually takes an adverse stand in indicating that everyone is happy this way and that anyhow, it’s not only one chain but all of them which offer in this part of town halal food.

For English references, please refer to the BBC News summary:

An AFP picture reads as follows: Welcome to Quick’s , in this Roubaix Restaurant, the meat offered is certified Halal and garanteed by the authorized authorities in charge of this agreement.

My opinion? Obviously the French never really grasped the notion of multiculturalism and should take a crash course on dos and don’ts! France isn’t a founding country such as Canada, USA, Australia or Israel, but a country which has always welcomed (with the unnecessary dose of common prejudices) immigrants ready to join a common nation and culture.

Quick should do what McDavid does…get itself a distinct name so that people realize they aren’t eating the real McCoy…after all the fact that there are kosher restaurants never bothered anyone, simply because kosher food wasn’t imposed as THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE to a diverse population. It was a minority restaurant in a street where we can find other types of food.

I know that I keep writing the same thing, yet I will soon shout this: I was born in a country, France, where it was impolite to ask anyone about their religion. At my Lycée Henri Bergson, there were probably just as many religions then as there are now, and we coexisted in perfect understanding…even though my father sometimes swallowed hard when telling me “Jean-Baptiste is on the phone”, the name was quite not kosher enough…but I didn’t care nor did Jean-Baptiste as a matter of fact.

I went to school with Aishas and Samiras, and lots of kids with perfectly french names but obviously foreign surnames, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Serbs…We were all French. And it seems that this remarkable blindness to people’s origins has now been replaced, towards to Muslims, by an utter sense of guilt because in fact, for 3 or 4 generations, these French have been despised, resented and alienated.

Secularism is what France invented and cultivated. When the Hijab story came out in French schools, it was ruled out and despite the threats of retaliation, little Muslim girls kept going to secular schools. I just hope that, for the sake of the silent majority of people of Muslim descent who, like me,  or like French Sport Minister Rama Yade, enjoy a sliver of pork sausage once in a while, we can keep coexisting and having a choice in public arenas.

Now let me be clear on one last thing: any way to make women or minorities feel inferior will be fought by me. What I advocate, especially here, is the peaceful coexistence of people of various backgrounds. For me, the individual will always prevail on the collective! Now, pass me the cheese please!

REFERENCES:

Barber, B. (1995). “Face à la Retribalisation du Monde.” Esprit(Juin 1995): 132-144.
Barber, B. (2007). Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, W.W. Norton and Company.
Barber, B. R. (1996). Djihad vs McWorld. Paris, Desclée de Brouwer.
Bernstein, R. (1995). Dictatorship of virtue: How the battle over Multiculturalism is reshaping our Schools, our Country and our Lives. New York, Random House.
Hartz, L., Ed. (1964). The Founding of New Societies. San Diego-New York-London, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.