French education minister open to more Arabic courses in schools

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A recommendation by leading French think tank Institut Montaigne that teaching of the Arabic language in schools should be developed to counter the increasing popularity of Arabic courses offered by radical Islamists in mosques and schools was welcomed by education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, but has met with strong cticism from conservatives and the far-right.

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French conservative and far-right political forces have blasted education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s welcome of a proposal to “revive the teaching of Arabic” in schools in a bid to combat Islamism in the country, reports FRANCE 24.

The proposal stems from a 617-page report entitled “The Islamist Factory” released Sunday by Paris’s Institut Montaigne think tank. Among its conclusions, the report suggested that rejuvenating Arabic-language learning within the French school system was key “especially since Arabic courses have become for Islamists the best means of attracting young people to their mosques and schools”.

Asked for his thoughts on the proposal, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told BFMTV that Arabic is “a very important language, like other great civilizational languages” including Chinese and Russia, and that such languages needed to be “developed” and “ascribed prestige”.

“We will also question the way in which Arabic is being learned today in dedicated structures with some communitarian excesses,” Blanquer added.

Presenting the report on French radio station RTL on Sunday night, Hakim El Karoui, who authored it and who is said to have centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s ear on such matters, explained that the number of middle- and high-school students learning Arabic in the French school system had been halved over the past 20 years, while those learning the language in mosques had increased tenfold.

Blanquer’s apparent openness to the notion of boosting Arabic-language instruction in schools elicited vehement criticism from right-wingers.

“I think [Blanquer] is making a mistake: teaching Arabic in secondary school will not take a child out of the Koranic schools and will not solve the problems with teaching preaching in Arabic and the rise of Salafism,” Annie Genevard, a lawmaker for the conservative Les Républicains, told Sud Radio.

“Who will do it? Is this about fighting Islamism or about bringing it into the National Education Ministry?” asked former conservative education minister Luc Ferry. “I think it isn’t such a good idea.”

“It is adapting to the problem more than solving it,” Les Républicains spokeswoman Laurence Sailliet opined on Radio France Internationale. “How can one imagine today not putting all our efforts into the teaching of the French language?” she asked. “There is no rhyme or reason.”

Read more of this report from FRANCE 24.

 

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