Teaching Arabic in French Schools to Halt Radicalization
Quartz (NY) (09/25/18) Timsit, Annabelle
France has tried several controversial tactics to stop the rise of Islamism in the country, so far with little success. Now, a former French government official has a novel suggestion: to prevent young people from becoming radicalized, start teaching Arabic in public schools.
Arabic language classes have declined in France over the past few decades, even as the country’s Arab and Muslim population increased. In a new report published by the think tank Institut Montaigne, Hakim El Karoui, an expert on Islam and the Arab world who served in the cabinet of former French President Jacques Chirac, argues that if public schools fail to offer Arabic lessons, young Muslims may seek out classes at mosques, where the language will inevitably be tied with religious studies, thus elevating the risk of radicalization.
In a recent interview about the report, the French Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer says that Arabic is a “very important” language that needs to be “developed and given more prestige in the mainstream educational community.” However, critics warn that directly tying Arabic to fundamentalist Islam is dangerous and misleading and will make little headway against the proliferation of radicalized Islamic ideology in France.
Blanquer estimates that only about 0.1% of primary school students and 0.2% of middle and high school students are currently learning Arabic. El Karoui attributes this decline to the French government’s policy of assimilation and the opposition to “communautarisme,” or the regrouping of people with a common language, culture, or religion.
Schools often deem Arabic to be less “prestigious” than other languages, and more austere public education budgets have forced many schools to reduce or eliminate their Arabic language programs. Despite this, learning a second language is mandatory in French primary schools, and more than 90% of French middle and high school students learn English. There is, however, growing demand for Arabic education, with a 2016 Institut Montaigne survey noting that 67% of Muslim or Arab parents want their children to study classical Arabic, and 56% want classical Arabic taught in public school.
There are also arguments in favor of investing in Arabic education that do not center on its utility as a tool against Islamism. France has deep ties and a shared history with the Arab world, and non-Muslim or non-Arab students would also benefit from learning the language, culture, and history of Arab civilization. “I’m obviously not talking of teaching Arabic only to young Muslim children or kids with North African origins,” El Karoui says. “It must be a language for all, as is Chinese or Russian today.”
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