France Announces ‘National Secularity Day’ in Package of Measures to Combat Extremism

Remy de la Mauviniere/AP
Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

France is to introduce a national “day of secularity” and teach children about French national symbols, including the tricolor and the Marseillaise, in an attempt to curb rising religious fundamentalism. The government has pledged €250 million (£190 million) over the next three years for a series of projects promoting national secularism.

The move follows Islamist attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, in which 12 people, including a Muslim police officer, were killed. A further five people, including four Jews, were killed in related attacks, the Guardian has reported. The gunmen were French-born children of immigrants from Algeria and Mali.

In the aftermath of the attacks teachers complained that a number of pupils refused to take part in a minute’s silence in respect for the victims. Some schools also reported that Muslim pupils had rejected the “Je Suis Charlie” meme that sprang up in support of the victims as a symbol of free speech, arguing that the magazine publishing cartoons depicting Mohammed was an insult to their religion. Government sources said that there was some concern that children, notably from migrant populations, failed to understand the “values of the republic”.

Consequently, teachers will be trained in how to instil republican values in their pupils in an effort to stop young people dropping out of education and turning to extremist activities. Pupils will be given “civic and moral lessons”, which will include civility and politeness, and “media instruction” as part of the scheme. National “secularity day” will be on the 9th December annually.

Sebastien Sihr, the secretary general of the teachers’ union SNUipp-FSU said “In a fractured and ghettoised society, having a mix of [social] backgrounds is the only way to give pupils a real idea of how to live together.”

Last week, in a description that has sent shock waves through France, the Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the failure to integrate immigrants had led to a sort of “social and ethnic apartheid”. Government ministers have also talked of “ghettos”, the city banlieues or housing estates where immigration rates, unemployment rates and poverty are all high.

However, the Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo has said that she intends to sue Fox News for reporting on “no-go zones” across Europe, saying “the honour of Paris has been prejudiced”. Ukip leader Nigel Farage said her declaration to do so was “incomprehensible”.