Muslim and Jewish celebrations ‘should be French bank holidays’
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France’s Green presidential hopeful raised heckles across the political spectrum Tuesday by suggesting that France should honour Muslim and Jewish festivals as well as Christian ones, by according them a national holiday.
Speaking in Paris on Wednesday at her first campaign rally, Green presidential candidate Eva Joly argued that national holiday status should be accorded to the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr and the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.
Currently six of the 12 national holidays in France are Catholic calendar events, with the other six having no religious connotation.
All Saints’ Day
“Each religion should benefit from equal treatment in the public sphere,” she said. “I believe that national holidays should also be accorded to faiths other than the Catholic faith.” Describing religious equality as a “key element” of French identity, she then blamed the policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy for dividing religious communities. “Yes, I’ll say it,” she said. “This [suffering] has been caused by five years of Sarkozy-ism.”
Joly, who holds dual Franco-Norwegian nationality, also criticised Sarkozy’s far-right-leaning interior minister, Claude Guéant, and leader of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen. “When I hear Claude Guéant, when I hear Marine Le Pen, I feel for my France, for our France.”
Joly’s proposals were rejected Tuesday by all three leading parties. Minister of Higher Education and UMP member Laurent Wauqiez argued on French news channel BFM that “France’s national holidays have come about through our Christian history. We are not going to rub out our history.”
Michael Sapin, campaign director for Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande, told French news channel iTélé that “while the state respects all religions, it recognises none”. He said that Joly should bear in mind “the great French principle of secularism”.
Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front party, attacked Joly directly, calling her rival presidential candidate a “Francophobe” on BFM. “I have to ask myself if Eva Joly finds anything good in France, our people, traditions, history and life morals (…). It’s astonishing coming from a presidential candidate.”
Too many Christian holidays?
Joly’s proposition is clearly an unpopular one, but not impossible, Religion Editor for Reuters in Paris, Tom Heneghan, argues: “We’re not expecting this to happen in the near future, but we can’t rule it out completely either. It was, after all, the Stasi commission that originally proposed this in 2003”.
Set up by then president Jacques Chirac, the 2003 Stasi commission was charged with assessing French secularism. Its findings led to the banning of religious symbols in schools, and eventually, the prohibition of the full Muslim headscarf in public. But it also recommended that national holidays reflect religious diversity. The state should therefore cut out two of the six Christian holidays and add two of other faiths, it concluded.
Heneghan is not mistaken when he predicts “plenty of public opposition” if the proposal were to go any further. Joly’s mere suggestions were met with outrage on Thursday, with many online articles on the subject inundated with angry comments.
Joly had already proven herself a candid voice in July this year when she suggested replacing France’s annual military march on Bastille Day with a civilian parade. She also questioned Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen for squabbling over Joan of Arc as a source of inspiration, which she described last week as “rather more an ultranationalist figure”.
But with the support of just three and four per cent of the electorate, Joly’s outspoken opinions look unlikely to propel her into the Elysée Palace in May. “Muslims and Jews alike will probably welcome this initiative,” says Heneghan, “but they are unlikely to press it because they know politically that Eva Joly doesn’t have enough weight to see it through.”
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