Friday, 22 of August of 2014

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Muslim woman student is stabbed – so why can’t we say that the fact she ‘looked Muslim’ might be a motive in her murder?

This posting is in reference to the tragic stabbing of Nahid Al-Manea in Colchester. Police said that they were investigating the possibility that the murder was motivated by the fact that she was visibly Muslim wearing an abaya and headscarf. There have also been questions raised about a similar stabbing of James Atfield.


One of the national newspapers asked me my thoughts on the police response to the terrible incident of the Muslim woman stabbed who was wearing visible Muslim clothing.

My thoughts, jotted briefly are below. When I put these thoughts forward, I was told that they wanted not my thoughts ‘as a Muslim woman’ but an ‘alternative viewpoint’:

- finally! the recognition that muslim women are highly vulnerable is being raised at a national level

- i’m shocked at the negativity that is surrounding the police suggesting this may be a possible reason for the attack. It’s as though how dare Muslim women say that they are being attacked for being visibly Muslim! Why such vehement denial that it is a possibility? As with all crimes, the police have some theories and I’m glad this has been recognised as one possibility. Nobody is saying this for sure, simply that it is one angle. We know that hate crimes against Muslims have increased manyfold recently. So why shouldn’t this be one motive? To me it smacks of a wider public denial that there is a growth of hate against Muslims. Or even that it is ok to attack Muslims, especially women.

- if this is a legitimate line of enquiry, then why should the police keep quiet? Generally they share their lines of enquiry, what is different here?

- If anything, this poor student came here with a hope of doing everything that is demanded of Muslim women – ‘free’ herself, come to the west, gain an education.  Why can’t we square in our minds that she was a practising Muslim too, and that we have a problem in our society dealing with this?

- In my view it is people’s response that is bizarre – and that is what is damaging to community relations – why can’t we admit that hatred against Muslims is an issue and that women bear the brunt of this?

- Finally, if the police did not pursue this line of enquiry, or worse if they are pressured into dropping this line of enquiry, then that would be even more damaging to community relations. It is as bad practice to rule it out as it would be to say it was the sole factor or the only factor of investigation.

Update: this is stream of consciousness writing, so some further thoughts with inputs from various other Muslim women (thank you!):

- The police have said it is one line of enquiry, in a seemingly matter of fact way just as in many murders they talk of many lines of enquiry. My problem with saying they shouldn’t mention it ‘due to community tensions’ stems from the fact that our broad population can’t accept that this is a possibility, that somehow it is an abnormal aberration which can be an actual reason for such nastiness in what is obviously our lovely Muslim-friendly society. I actually think it shows a more balanced ‘healthy’ (if that’s the right word in such a horrible context) to be able to be honest and say yes this is a possibility just like several other possibilities. For both Muslims and the anti-Muslim brigade to be milking this as either ’see!!!! we told you!’ versus ‘how dare Muslims be victims’ shows a lack of acceptance of due process and legitimacy that this could be anti-Muslim, or it might not be.


The politics of housework, and why doing the dishes is not a trivial matter

This was published on Saturday in The National

If fathers want their daughters to aspire to successful careers, a new study has revealed the answer: fathers should share housework with their wives. While mothers’ gender and work-equality beliefs were key factors in predicting youngsters’ attitudes towards the roles of women and men, the strongest predictor of daughters’ own professional ambitions was their fathers’ approach to household chores.

The findings follow other studies revealing the benefits of sharing housework, such as improvements in marital harmony and making wives feel more attracted to their husbands.

Aside from the fact that it’s simply fair for adults to share the housework, such studies demonstrate that even with selfish motives, sharing housework has immediate and long-term benefits for men.

Yet housework is still overwhelmingly done by women even though many also work like their husbands, and most childcare is still women’s responsibility. The division of housework is politics at play in the home.

In 1970, the US feminist group Redstockings published an article titled The Politics of Housework. Depressingly, nearly 50 years later, it still holds true. Writer Patricia Mainardi recounts the struggle with her husband about who should do the housework: he admits in principle that he ought to, because that’s fair, but when the time comes he proffers excuses. Everyone agrees housework is dull, says Mainardi, but she deconstructs the reasons – the same ones still used today – that men give for not doing it. Such as: women are naturally cleaner or women do it better. When a man says women are better at it, what he means, according to Mainardi, is: “I don’t engage in dull work, but it’s OK if you do.” When he says he doesn’t know how to do it, it means he has better things to do.

Mainardi’s most important point is that housework is considered “trivial”. Why do women go on about such trivial matters? Because it fundamentally shapes their lives and choices. The demands of housework and childcare determine where they can go, the decisions they make about their lives and how they engage in the public space. That’s why women have attempted to put it on to the political agenda. Campaigns such as “Wages for Housework” attempt to counter the “unimportance” of housework by putting an economic value on it. In a modern capitalist economy when something is “free” it is not valued, because only “paid” employment is worthwhile.

If women want paid work, they still bear household responsibilities, restricting them to part-time work, or preventing full focus on their careers in the way men are free to do without a care about who will look after the children or how food, utilities and daily life will be managed.

Of course, the counterargument is that running a household is an important job, requiring skill, effort and tireless devotion, and that our society should focus on developing pride in housework and childcare for whoever does it.

I agree. That’s exactly my point. Housework is considered trivial, playing second fiddle to “paid” work. If it was considered of value, we would hear men boasting to their friends about how they have washed all the dishes, and filled the freezer with lunches for the children.

The next time you’ve vacuumed, cooked, bathed the kids, put them to bed, done the laundry and paid the bills, remember that your housework is a political act. Don’t consider it to be trivial.


Are women really like pearls and lollipops?

Published today in The National

Attention ladies. Are you a pearl or a lollipop? These are two analogies that are increasingly being used for women, so as to encourage them to be more modest.

Like pearls (apparently), women are beautiful creations that should be enveloped in oysters, otherwise their beauty and value will be robbed. Women are also like lollipops. Take off the wrapping and they will be swarmed by flies eager to taste their sweetness.

At first blush it sounds quite good to be compared to a pearl. The problem is that the expensive silk-smooth bauble is valued for the way it looks, and the implication for women is that we too only retain our value by being objects that are revered for the way they look.

No wonder, a woman is bought and sold on the basis of her beauty – a passive object to be traded by others.

It’s an analogy that paves the way for “fair” women to be valued and for “dark” women to have reduced social status. In other words, it robs women of their right to self-determination.

The pearl’s passive beauty is determined by the outside world. It has no power to exercise self-determination.

Men see them the way they want to – as temptresses who must be controlled for their own good. It is because of this that the imagery of the lollipop (surrounded by flies) is so offensive.

It’s not hard to understand why the analogy of the pearl locked in her oyster can lead to a Taliban-esque view of women who should be locked up at home with no education or medical care on the excuse that they should be protected from the outside world.

It’s also not hard to understand how this could lead to women being airbrushed out of the public space, political and civic arenas. There is no recognition of the variety and diversity of women.

I don’t want to be a pearl. I sometimes want to be a rock, sometimes like a wave, sometimes a cloud. Beauty is not my defining factor. I’m not an object to put in a box and be cooed at. I’m a real woman, with aspirations for self-determination, whose worth is recognisable in and of myself.

Of course, women have an inherent value, just as pearls have an inherent value. But the analogy here is erroneous, because it is particularly about hiding women away owing to their beauty or “tastiness”.

I have even bigger issues with comparing women to pearls and lollipops.

For example, why are men alluding to themselves as treasure-robbing pirates? Why should they be portrayed as flies? How offensive it is for them.

My biggest issue, however, is this: if women should act as pearls, then society must put in place the structures that underscore women as inherently valuable.

Just last week, a woman in Pakistan was stoned to death by her family for escaping a forced marriage. How is she then a pearl? Also last week, a female student in Saudi Arabia died of a heart attack, because the paramedics, who were men, refused to enter a female area. How does that reflect an honour for the value of a pearl?

To call a woman a pearl and then treat her like dirt shows that the comparison is superficial. It’s like laughing in the face of every oppressed woman. If women are not treated as valuable, then calling them pearls will change nothing.


Them and us, the West and the Muslim world, and the question of who owns the truth

Published in The National today

In 2006, a news story hit the front pages of UK newspapers about a 12 year old Muslim girl – Misbah – who had been “kidnapped” by her Scottish Muslim father and taken back to his family’s home in Pakistan. His marriage to Scottish Muslim convert Louise had broken down after 15 years and four children.

Misbah, also known as Molly, asserted in front of the world’s media at a global press conference convened in her Pakistani home that she had willingly moved to Pakistan to be with her father and three older siblings and was in no way being forced.

Alongside having her father painted as a bearded fundamentalist, her mother was portrayed as a deranged drug addict who was an unfit mother after a nervous breakdown.

Misbah’s story symbolised the war between “us” and “them”, caught between an apparently decadent, broken West and an apparently fundamentalist woman-hating Muslim world. Trapped between these two caricatures, Molly/Misbah’s story was baffling to the West – why would she escape away from the “modern” West towards “backwards” Pakistan, supposed land of forced marriages and female misery?

What the global media furore showed us beyond the heartache of the family in question was something far more fundamental: depending on who we define as “us” and “them” alters our perception of which version is the truth, and whose story gets to be the final say.

This week a play My Name is … has opened based on the verbatim accounts recorded by a playwright who spoke to mother, father and daughter. The reality of their stories – their human personal struggles – are of course more complicated than the clash of civilisations narratives that hijacked their story of a painful family breakdown complicated by culture, geography, religion and self-imposed compromises.

The play is sufficiently removed from the family and media events to prompt us to ask: who gets to tell the story? Who owns the truth? And most importantly, how hard is it for us to accept something that is not how we ourselves accept the “truth”?

In this case, the Western media could not accept a Muslim girl asserting herself against the grain, and when she did, was baffled how she could leave the “liberated” West?

When news articles about individual stories start to dominate global discussions, Molly’s tale should prompt us to ask why such a story is being told, and why is it being told in this particular way?

The story of Boko Haram’s abduction of 200 schoolgirls has gone global, and horrific a story though it is, its effect is heightened because it resonates with a seemingly accepted truth that this is obviously Islamism and Islamists are supposedly violent. But the presumptions of this truth ought to be tested.

The same presumptions underlie the feting of Malala Yousufzai. The horror of the abduction, and the awesomeness of Yousufzai’s courage are not in question. Rather, how does their global fame reinforce certain truths of “us” and “them”?

We like the kind of truth that is black and white, and fits with our pre-existing view of the world. While the media can fall foul of this gross simplification, today’s globalised reporting, if ever there was the chance, gives us the opportunity to see other truths, to be both Molly and Misbah.


Why #bringbackourgirls, Boko Haram and the story of an abduction that went viral is not so simple

Published on Saturday in The National

Like many people around the world over the past few weeks, I’ve been anxiously following the story of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram.

The #bringbackourgirls campaign has grabbed global attention, most notably featuring Michelle Obama holding up a card with the hashtag. I can’t imagine that Boko Haram gives two hoots about a load of tweets, and I’m sceptical about clicktivists and the power of Twitter to frighten quite frankly looney groups like this. It’s possible that the global groundswell of anger may be giving heart on the ground to activists in Nigeria to strengthen their campaign, and is putting pressure on Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to actually do something out of shame. But it is a corrupt government, and one that Nigerians are angry about. This should alert us to the fact that this situation is not as simple as “crazy jihadis kidnap children”.

The well-being of the girls is paramount. But our concern for them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about why these girls have captured the attention of Ms Obama and the twittersphere. As some have pointed out, when she said “bring back our girls”, did she mean the ones killed by her husband’s drones in Pakistan? This spawned a counter campaign, #bringbackyourdrones.

We are sophisticated enough to be able to balance concern for the girls with analysis of the political forces at play.

Boko Haram hasn’t come out of nowhere. It was part of a wider reaction to local corruption that its members believed could be remedied by their strict version of “sharia law”.

Kidnapping children to engage in warfare is a scourge across west and central Africa and has been going on for many years in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.

No one is even sure what “Boko Haram” means. In fact, we know very little at all about the region, its politics and its local tensions. Nonetheless they are portrayed as Islamists wielding barbarity through their Islam. The name is translated in the media as being a rejection of the West (“western education is haram”), designed to raise western hackles. But the alternative translation “corruption is haram” gives us better insight into the local problems.

There’s a strong feeling, once again, that this is about saving women from crazy violent Muslim men. Just like Afghanistan, we must “save” women in Nigeria. It is rather convenient that this is also the region where locals have been protesting against multinational corporations that have been exploiting resources and where oil companies have caused spillages, meaning many Nigerians want them out.

The infamous Kony2012 campaign saw a similar groundswell of global support for American intervention and combat troops were duly dispatched. Joseph Kony hasn’t been found, but the troops remain.

Boko Haram’s behaviour is horrific. While its members talk with the language of Islam, their actions are far from Islamic. But if it was foreign intervention and the propping up of a corrupt government that Boko Haram was set up to counter, and if this is what a wider number of groups in the country are fighting about, then American intervention will only exacerbate the problem.

These girls are important human beings who must be safely returned to their families. But they are also important for the insight they provide into how easily their horrific plight has been exploited for political gain, both by their abductors and by outside vested interests.


We should celebrate un-yummy mummies

My weekly news column published in The National today.

The annual celebration of “Mother’s Day” – held in March for much of the Arab world, held in May in the West – should be renamed “Super-woman Day”, or “I keep the whole house running and still smile” Day or possibly just “who else is going to do the laundry if I don’t?” Day.

Yes, it’s that annual festival of chocolates and flowers, symbolising how utterly amazing mothers are. But whether you’re a mother’s day cynic or not, I would still have that cup of coffee in bed, and a day – a whole day – to myself. Until an emergency at 11am only mummy can fix.

It’s tough to be a mother, it always has been. But it feels like it’s harder now than ever. Alongside the fact more women are working, we are still in charge of the majority of the world’s housework. And of course, being a mum is itself a full-time job. We get verbal recognition of this, but it feels like when we’re being awarded the medal, the pedestal we’re put on is ever higher and more exacting.

I’m not complaining that being a mother is lauded. If anything, the challenges of motherhood need greater accommodation in our social structures and attitudes. The problem is that motherhood has become airbrushed. The days when we’re covered in vomit, haven’t slept for 48 hours or will scream just as loudly as our toddlers are our shameful secrets, rather than just part of the ebb and flow of motherhood.

Instead, we’re supposed to manage motherhood and domesticity without breaking a sweat, look like we have stepped out of an advert for yummy mummies, cook gourmet food in our nightgowns like Nigella and still be the exciting women that our husbands first married.

A recent survey found 97 per cent of Millennial mums (those born after 1980) said their children are more important to them than anyone else. By comparison, only 86 per cent of Generation X mums (those born after 1960) feel the same.

And yet more than ever before, this all-consuming motherhood seems to be a source of stress, and something that mums might want to (at least occasionally) escape from.

One quarter of Millennial mums say they find parenthood a burden compared to 8 per cent of Gen X mums. And 30 per cent of Millennial mums feel like they’ve lost some of their identity compared to 10 per cent of Gen X mums. A whopping 34 per cent of Millennial mums say if they had to stay at home day after day with their children they would lose their minds, compared to 18 per cent of Gen X mums.

There’s clearly a conflict in the reality of day-to-day motherhood. Because when it comes to the grand overarching experience of being a mum, there is no doubt at all: 92 per cent agree that motherhood brings happiness. But beyond that it seems like mums are struggling to balance their own self-definition with that of being a mother.

This is a not a problem that critics of women working might characterise as women complaining when they try to “have it all”. This is a problem that when we put motherhood on a pedestal and define it as having to be 110 per cent engaged in children while looking perfect then a sense of failure is inevitable.

Motherhood is messy, unpredictable and a roller-coaster ride of successes and failures. If we want to recognise motherhood then we should celebrate the fact that sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible, and once in a while it’s just fantastic to sit in bed with a coffee and no kids at all. And that’s fine.


The War Over Muslim Women Must Stop

My weekly newspaper column published in The National today.

The war over Muslim women continues to rage, as though we are a territory to be owned, a missile to be deployed in the vested interests of others, and as collateral damage in a cosmic conflict.

If you open Western newspapers and there is a story about terrorism, you will find our picture next to it. If you read justifications of military action in Afghanistan, it is our “liberation” that is cited. If societies where Muslims live as minorities are failing, our niqabs, our economic inactivity, our supposed segregation is to blame. But also, if you listen to Muslim religious leaders we are responsible for being the buffer before a wave of catastrophic western evil. Our headscarves are the sandbags holding back the fire of western feminism. We are told that our fight for rights is a bid to destroy family and society.

This war is constant with no benefit to us as Muslim women. We are dispensable in the war effort but also required to be first in the line of fire.

In the UK this week, a police campaign was launched encouraging Muslim women to inform on any menfolk they suspect of joining the war effort in Syria. The British government is concerned about Muslim men who will become radicalised in Syria and then return to the UK. No mention of those who go abroad to join other armies.

Video entitled "A Mother's Thoughts On The Crisis In Syria"

The campaign is part of the UK government’s wider Prevent strategy that has been running for the last several years, targeting Muslim communities in the bid to fight terrorism. It is a widely discredited programme that invested money in deprived Muslim communities with the goal of averting them from terrorism. The flaw in the logic of course was that, as in all communities, just a handful inhabit a criminal fringe. And like all communities, if the authorities start to view an entire community as one collective homogeneous mass with only one defining factor – being a potential terrorist – then there can never be a relationship of trust with authorities.

Muslim women find ourselves on the sharp end of this demonisation. On the one hand we are nothing but meek, oppressed, submissive. The subject of veiling – whether it is niqab or hijab – is constantly on the radar. Political leaders and influencers talk about women “forced” to cover, needing “help”, and being “liberated” by embracing “secular” values.

Suddenly we Muslim women have the burden of responsibility to “save” everyone. Suddenly, we have been co-opted into spying on husbands and sons. Before the accusation is levelled at Muslim women that we share responsibility for society’s safety like anyone else, I want to be quite clear: we are not so stupid that we can’t work out right from wrong. We already work to safeguard our own families from any misguided sense of violent heroics. Already, we are under scrutiny as potential terrorists, presumed guilty. And now, if Muslim men do take part, then we Muslim women will be held accountable. We are both victim and criminal.

In this campaign, we don’t hear about Abbas Khan, who went to Syria to help as a doctor in the humanitarian cause. He was kidnapped and killed. It is his mother spearheading the campaign to find out what happened to him.

When Muslim women raise their voices for access to education and employment, or autonomy or rights, we are rarely listened to. But as weapons against the other, suddenly we become significant. I’ve had enough. The war over Muslim women must stop.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk


This week I’m going to Live Below The Line in support of eradicating poverty

Live Below the Line is a global campaign spearheaded by UNICEF and which I’m taking part in with Made in Europe.

More than 1.2 billion people around the world have just £1 each day for food and drink (and that’s adjusted for local prices!). Just £1 per day. Unbelievable, I know.

So this week, along with other participants and campaigners, we will be living on £1 per day as well to gain and share an insight into what this means. And yes, there are people in our own localities and countries facing this.

I’m doing the campaign with my husband, so we have £10 between us to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days. You can see the ingredients we have selected here.  The total came to £10.01.

If you feel moved to participate, please do sign up, we’ve just started today. Alternatively, you can sponsor me and your donations will go to Made in Europe’s campaign against poverty.

https://www.livebelowtheline.com/donations/new?participant_id=32986

Wish us well, and wish our prayers to relieve the actual poverty facing those around the world. I’m conscious that at any time I can eat anything I like. That’s not so for 1.2 billion people around the world. It’s a sobering thought.

My ingredients for Live Below The Line


Happy British Muslims, the nomakeupselfie and what viral campaigns tell us about society

The trend for happy dancing alongside Pharell Williams’ song may seem harmless, but it raises deeper questions for Shelina Jamohamed

My weekly newspaper column for The National.

Armageddon was almost upon us this week as a video was released in the UK with the hashtag #HappyBritishMuslims. The four minute film is part of a global trend creating videos overlaid with the singer Pharrell William’s hit song Happy.

Happy videos have been produced around the world – most big cities appear to have spawned one. But this one, tied explicitly to the identity of being Muslim, created a stir and generated nearly 1.5 million online views. The creators of the video say their aim is to show “British Muslims are just as happy” as anyone else.

The shock of seeing actual real-life happy Muslims nearly broke the internet, as a social media storm debated whether it was true Muslims really could be happy, whether critics of the video were by definition unhappy despite legitimate political, religious and social concerns.

Some felt there was no need to dance along to the insistent beat; that Muslims did not constantly have to demonstrate how “normal” they are. In fact, critics went as far as to liken the video to segregation-era Minstrels who were forced to perform for their white masters’ entertainment. There is undoubtedly pressure put, in particular, on minority Muslim populations to constantly prove their patriotism, and normality.

Other critics felt that the very essence of the video was contrary to their principles as Muslims and “proving” they could be happy didn’t require those principles to be compromised. They pointed to the problematic sexualised pop culture of chart music. These critics were quickly labelled as “unhappy” about fun and accused of not accepting difference of opinion and variation. A happy video sure generated a lot of unhappiness.

Outside of the Muslim community, the video was very well received – look! Muslims! Happy! Dancing! Normal! Who knew?

The intense fury of the discussion has now waned, and so both supporters and critics of the campaign should reflect less on what was wrong with those who opposed their view and more about what is wrong with our social mores that the core concept was so headline grabbing.

This year, a social media campaign called #nomakeupselfie encouraged women to take photos of themselves without make up to raise awareness of cancer and in the process raised £2 million (Dh12m).

Like the Happy British Muslims video, this generated huge controversy. But the same question arises for both campaigns: why were they considered so “different” and “daring”? Why should being without make-up be so subversive? It can only be so if society’s default expectation is that women should wear make up.

Why should being a happy Muslim be such a radical idea? It can only be so if society is conditioned to see Muslims as inhuman, and “other”.

The participants of these campaigns are not the root of the problem. We are. The campaigns and participants are just symptoms of wider social wrongheadedness in which we must all share responsibility.

There’s definitely something wrong with us if women need to be airbrushed in real life. There’s something wrong with us if human beings who happen to be Muslim need to prove they are normal and can feel happiness.

Social media is useful for highlighting social problems. But it’s our attitudes that need fixing. If we can do that, then I for one will be happy.


Eat pork or starve, say French politicians. Are we back in the Spanish Inquisition?

Belated posting from last week of my weekly column in The National.

France’s far right leader Marine Le Pen is offering Muslim and Jewish schoolchildren an impossible choice: eat pork or starve. Her extremist party, the Front National, has just won local elections in 11 towns around France. Schools that fall within these districts are proposing not to offer alternatives as they currently do when pork meals are served.

“We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” said Ms Le Pen. “There is no reason for religion to enter into the public sphere.” Obviously this will affect both Muslim and Jewish children, as well as any children of Rastafarians, Seventh Day Adventists and vegetarians. But it’s the Muslim angle that gives Ms Le Pen the notoriety and headlines she craves.

Her hate-filled world is simplistic: pork versus halal, secularism versus food choices, France versus Muslim. All of them are false dichotomies to tap into the electorate’s growing wave of anger at mainstream political parties that don’t appear to be listening, and a distressing rise of extremism aimed at immigrants. The Front National, like other European extremist parties, is trying to hide its racism by pretending it is religion they are targeting. But the veneer is thin.

Europe is veering alarmingly towards the extreme right. In Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party came to prominence in 2011 in the wake of austerity measures. In 2012 its spokesperson, MP Ilias Kassidiaris claimed the Holocaust did not happen. It is easy to dismiss such parties as fringe lunatics, but their proximity to power is cause for anxiety.

In France, the Front National is the third party. In Greece, a video last week showed the Prime Minister’s chief of staff leaking classified information to the Golden Dawn spokesperson.

Ms Le Pen’s school meals remarks are a modern echo of Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat pork!”

There is another, more disturbing, European historical echo: the Spanish Inquisition. Isabella and Ferdinand persecuted Muslims and Jews who either fled Spain or were forced to convert to Christianity. To verify whether these “conversos” really had changed, Inquisitors would roam around their homes while meals were being cooked to ensure pork was used. Aromas were vetted and even rubbish was inspected to police pork consumption. The Inquisition was one of the most shameful episodes in Europe’s history, and yet, here we are again, with the same rhetoric of forcing pork down people’s gullets.

Ms Le Pen says her move is about “saving secularism”, a thinly veiled and despicable attempt to hide her hatred. Will forcing vegetarian children to eat pork save the secular state? And who knew that the French constitution enshrined food choices for its citizens? (Although if any country was to do this, it probably would be France.)

Like many who hide their hatred of Muslims under the guise of opposing halal, kosher food – which is prepared the same way – is not in their cross hairs.

France has no problem making money for itself from halal. According to the USDA, about 10 per cent of France’s annual meat and poultry exports are halal.

Ms Le Pen’s directives about what schoolchildren eat should stick in everyone’s throats. Her words have nothing to do with the relationship between the state and the citizen and everything to do with igniting hatred. We’ve been here before during the Inquisition, as during the Nazi era. Let’s learn lessons from history and avoid a hate-filled repeat episode.