Does France need more Arabic classes?

France's Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has proposed plans for schools to offer more voluntary classes in the Arabic language, saying that among other things this could "restore its prestige". The proposal has drawn harsh criticism from conservatives and the far right. French commentators explain why they believe this is a sensible plan.

Open/close all quotes
Le Monde (FR) /

Not teaching Arabic would be criminal

Blanquer's plans are right, writes Jack Lang, director of the Paris Institut du monde arabe and former culture minister, in Le Monde:

“If we expand Arab teaching in our schools we'll create the conditions for a curriculum that corresponds with the principle of secularism and hence with the values of the French Republic. That is precisely the opposite of what the panic-mongers would have us believe. Giving up this initiative would be nothing short of a crime. Because it would be to leave the task of teaching Arabic to the Islamist organisations. In the best case we would then be to blame for the blurring of distinctions between language and religion. In the worst case we would be paving the way for a return to identitarianism - or a dangerous radicalisation.”

L'Obs (FR) /

The right signal to Islamists

Developing the programme of Arabic teaching in state schools would also send a clear message to Islamic fundamentalists, human rights activist and former journalist at Charlie Hebdo Zineb el Rhazoui writes in L'Obs:

“Optional Arabic classes at French schools must not be conceived as a response to any sort of identitarian demand, and even less as a way of taking the wind out of the sails of the radical Islamists. ... Restoring the Arabic language's good reputation by teaching it in schools is above all a reaffirmation of French universalism and a way to say to Islamists in France that the old story about racist oppression no longer holds water, because French society isn't rejecting a culture, but an ideology.”