Must try harder: France vows to end school neglect of Arabic

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Lissane said that the religious component of its Arabic course is “very light.” (AFP)
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A teacher writes on a board during a class of Arabic language for young children at the Institut Lissane private school in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre on the outskirts of the French capital Paris. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2018
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Must try harder: France vows to end school neglect of Arabic

  • Demand for schools teaching Arabic in France far outstrips supply
  • Arabic is France’s second-most spoken language, and one used by over 430 million people worldwide

PARIS: In the ethnically mixed Paris suburb of Kremlin-Bicetre, a group of children sit quietly at their desks while outside their classmates frolic in the autumn sunshine.
“Ayna yaskunu Adel? (where does Adel live)” teacher Hanan asks the children, pointing to a textbook drawing of a boy and girl in a village with a school and a mosque.
Hands shoot up, and a little girl replies that he lives behind the “madrassa,” or school.
Welcome to Lissane, one of a growing number of private language schools where the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants go to learn classical Arabic on Wednesday afternoons, when schools are closed, and on the weekend.
While Hanan’s students, aged 7 to 10, study interrogative pronouns in one of seven classrooms housed in a former office building, a group of four-year-olds next door is singing a nursery rhyme about the parts of the body.
So far, so normal, with the notable difference that female teachers wear the Muslim headscarf, a garment banned along with other religious symbols in state schools.
But it is not so much the headscarves as the “Islamic sciences,” or religion lessons, conducted at Lissane and many other private Arabic language schools, that have drawn scrutiny in a country that has an uneasy relationship with its Muslim minority, the largest in Europe at an estimated five million.
Lissane’s co-founder Abdelghani Sebata, a 37-year-old Algerian law graduate, says that the religious component of the course — which includes learning verses of the Qur’an — is “very light.”
“We leave the religious side to the families,” he told AFP.
But at the many mosques that also teach children to read and write the Arabic used in official communications, literature and media across the Arab world, as well as in the Qur’an, Islam is the main focus.

A report on radicalization last month by the Institut Montaigne, a respected liberal French think-tank, warned that Arabic classes had become “the best way for Islamists to attract young people into their mosques and (private) schools.”
In response, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer — one of centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s most combative ministers — announced plans to take back control.
Arguing that classical Arabic should be treated like all other “great languages” such as Russian and Chinese, he vowed to develop its teaching in state schools in order to combat “the drift toward self-ghettoization” in private institutions.
His proposal drew a furious reaction from rightwingers who view the use of Arabic by North African immigrants with hostility, seeing it as evidence of a failure to integrate.
Luc Ferry, was was education minister under former center-right president Jacques Chirac, questioned whether the government was bent on “fighting Islamism or bringing it into public education” — suggesting that by giving Arabic more prominence it was doing the latter.
“We’re in a logic of submission,” fumed Louis Aliot, a lawmaker from the far-right National Rally (formerly National Front) party, echoing the title of a novel by controversial author Michel Houellebecq, “Submission,” which imagines a France ruled by Islamists.

Hakim El Karoui, author of the Institut Montaigne report which revived a long-running debate about France’s insistence that immigrants ditch their ethnic identities on arrival and embrace Frenchness, said he was “not at all” surprised by the reaction on the right.
“Everything to do with Arabs drives them a bit mad,” El Karoui, a Tunisian-born geography scholar and former government adviser, told AFP.
He points to the increasing scarcity of schools offering Arabic — France’s second-most spoken language, and one used by over 430 million people worldwide — as evidence of their reluctance to teach a subject associated with “problematic” immigrants.
Only 567 primary schoolchildren studied Arabic last year, a third of the number who took Chinese as their mandatory second language. Most chose English.
In secondary school, just 11,200 pupils studied Arabic, which is offered in a handful of schools in each city, mostly elite city-center colleges.

With demand far outstripping supply, parents have turned to mosques, religious associations and private schools like Lissane, which together attract some 80,000 students, according to a government estimate cited by the Institut Montaigne.
Ines Kridaine, a 35-year-old Tunisian living in France for the past 13 years, enrolled her daughter Ikram in classes at Lissane at the age of four.
Five years later Ikram can understand her Tunisian relatives, follow Arabic news channels and read the Qur’an. But Ines, who wears a headscarf and a loose abaya robe, still wishes Arabic was taught during class time.
“It should be treated like any other language,” she said.
Writing in Le Monde newspaper last month, the head of the prestigious Arab World Institute in Paris, former Socialist minister Jack Lang, defended Arabic as the language of “Arab Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists, bloggers, social media, young people, writers, poets, artists, singers, hip-hoppers, scientists, researchers, journalists, companies and innovators.”
It’s a view shared by Jerome Gercet, principal of an international secondary school in the southeastern city of Grenoble that has to turn away applicants for its Arabic section each year.
After graduation, most of his students go on to study political science, medicine, business, engineering, arts or administration.
That’s proof, he said, that Arabic is “a subject of excellence.”


Manganiyar musical experience connects Saudi Arabia with ancient India

Ithra takes visitors to the magical world of Manganiyar, an Indian folk music, in Dhahran on Wednesday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Manganiyar musical experience connects Saudi Arabia with ancient India

  • There were challenges, Abel said. “As an ‘intruder’ going to the Manganiyar not knowing fully what this kind of art is, in the beginning I had to learn so many things and try to understand the musicians and help them to understand me”

DHAHRAN: The King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in Dhahran has been transporting its visitors to the magical world of the Manganiyar from Nov. 14-17. The Manganiyar is a timeless Indian orchestra originally born in the region of Rajasthan in north India, which has continued over many generations.
The basic song on which the show is based comes from a poem by the 17th-century Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah. The resulting folk music is an audio-visual feast that mixes light and voice and features more than 40 musicians in one performance.
The first Manganiyar show in Ithra was sold out.
“It was the first time in my life that inspiration dawned on me; it was like a heavenly gift,” Roysten Abel, the director of the musical show, told Arab News when he was asked how the band started their touring and performance journey.
“I was in Spain working as a street performer. One day I was resting and I heard wonderful music, which I thought was a dream. Then I realized that there were two musicians outside my room singing to wake me up. I then proposed the idea of forming this Manganiyar band,” Abel said.
Abel went to the Manganiyar’s hometown to create the band.
“I went to Rajasthan, auditioned almost 200 musicians and finally selected 50 to have our first show in 2006. Since then, if I ever listen to an old Manganiyar musician or a new one, I still weep because they haunt me with their singing.”
There were challenges, Abel said. “As an ‘intruder’ going to the Manganiyar not knowing fully what this kind of art is, in the beginning I had to learn so many things and try to understand the musicians and help them to understand me.”
Creating the performance and the harmony between the band members and the director took time.
“The musicians needed to know what this guy who is coming from outside wants? What is he going to make us do? Building the relationship took around a year and a half, and so it took us year and a half to build up the show.”
“I always say the Manganiyar selection was God’s gift to us because it was actually given to us and it runs on its own.”
Abel said that the Manganiyar show always sells out anywhere it goes due the experience it offers. “There has not been one show where we have not received a standing ovation.”
“We even performed in Hyde Park, Sydney, where nobody knew what to expect,” Abel said. “There were a good 10,000 people in the park, and when the show was over these 10,000 started clapping and even stayed for the second performance!”
Abel shared the band’s insights about their first visit to Saudi Arabia: “We were very curious to see how it was going to be received, but it turned out to be one of the best performances and the audience was thrilled. So, there’s always a lot of surprises and I tend to never expect. I just love to see what happens.”
Abel urged everyone to turn up and have their own experience of the Manganiyar. “People should all come and tell their friends to come, and live the show, because at the end of the day the show is not like any other music concert; it’s an experience of its own.”
Abel said that people’s responses to the show varied; some left in tears while others “jumped with joy.”
What matters to him, he said, is that people get the essence behind the show, which is love.