Lorraine: School principal threatened over class on history of Islam

Notre Dame Islam course

The Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France reports that the Notre-Dame Catholic primary school at Saint-Mihiel, in the la Meuse department of Lorraine in north-eastern France, has been subjected to a campaign of Islamophobic harassment.

In late December, as part of the French national curriculum which requires pupils to receive a basic grounding in the history of the three main monotheistic faiths, the school taught a class on the origins of Islam, just as it does on those of Christianity and Judaism. A handout that included quotations from the Qur’an and named the architectural features of a mosque was given to students.

Early in January the principal of Notre-Dame, Christelle Lainet, was accosted in the schoolyard by the mother of one of the pupils. Apparently unable to distinguish between proselytism and the transmission of knowledge, as the CCIF puts it, the parent vehemently objected to her offspring being taught about Islam, using what Lainet described as “very racist” language. The father then paid a visit to Lainet at her office, expressing similarly extreme views and demanding the right to withdraw his child from the course on Islam, which Lainet agreed to.

(The CCIF notes that one of the common themes of Islamophobic propaganda in France is scaremongering over often dubious reports of Muslims withdrawing their children from classes in history, biology and sport. Such behaviour is held to demonstrate that Islam is incompatible with the secular principles of French society. But apparently it’s OK when anti-Muslim racists do it.)

On 29 January the far-right secularist website Riposte Laïquepublished an article on the case, which claimed that pupils at Notre-Dame de Saint-Mihiel were being “punished” because their parents had refused to allow them to learn a chapter from the Qur’an. Written in the hyperbolic and paranoid prose that characterises that site, it warned of the dangers of allowing the “virus” of “Islamic fascism” to “contaminate hundreds of thousands of children”.

The article gave the address, email and phone number of the school, with the evident aim of encouraging its readers to harass Lainet and her staff, who it said had “forced children to swallow verses from the Koran, in order to familiarise themselves with an ideology that has nothing to envy in Nazism”. The Riposte Laïque piece was also crossposted on a number of far-right sites.

As a result, Christelle Lainet told the Républicain Lorrrain, she had received threatening phone calls from people who treated her like dirt and her inbox was filled with three hundred messages containing personal insults and threats. Lainet also stated that the allegations in the Riposte Laïque article were “pure imagination”. With the support of the school administration, she is has filed a complaint for defamation.

The CCIF expresses its full support for Lainet in face of the harassment to which she has been subjected. They note that Muslims are not the only victims of Islamophobia and that this hateful ideology “threatens the whole of society”, because it divides citizens and undermines the tolerance and respect for others that are the foundations of coexistence.