Monday, January 08, 2007

Xenophobia off Menu for more than 200,000 people who are Homeless or living in temporary shelter in Paris

The Tuileries Gardens in central Paris © Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier
The Financial Times reports today that volunteers who ladled it out to the homeless of Paris called it "pig soup". Now it has been taken off the menu following accusations that the dominant aroma wafting up from the bowl was xenophobia, not pork.

The Conseil d'Etat, France's highest authority on administrative law, has banned an organisation called Solidarité des Français from distributing its soup containing pig ears, feet and tails to the capital's rough sleepers.

On Friday night, the court announced that it had upheld an earlier decision by the Paris police chief to shut down the soup kitchen, which has been accused of discriminating against Muslims and Jews, whose religions forbid the consumption of pork.

This decision had been suspended on appeal, prompting the interior ministry, led by presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy, to demand that the Conseil d'Etat intervene. Bertrand Delanoë, Paris's mayor, also pushed for a ban, claiming that the handouts stank of xenophobia.

The volunteer group claimed the recipe was a hearty expression of traditional rural French cooking. However, Solidarité des Français has a clear political agenda. Its website criticises the use of government funds to teach French to immigrant women, while also attacking aid to Morocco, Senegal and Algeria.

Last February, the New York Times reported that more than 200 political activists defied a police ban to demonstrate in Paris, scurrying across the Boulevard Saint Germain and under the plane trees of Place Maubert to engage in their forbidden action: eating "pig soup" in public.

With steaming bowls of the fragrant broth soon passing through the crowd, Odile Bonnivard, a secretary turned far-right firebrand, climbed atop a car with a megaphone in hand and led the crowd in a raucous chant: "We are all pig eaters! We are all pig eaters!""Identity soup," as the broth has come to be called, is one of the stranger manifestations of a grass-roots backlash against the multiculturalism that has spread through Europe over the past 20 years.

People are challenging the care taken in Nazi-chastened Europe, and in France in particular, to avoid racial or religious insults of the sort that led to protests in the Islamic world a year ago after the publication of cartoons that most Muslims considered offensive to the Prophet Muhammad.

The movement began in the winter of 2003 when Bonnivard, a member of a small far-right nationalist movement called the "Identity Bloc," began serving hot soup to the homeless.At first, she said, the group used pork simply because it was an inexpensive traditional ingredient for hearty French soup. But as the political significance of serving pork dawned on them and others, it quickly became the focus of their work.

In France there is little tolerance for anything that challenges the republic's egalitarian ideals. But the authorities initially left the pork soup kitchen alone, shutting it down only once to avoid an altercation with a group of indignant French leftists.

That was before the riots that swept France in November 2005, forcing the government to face up to the deep alienation felt by the country's Muslim youth. As winter closed in and other pork-soup kitchens run by similar-minded groups popped up in Strasbourg and Nice - as well as Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi in Belgium - the authorities worried that they might be witnessing the start of a dangerous racist trend.

The New York Times reports that in December 2005, Bonnivard said, a van of plainclothes police chased her soup- bearing car through the streets, and several busloads of police officers arrived to stop her group from setting up at their usual spot near the Montparnasse train station, citing "the discriminatory nature of the soup." She and her band filed an appeal.

Finfacts report from June 2006:

More than half the world’s population will live in a city by 2007; More than 200,000 people are homeless or living in temporary shelter in Paris