If you work in America, you likely have Christmas Day off because it’s a federal holiday. While there are arguments to be made about how that’s an illegal establishment of religion, it also just makes sense from an employer’s perspective. If the majority of your employees would be taking the day off, anyway, why bother having anybody come in?
In France, Dounia Bouzar, a recent appointee to the country’s National Observatory of Secularism, made some controversial remarks to the magazine Challenges when she suggested that the country would be better off replacing a couple of the Christian holidays with Jewish and Muslim ones:
“At the moment, every French person celebrates Christmas, and I think our public holidays should include one Jewish festival and one Muslim festival,” she said.
Rather than simply adding those dates on to the list of public holidays, however, the anthropologist insisted: “We must replace two Christian festivals with Yom Kippur and Eid.”
Christian leaders are upset at the suggestion because it would mean the loss of power and privilege and tradition. Jewish leaders are saying there’s really no demand or need for it. And at least one Muslim leader opposes the idea, too, because he doesn’t want Muslims getting blamed for the loss of a Christian holiday:
“It’s totally normal to consider other [religious] communities, but we should simply add these two festivals, and not replace any,” Abdellah Zekri, president of France’s Observatory against Islamophobia, told French daily Le Figaro.“Otherwise, people will say, ‘They want to rob Peter to pay Mohammed,’” he concluded.
It’s important to note that Muslims make up less than 10% of the population and Jews make up about 1%. Christians constitute about 90% of the population. Does it really make sense to replace some of the Christian holidays to appease other, vastly smaller religious groups for the sake of “inclusion”?
And where does that even stop? Why not celebrate Hindu holidays? Sikh ones? Buddhist ones? What’s the threshold for getting the government to grant your religion a federal holiday?
It’s all a fascinating thought experiment and one that’s not going to lead to a change anytime soon. Event Bouzar has backed off a bit from what she said:
“It was just a thought, not an actual proposal,” she told Le Figaro on Thursday. Bouzar claimed that radical Islamists in France were feeding off a widespread feeling of alienation and marginalisation among French Muslims, and that recognizing a Muslim holiday could undermine radical recruitment.
“So I said to myself that giving Jewish and Muslim festivals a symbolic place [in the French calendar] could be one way to pull the rug from under the feet [of sectarianism].”
You have to applaud the attempt at political correctness, but the proposal stood little chance of working, at least at first, if implemented. Too many people would take Christmas off, whether or not they actually celebrate the holiday, while non-Muslims are unlikely to celebrate Eid or non-Jews Yom Kippur.
But Bouzar deserves to be praised for raising an important question: In a secular country, should the holidays of one religion be given special status over others?
(Thanks to Scott for the link!)