What happens when secularism collides spectacularly with globalism and is topped off with a heavy dollop of hospitality—or lack thereof? This is precisely the quandary of modern diplomatic relations between Iran and France. And France just found this out the hard way that when cultures clash, you certainly aren't going to get a dinner. Hell, you're not even getting a brunch.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is making a landmark trip to Europe this week, intended to mark Iran's coming out party after years of international sanctions. He has planned a lovely and uneventful trip to Italy, where he will meet with the Italian Prime Minister and the Pope. But despite earlier plans to share a formal meal with French President François Hollande, the Iranian president has been disinvited from the table with Hollande—and we have French cuisine to thank for it. Well, to be more precise, we have wine and non-halal meat, both of which are haram, to thank for causing the ruckus.
According to French-based RTL Radio, President Rouhani insisted that the formal meal with Hollande could not include any wine or non-halal meat. Hollande evidently declared that that would not constitute a real meal in France. The French then suggested that an easy way out of the problem would be an alcohol-free breakfast, but Iranian officials spurned this move as being too "cheap."
An unnamed diplomatic source reportedly told RTL Radio that, "A meal had been planned but fell through. The leaders have missed out on a great opportunity to meet in the relaxed environment of a meal." The two leaders have now allegedly settled for a face-to-face conversation—sans eating—this coming Tuesday. The Washington Post reports that a spokeswoman for the Elysée Palace declined to comment on the incident.
The spat seems to be the first in Rouhani's imminent trip, which is also the Iranian president's first official trip to Europe. The incident is indicative of the clash between Europe's secularist views and Iran's stringent Sharia law. Either that, or it's a pretty clear indication of France's Islamophobia. In any event, it is believed that Rouhani's rebuff is effectively retribution for France's hardline stance during the recent historic deal regarding Iran's nuclear program.
Two years ago, Swedish ambassador Peter Tejler deeply angered Iran's then-president, all-around fun guy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by crossing his legs and thereby revealing the soles of his shoes to the former Iranian leader. The enraged Ahmadinejad is reported to have reacted by then crossing his own legs for the remainder of their conversation. Zut alors!
France is currently facing an increasing culture war against what their right-wing calls the "Islamification" of their European nation. In fact, the extremely conservative National Front has lambasted the rise in popularity of the humble kebab over more traditional French cuisine over the last decade. Some French see the very nature of French culture to be threatened by globalization and are digging in their heels when it comes to yielding to others' religious strictures.
We don't know about you, but when we disagree with our friends on what to eat—say they want Italian and we want Mexican—we might compromise, on Thai, for example. But in the mysterious world of international diplomacy, things are much more complicated. All we can say is this: Bon appetit, nos amis. Eat in peace.