Thursday, March 15, 2012

halal meat or headscarves (or: non-American electoral campaigns)

Anna Maria Jakub/Getty Images,
It's easy to forget with all the hullabaloo about the Republicans right now...but the US is not the only country that finds itself in the middle of an election year, and a big one. France's Nicolas Sarcozy is up for re-election this year, and is currently trailing the Socialist Francois Hollande, but it's close. (Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn? who was a favorite to run against Sarkozy until his little hotel fiasco?)  In third, on the far right, is Marie Le Pen, from the National Front (like a smarter, but crazier Sarah Palin: a fresh female face for the far-right party). In France they have two rounds of elections. The first is in May, where they pick the top two candidates to move on.

France has some interesting politics... I am always interested in following this conservative, xenophobic strain in European rhetoric of "heritage" "[French]ness", "culture," national identity and the issue of immigration. In the last few years, these topics materialized in the form of the headscarf debate. And in France it's especially complicated because of their alleged separation of church and state (laicité), one of their founding myths as a nation, and their complicated history of colonialism, and growing Muslim population. Since April 2011, France has banned the burqa, under the rationale that they are protecting women's rights. (It is estimated that only about a few hundred women even wear the burqa, so it says something more about French fears than about headscarf-wearing in France.) Back in 2004, they banned all religious symbols from schools, in an attempt to remove the headscarf from schools (cross necklaces, for example, are seen as subtle and unproblematic). So with all this in mind I heard a story on NPR yesterday about how the latest issue in France is the butcher shop, or rather, halal butchering of meat.

Halal meat is meat that was butchered according to Islamic law, where the throat of the animal is cut and the animal bleeds to death. (According to European law, the animal must be dead before it is slaughtered.) So it turns out, in most French butcher shops around Paris, they don't want to lose their Muslim customers. So they have been slaughtering all their meat this way, and not publicizing this fact, but selling both "halal" and "regular" meat. You can imagine the reaction on the Right when this news came out...
Marie Le Pen

"I have the right as a citizen to know if I'm buying meat where the animal is slaughtered in horrible cruelty, taking sometimes 15 minutes to die," said Le Pen. "This is a moral point. Don't French people who don't want to eat halal have the same rights as Muslims who do?" [from NPR]

And then Sarcozy called for stricter meat labeling, and the Prime Minister Francois Fillon took it a little farther...  "Speaking on Europe 1 Radio, Fillon suggested that Muslim and Jewish ancestral ritual slaughter traditions were outdated. 'Religions should think about continuing to keep traditions that don't have much in common with today's state of science or hygiene,' he said." Article at NPR
 In reaction, French Jews and Muslims came together to protest the comment, and Sarkozy may have ended up losing some supporters.

Oops, this post got a little long...I just thought the issue was fascinating...I'm not going to comment too much, other than to say that although immigration is a topic in the US, in Germany, in definitely manifests itself in different ways in our various countries, and I thought this was an interesting little window into French issues right now. Sarcozy has also spoken of tightening France's borders, which could be a whole different topic...


  1. I love that Sarkozy said religions should update to modern standards of science and hygiene. That would so not fly in a country like ours where birth control and evolution are ignored haha. But yeah, I can see where he is coming from---it would be so nice if religions were rational and scientific, wouldn't it? Geez Louise!

  2. Ooops just saw it wasn't Sarkozy. Doesn't change the ridiculousness though :)

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