Hubbub over halal in France

February 20, 2010

A Quick fast food restaurant in Roubaix, 18 Feb 2010/Pascal Rossignol

After the noise over the niqab, now there’s a hubbub over halal in France.

Police in the northern city of Lille launched an investigation on Friday into claims that a fast food restaurant was discriminating against non-Muslim customers by dropping bacon burgers from its menu and using only halal meat. The public prosecutor ordered the probe after the Socialist mayor of the nearby town of Roubaix sued the Quick fast food chain for switching to follow Muslim dietary laws in eight of its 350 branches.

Quick — a rival to far larger global chains like McDonald’s in France and Belgium — now offers smoked turkey and halal beef and no pork in those branches.  “Why should the people of Roubaix be forced to go to Lille or elsewhere to find bacon?” Franck Berton, the lawyer for Mayor René Vandierendonck, asked when we asked him about this case.

The halal hubbub flared up this week after Marine Le Pen, vice president of the far-right National Front, charged last Sunday that clients “are forced because of halal meat to pay a tax to Islamic organizations” that certify the food was produced according to Muslim dietary laws. We examined this on Thursday in the news story “French politicians rap fast food chain for halal menu.”

Not one to shy away from upping the rhetorical ante, Le Pen accused President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday of supporting a “forced Islamisation of France” because an arm of the state-owned savings bank, the Caisse des Depots et Consignations, held 99.63 percent of Quick’s capital.

This being campaign season in France — regional elections are coming up in March — politicians of both main parties jumped into the fray. Vandierendonck was the main Socialist to do so, while from the conservative side, several MPs denounced the halal menu as discriminatory and a sign of “communautarisme” — which is better translated by the Indian term communalism or sectarianism — than by its English-language “false friend” communitarianism.  Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire avoided the “no freedom of choice” argument but said: “When they remove all the pork from a restaurant open to the public, I think they fall into communalism, which is against the principles and the spirit of the French republic.”


Legal files in a French court/Eric Gaillard

The uproar, like France’s drive to ban Muslim face veils and its state-led debate on national identity, has come just ahead of regional elections next month. Quick began what it calls a six-month marketing test in late November, but the politicans didn’t seem to notice it then. Like the ban-the-burqa drive and France’s government-led debate on national identity, the timing link to the elections speaks louder than the politicians’ denials of any connection.

It says something about France that these politicians think their cries of  “discrimination” pass the giggle test. The neighbourhoods where Quick went halal have lots of potential customers of Muslim background. The halal market is growing in France and there already are lots of couscous restaurants and kebab stands that naturally use only halal meat — and many non-Muslims happily eat there. Why is there suddenly such an outcry for a “non-denominational” menu?

One of the great ironies, of course, is that these French politicians are standing up in defence of American fast food! There once was a time when the French got worked up about les sandwiches. Nobody seems to notice that angle here.

Trying to find out why all of France is not laughing now, I asked a French friend how anyone could file a discrimination suit when the status quo ante — no halal menu for Muslim customers — was not considered a problem. The best explanation she could come up with was that customers would expect a certain menu from a McDonald’s look-alike and would at least want a choice. But could this stand up in court? “The court of public opinion is all that matters here,” she remarked.

When French politicians tie themselves in knots like this, I wonder if anyone not familiar with this country can follow what’s happening. What do you think of all this?

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French are increasingly becoming more racist!
A business has every right to sell whatever it deems necessary unless it is an illegal item. This new Muslim bashing policy of the country will only alienate the 15 percent strong minority.

Posted by scanio | Report as abusive

[…] Quick decided to open “halal branches” in some Muslim-dominated neighborhoods in France, a strongly polarized reaction occurred: applause from the Islamic corner and boos and panic from the right-wing corner, which saw this […]

Posted by Religion, Science, and Politics of Halal – Science and Religion Today | Report as abusive

Are you French for real? Is this some hidden remnant that Nazi Germany sowed into French psyche?

Posted by Makko | Report as abusive

QUOTE: “Marine Le Pen, vice president of the far-right National Front, charged last Sunday that clients “are forced because of halal meat to pay a tax to Islamic organizations” that certify the food was produced according to Muslim dietary laws.”

WTH?! What about most foods in the grocery stores being certified Kosher which forces non-Jews to have to pay the “Jewish tax?!”

Posted by khadijah1212 | Report as abusive

France is a secular state.

Posted by WestFlorida | Report as abusive

Too late for France, they let too many in already- combat in the streets to enforce sharia will be next for them.

Posted by Factoidz | Report as abusive

I am not sure how long you have been in France, but this is an incredibly one-sided view of the question. The vast majority of French people, including those hostile to the FN, view the issue in a much more nuanced way. In essence, the modern French Republic was founded on the premise that one has a right to pursue one’s faith or private beliefs, but that the public arena (schools, laws, public facilities, etc.) should be open to all faiths without having to make adjustments for specific faith-based demands.
It is also worth noting the rise of militant Islam since the early 90s. Before that, it was unusual to see young North African women in hijabs (head scarves) and unheard of to see anyone in niquabs (full-body cover).
I do not condone all of the measures that have been taken, but responsible journalism needs to go beyond “those nasty Frogs!”

p.s. I first came to France in 1977 and settled here in 1981, so I feel that I have some perspective.

Posted by Harland | Report as abusive

Why remove an item from a menu because someone disagrees? Let everyone order what they wish and only be concerned with their food!
Why appease the disgruntled?
My family has been in this country for 191 years. We are happy with the way our country is run. Do NOT come here from another and start complaining about it. To change our ways to suit someone that was dissatisfied with the country they left and now ours is asinine.
Much better interviews for immigration must be updated and enforced.
From an 85 yr. old happy citizen.

Posted by 5mij007 | Report as abusive