The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dr H.A. Hellyer is Fellow of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, author of “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans”and Director of the Visionary Consultants Group.
An innovative campaign to build grass-roots dialogue between Jews and Muslims in North America has crossed the Atlantic and taken off in Europe. The “Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” which began last year with about 100 houses of worship in North America, expanded this year to include events in eight European countries. The weekend meetings, which have been taking place in November and December, bring together mosque and synagogue congregations to discuss ways of overcoming anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their own communities.
Switzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now.
A Sudanese woman who was punished for breaching (insert: what authorities say are) Islamic decency laws by wearing trousers has defied a travel ban by coming to France to publicise her new book.
The business of selling food that is halal, or acceptable to Muslims, is set to grow rapidly in Europe in coming years as more supermarket chains target the sector. Frits van Dijk, executive vice president at the world’s biggest food group Nestlé, told Reuters at the World Halal Forum Europe in The Hague that he expected the halal food business in Europe to grow by 20 to 25 percent within the next decade.
(Photo: Halal hamburger restaurant in Paris suburb, 10 Aug 2005/Jacky Naegelen)
The total European halal food market is currently valued at about $66 billion, including meat, fresh food and packed food, while the global market is worth about $634 billion.“We are starting to see that these products are not just in speciality shops but are also starting to get into the mainstream of modern retailers,” said Van Dijk, pointing to Britain’s Tesco and France’s Carrefour, which stock halal goods.Milk powder, cooking aids, seasoning and sauces are among the most popular halal products in Europe at the moment, while Nestlé has recently started selling a range of meat-based and frozen food halal products in France, Van Dijk said.Read the whole story here.
French Communist parliamentarian André Gerin, a leading proponent of a ban on full facial veils here, is an old hand at avoiding answering unwelcome questions. One that has become increasingly difficult for him is whether France should prohibit Muslim women here from wearing the veils, known as burqas and niqabs, as a way to combat Islamic fundamentalism. He got a real grilling about this on Europe 1 radio today. After ducking the persistent question “will you propose a legal ban?” several times, he finally admitted that, well … uh … there wouldn’t be a ban after all. There would be “recommendations” that could be supported by Muslim leaders here, i.e. would not include the ban they oppose.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy took time out from a busy schedule on Friday to welcome 18 Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops from across Europe into the Elysée Palace for a short talk about laïcité. The prelates were in Paris for an annual session of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), a Swiss-based body that brings together all those bishops’ conferences. Among the topics at the three-day conference are relations between church and state in Europe, so it was natural that they’d take the opportunity to learn more about France’s trademark secular system.
Remember all the talk about France banning the burqa and niqab Muslim veils for women a few months ago? That project is now in the parliamentary inquiry phase, a six-month fact-finding mission expected to wind up late this year and produce a draft bill to outlaw them. That’s the way France handled it in 2003 when it wanted to stop Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to state schools. But the process seems more complex this time around. There’s less passion and more hesitation in the debate. A smooth progression from the inquiry to the ban and to its implementation no longer looks assured.
It’s hard to watch France’s political and cultural elite rush to support filmmaker Roman Polanski against extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge and not wonder exactly how they interpret the national motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s tempting to ask whether they’re defending the liberty to break the law and skip town, respecting the equality of all before the law and championing a brotherhood of artists who can do no wrong.