The hubbub over halal: burgers for Muslims raise ire in France
By : dpa
Category : Europe (World)
Posted : Thu, 11 Mar 2010 03:08:09 GMT
Paris – Anyone who craves a real hamburger probably wouldn't switch willingly to turkey meat, unless it was part of a diet. Indeed, some people might be put out if they had no choice in the kind of burger they could get, which is exactly what is happening to some patrons of the Quick chain in France, where some franchises have decided to cater exclusively to Muslim tastes.
The case of Quick's halal burgers is eliciting strong emotions after eight of the chain's 350 stores made the switch to serving only meat in accordance with Islamic guidelines. That means no pork and only meat from animals allowed to bleed out during slaughter.
“This is discrimination,” said Rene Vandierendonck, mayor of the French town of Roubaix. He doesn't mind that halal burgers are on the menu. “But it goes too far when nothing else is offered.”
He has no plans to challenge the decision in court, but does plan to report it to federal discrimination authorities.
Quick, France's answer to McDonald's, has been experimenting with ways to appeal to its Muslim customers since last autumn. Along with the Quick in Roubaix, restaurants in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil and Marseille, home to large Muslim populations, have also removed regular hamburgers from the menu.
The company says it plans to track sales at its various stores to see whether the move is profitable.
Halal products are fairly common in France, available everywhere from supermarkets to farmers' markets in the form of butchers offering halal meat. Restaurants that cook to Islamic standards are also old news. And they don't just serve couscous and traditional Northern African fare. Young Muslim chefs are using many of those restaurants to experiment.
During Ramadan – the traditional Muslim fasting month – in 2009, television stations carried ads for halal ravioli. And, when it's time to make a toast, there's Cham'halal, alcohol-free sparkling wine.
The fact that the halal burger has raised so much attention is partially explained by the fact that regional elections are due, sparking the regular debates about the three I's – immigration, Islam and integration – guaranteed vote-getters.
Members of UMP, the party of the current French government, warn that the Quick decision is a move away from the sharp division of religion and state in France and have called for a boycott of Quick restaurants. It's unacceptable that non-Muslims are “forced” to eat halal meat, says one UMP legislator.
But Green Party member Daniel Cohn-Bendit seems relaxed about the issue. “If you want different meat, go somewhere else,” he says. He notes that no-one seems too troubled by the fact that kosher meat is on sale in Paris' Marais Jewish quarter.
And what do Muslims say about it all? Either they are avoiding the issue or are worried that their religion is going to be stigmatised for political ends.
After all, it's not been that long since, to great media uproar, France outlawed full body coverings in public spaces. That came as Immigration Minister Eric Besson started a debate about national identity, which has, at times, turned into a heated debate about Muslims in France.