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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Has the Islamic debate in France crossed the line?

It seems that the debate over French identity and I believe the concern over religion in France, Islam in particular has turned a corner. Though, when I say “turned a corner”, I do not mean in a good/positive way by any means.

The French are now debating over halal burgers?! I mean really. After disputing burqas and Muslim rights and France’s national identity, French politicians are actually taking on the burger.

The French fast food chain, Quick, has decided to serve only halal meat in eight restaurants (Please note that this is 8 out of 362 in neighborhoods that are predominantly Muslim.) with a strong Muslim clientele. This has seemingly “sparked a wave of criticism from politicians decrying the step as unacceptable”.  The whole idea of a business like this is to serve the customer, no? I.e., create good business?  While the rational side of me can slightly grasp the idea, I am not sure I understand how or even why this is unacceptable.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, “to many Frenchmen, a halal Quick seems odd and perhaps not quite right in a society where religion should not stand out in ordinary life, under the strictly secular principles of laicite, or separation of church and state. As with the burqa question, support for secular France are found on the socialist left and strongly on the right, as well.” According to socialists, this new policy is discriminatory. “Quick customers should be able to order what is on the menu”, said socialist mayor of Roubaix, Rene Vandierendonck. Luc Chatel, the Sarkozy government spokesman in Paris, said he opposed halal Quicks since they supported ‘communitarianism’, a French term for identifying with a particular ethnic or religious group rather than egalitarian principles of the republic., a Muslim consumer website, shot back, saying that irrespective of the merits of the case, Muslims were being unfairly targeted: "Would there have been as many media reactions if, instead of halal, Quick had chosen another niche, like bio [or organic whole foods]? Would a theme Quick with only Mexican or Chinese menus get such media reaction? No, of course not.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Quick France says the decision to go pork-less “is not religious” and notes that the eight restaurants are not authentically halal, since beer is also served there. In the eight, smoked turkey is substituted for bacon in what would ordinarily be a bacon burger. Note that Kentucky Fried Chicken apparently already sells halal chicken in France, though does so with no advertising.

I really just wonder if they are going too far this time. That is my concern.


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