Saturday, February 20, 2010

French politicians find halal hamburgers hard to swallow

By Cecile Baraille (AFP) – 2 days ago

PARIS — A move by a French fast-food chain to offer halal menus at a handful of restaurants has some politicians fuming, in the latest row over France's increasingly visible Muslim minority.

The Quick chain has taken pork off its menu in eateries in Roubaix, northern France, as well as in Marseille and in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil to try to tap into the growing market of Muslim customers.

But politicians from the left and right have complained that the switch to no-bacon hamburgers, launched three months ago in November, is depriving non-Muslims of their right to the standard menu.

They argue that non-Muslims now have to trek to the suburbs to get a bacon burger as Quick is the only fast-food place in the city centre.

Roubaix town leaders on Thursday filed a complaint for discrimination, their lawyer Frank Berton told AFP. He said Quick was effectively making the supplying of its products conditional on religious affiliation.

"I'm not bothered by the fact that there is a halal menu," said Roubaix's Mayor Rene Vandierendonck. "But this is going too far because it is the only menu on offer and it has become discrimination."

French far-right politician Marine Le Pen suggested the Halal menus were providing a financial boost to Muslim organisations that certify meat as having been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic practices.

Le Pen condemned the menu switch as "unacceptable" and denounced a form of "Islamisation".

In cities and towns across France, Quick's red-and-white signs are as familiar a sight as McDonald's golden arches, offering the usual array of hamburgers, french fries and soft drinks.

But in eight of Quick's 350 restaurants, the "Strong Bacon" double cheese hamburger is not on offer, replaced by a halal version with smoked turkey.

One customer was quoted in Le Parisien daily as saying that "it's just not the same".

The government has frowned on Quick's decision, suggesting that it was a form of "communautarisme", a pejorative term suggesting that a group is exhibiting a ghetto attitude.

Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority estimated at between five and six million, France has been caught up in a series of controversies that have highlighted its unease with Islam in a strictly secular society.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government is drafting legislation to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil and sponsoring a debate on national identity that has exposed fears about immigration.

Responding to the hubbub over the halal hamburgers, the head of France's Muslim Council called Thursday for reason to prevail and announced that he planned to meet with Quick's owners.

"Halal and kosher restaurants have been around for a long time," Mohammed Moussaoui told AFP. "Quick is the first fast-food chain to offer a full halal menu but it is only in a few of its restaurants."

"There are plenty of restaurants that do not offer halal meals and Muslims are not complaining of discrimination."

Quick manager Luc Demain, who runs the outlet in Roubaix among others, said there had been a slight increase in business since the new halal menus had been introduced and that he had not received complaints from customers.

Lionnel Lucca, a deputy from Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party, has called for a boycott of Quick to press for "freedom of choice to be restored" at the fast-food outlets.

UMP party leader Xavier Bertrand was also drawn into the debate, saying that he was no fan of "anything that looks like 'communautarisme'" -- seen as one group gaining an advantage at the detriment of another.


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