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France: Hamburger Chains Decision Sparking Tensions Over Islam

(hat tip: Daniel R. Bartholomew)

What is it about Muslims and food that just gets people upset? There was Campbell’s soup, there was the fact that Banana’s are shaped like crescent moons and now there is issues with Quick’s hamburgers.

Letter From France: Hamburger chain’s decision sparks tensions over Islam

By Edward Cody

But those awkward times are over. In a telling measure of the growing Muslim presence in France, Quick, a homegrown hamburger chain trying to compete with McDonald’s, began serving halal hamburgers last month in 22 of its 367 restaurants, including the busy establishment frequented by Desadjri and his friends in this heavily Muslim suburb just north of Paris.

“It’s really important for me,” said Desadjri, a bright-eyed 16-year-old with wavy black hair who was gulping a hamburger and fries the other day alongside a non-Muslim pal, Darren de Lemos, 17. “I used to come here before, but I could never eat what I wanted. Now, we can all eat the same thing.”

The decision to serve halal burgers, with its bow to Muslim buying power, has produced an outcry among some political leaders, who regard it as an affront to France’s Christian traditions and official secularism. As a result, the lowly hamburger has become an unlikely new symbol of the unease spreading across Western Europe over an influx of immigrants, including many Muslims, who as their numbers increase demand respect for their traditions.

The great hamburger debate has not risen to the national level, where President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has occupied the backlash scene by cracking down on illegal residents, particularly Roma from Eastern Europe, and instituting a ban on full-face Islamic veils in public. But Quick’s decision has roiled a number of mayors, from the political left as well as the right, in communities where the new halal restaurants are becoming popular.

Rene Vandierendonck, the Socialist mayor of Roubaix in northern France, charged Quick with discrimination when it turned its Roubaix restaurant into a halal-only operation. He acted after a protest from Marine Le Pen, a leader of the far-right National Front and the daughter of its founder and former presidential candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In response, authorities in nearby Lille opened a criminal investigation. But Vandierendonck withdrew his complaint after Quick offered to negotiate a compromise under which those who preferred could order non-halal hamburgers.

Since then, at least two more legal complaints have been filed.

Jacqueline Rouillon, the Communist mayor of Saint-Ouen near Paris, said she planned to contact other mayors in towns where Quick restaurants have gone halal to see whether they can organize joint negotiations, with the goal of forcing the firm to maintain a choice.

The opposition seemed based on an assumption that non-Muslims are frozen out in halal restaurants because they cannot eat halal meat. But neither the taste nor the texture is affected by halal practices; non-Muslim customers here in La Courneuve, including Desadjri’s friends from a nearby vocational high school, seemed to find no difference in their burgers.

Halal, or lawful, meat comes from animals slaughtered according to Islamic rules stipulating, among other things, that they be killed by a knife stroke that severs the arteries in their throat so they lose their blood. In addition, the rules require care lest halal meat be contaminated by contact with non-halal products. As a result, Quick officials explained, offering a choice to restaurant customers is difficult because keeping halal and non-halal meat separate during storage and cooking is not cost-effective.

Quick, a franchise operation owned by a French-run investment group, decided on halal burgers not as a gesture toward integration but as a way to raise its market share, which is one-third that of McDonald’s. A six-month test last year in eight restaurants in Muslim-heavy neighborhoods showed a doubling of business after certificates were hung up guaranteeing that their beef was halal, the company said.

A franchise holder in the southwestern city of Toulouse had urged the test after noting a drop in business as little halal sandwich shops began opening along nearby streets, said Quick’s spokeswoman, Valerie Raynal. Restaurants were picked for the experiment on the basis of how many fish sandwiches they served, how few bacon burgers were ordered and how sharply business dropped off during the Ramadan fast.

The numbers are not yet in since halal operations expanded to 22 Quick restaurants last month, but indications are that business is way up, Raynal said.

Nobody has counted for sure how many people from Muslim families live in France; ethnic identification is forbidden in censuses. Some Muslim leaders have suggested the number is 6 million, but the Interior Ministry and several academic specialists estimate 5 million. Either way, France, with its close ties to North Africa, has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, many of whom go for hamburgers.

Carre Gandega, an immigrant from Mauritania who manages the La Courneuve restaurant, said Quick’s decision to go halal “took some daring” given the tense debate over immigration that has been riling the country but added that the result has been good for his profits.

“There is a big difference, a big, big difference,” he said as customers, including a number of women in Islamic scarves, lined up to place orders.

Above the counter were advertisements for burger meals, oily fries, sugary soft drinks and cloying milkshakes. Just to the right hung several framed certificates, delivered by Muslim religious authorities, with guarantees in French and Arabic that the calories were all halal.

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  • David

    Asalaam Aleikum brothers, and welcome to the KosherNostra! The majority of hacks up in arms at OU labeling cite monetary concerns (we Jews want that 1/100000000000000 of a penny from every flavorful bite!). They say that Rabbis approach a food company and threaten that Jews will boycott their product if it isn’t Kosher…well…duh.

  • Saeed

    Irrational fear leads to irrational acts. Its an undeniable fact that Islam is growing amongst non-Muslims so the defenders of secularism rather than debating with Muslims use underhand tactics and Islamic anything becomes a threat to their belief. Is secularism really that weak?

  • Dawood

    The irony of this article should not be lost when considering the above discussion! 😀

  • derek

    guardian is a centre right labour newspaper.liberty phile is a george bush
    supporter.lastly a merry christmass to everyone exept right wingers

  • Dawood

    Just to add to the ongoing discussion, this article regarding a new range of halal products that are completely organic and classed as “Certified Humane®” by Humane Farm Animal Care. Their policies for kosher and halal slaughter discuss the appropriate methods of slaughter both with and without stunning taking place.

    I wish them all the best with their projects and products.

  • Dawood

    No problem Farlowe, I hope they are of use to you. 🙂 If you need a hand with understanding anything you find in the texts, feel free to ask and hopefully I can help.

  • Serious Cynic? Haha, I go to KDU at the moment for *my* A-levels 😛

    Did you contact me yet? The others are waiting for you:

  • Cynic

    Ah, I did my A-Levels near that mall at KDU college.

  • Farlowe

    A belated thanks to Muhammad ‘abd-al haqq and Dawood for their reading list/suggestions. I have some of those titles on order.

  • Here in Malaysia we have a ‘Ninja Joe’ restaurant at one of my local malls (Tropicana City Mall for those of you who know it) who sell ‘The best pork burgers in town’. And guess what? Total lack of freak outs by the 60%+ of us who are Muslims…

  • Syed

    OK Ismail_AbdulHaq. I defer to your personal experience on there being no ham in hamburgers. But if you visit Land O Lakes, Florida – You can stop at Hungry Harrys Famous Barbeque place where the menu includes pulled pork hamburgers. For many people here, anything between two buns is a hamburger.

    Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa maxima 😉

  • Mosizzle

    Eternel, to me that link just highlights how badly America has failed to bring democracy to Afghanistan and how it has miserably failed to create a decent acceptable government. It is now 9 years since the invasion of Afghanistan and the army is failing to win and they can’t even control the governments they themselves have set up.


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