One of the reasons I enjoyed staying at luxury hotels were the sumptuous breakfasts. Crispy slices of bacon tasted delicious.
Slightly older, possibly wiser, I now give the (high cholesterol!) bacon a miss. However, sometimes I may still be found hovering suspiciously close to the bacon counter in order to savour delectable whiffs of blasphemous pig's meat!
For many, halal food is not as simple as asking 'does it contain pig meat or not?' The French, at least in the Northern town of Roubaix, are asking a different question. Where's the bacon?
Quick, a French fast-food chain has made some of its French outlets 'Muslim friendly.' The outlets will serve halal food and the bacon burger has been removed from the menu.
The chain is not a neighbourhood restaurant operated by North African immigrants. In 2008, Quick's restaurants racked up sales of almost 900 million Euros (USD 1.2 billion). Quick's decision is a reflection of the growing halal food market. One study suggested that just in France the halal meat market is worth 5.5 billion Euros (double the size of the organic food market).
The halal food industry is big business. Not surprising given that the world's Muslim population is approximately 1.5 billion. Couple the population with a global trend of increasing Islamic self-awareness and one has a market for halal food worth USD 635 billion and growing.
Despite its size, the industry remains fragmented. There exist an estimated 150 – 200 global halal certification bodies, including Singapore's own Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.
The certification bodies maintain varied standards which are sometimes incompatible with each other. For example, Malaysia has authorized 45 halal certification bodies while Indonesia accepts 40. Of these, only 24 certifications are accepted by both countries (July 2009).
While Islamic jurisprudence debates the finer points of defining halal food, the socialist run town council of Roubaix is taking legal action against Quick for "subordinating the supply of a good, the hamburger, to belonging or not belonging to a particular religion." The French Agriculture Minister alleges that the move encourages ethnically based thinking (race classifications anyone?) and is "contrary to the principles and spirit of the republic".
No doubt, the mayor is correct to suggest that the venerable hamburger must be freely available to members of all religions.
However, mandating menu options of private establishments is against the grain of personal freedoms. I hope that the French courts uphold basic economic freedoms which are a prerequisite for any successful social economy.
If a Christian storeowner decided she no longer wanted to carry pornography in her magazine section then can the government force her to carry Penthouse. Will carrying pornographic magazines ensure the 'Spirit of the French Republic' is kept alive?
The niqab, or full face veil, as seen on the streets of Monterey, California
By all means, ban the niqab. Not only will I support the ban but even encourage its implementation. However, I draw the line when it comes to forcing private sector businesses to sell particular products by force of law.
The economic realities of the marketplace tend to be more powerful than legislation. Let businesses decide what fills up their warehouses and what moves quickly.