Sun and Mail headlines

The campaign against Halal meat has very little to do with concern for animal rights argues Fran Legg

First it was the headscarf, now it’s halal meat. A new frontier has opened up in the propaganda war against British Muslims.

“Halal secret of Pizza Express” screamed the front page of The Sun earlier this week. The restaurant chain was, they reported, selling only halal chicken, “without telling customers”.

The BBC joined other media outlets in wheeling out concerned commentators who revealed that Tescos, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer were also selling halal-certified meat to “unwitting” customers. This had to be #CreepingShariah at its most sinister.

Transparency is of course an issue. But Pizza Express, in line with other retailers who sell halal, does advertise this fact on their website.

And the reason most major chains sell halal meat? It makes good commercial sense. One method of production that keeps costs down.

Moral panic

The Daily Mail as a rule unconcerned by issues of animal welfare, fretted about the “unnecessary suffering” of animals killed using halal practices.

For meat to be considered halal, ‘permissible’ in Arabic, the animal must be healthy, uninjured and killed with a cut to the throat. All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body and the appropriate Islamic prayer must be said at the time of slaughter. Kosher meat is produced in much the same way.

Most halal-certified meat in the UK is stunned before slaughter, in exactly the same way as conventionally killed meat. Around 10% per cent is carried out “via the traditional method of slitting the animal’s throat while it remains conscious”. Animal welfare organisations have debated which practice causes the most suffering.

And this latest moral panic has very little to do with concern for animal rights. Attempts to frame the ‘debate’ in these terms are disingenuous and hypocritical.

Of course we should be concerned about where our food comes from. We should inform ourselves about the entire process, from farm to plate.

As a vegetarian, I would welcome an honest debate about the meat industry as a whole. We should all consider the environmental and ethical implications of how animals are treated and exploited within a capitalist system that puts profit before welfare concerns.

Disturbing discourse

When politicians and media outlets speak of halal slaughter as being uniquely cruel “a peculiarly barbaric practice that is a product of a ‘foreign’ set of values” they perpetuate a deeply disturbing discourse.

The halal meat issue has become a proxy for a wider anti-Muslim rhetoric that permeates almost the whole of the British political and social mainstream. It is a dangerous phenomenon that has, in recent years, mutated in to physical manifestations.

Cultural markers that indicate what it means to be a Muslim have become the target of attacks. Women have had their headscarves pulled off in the street. Mosques have been graffitied and fire-bombed.Islamophobia is itself largely a product of the ‘home front’ of the War on Terror. Muslims are presented as the ‘home-grown enemy’. The idea “that this is a suspect group riddled with terrorists” is used to create support for wars and occupations of Muslim countries abroad.

In recent months this has manifested itself in the arrest and detention of activist Moazzam Begg, the Birmingham schools row and Tony Blair’s rabid anti-Muslim speech at Bloomberg News Corporation.

This process of ‘othering’ serves to criminalise and dehumanise a whole section of British society. And it is an offensive that is being driven, not only by the far-right, but by the seemingly respectable, liberal Establishment.

In Britain, the halal food ‘debate’ is fast becoming a part of a struggle for national identity. Racist notions of what it means to be ‘British’ exclude an already persecuted Muslim population.

Halal hysteria must be challenged. Freedom of choice is important. But beyond this, we must confront the misinformation and fear-mongering because of what this poisonous discourse represents.

Those on the Left, the anti-war movement and all anti-racists must renew their efforts to counter this new wave of anti-Muslim hatred. We must step up our campaigns against Islamophobia at home and against the wars abroad from which this racism has emerged. It is a fight that we have to win.