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Religion a Hot Button Issue in French Presidential Politics

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Prime Minister Francois Fillon called for Jews and Muslims to abandon rituals related to slaughtering animals, opining the regulations were installed for hygienic reasons that no longer apply.  (Photo credit: Benjamin Lemaire)French Prime Minister Seeks to Nix Kosher, Halal Meat

According to recent reports, France’s presidential race has devolved into protracted debates on religious issues. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who heads the National Front party, contended last month that halal meat was being unwittingly supplied to Parisians. The methods of slaughter employed Muslims and by Jews (for Halal and Kosher meat, respectively) differ from current mainstream techniques and do not include the stunning of cattle beforehand. This has angered some animal rights activists, who claim the procedure fails to provide comfort for the animals, and right-wingers in France have pounced on this issue to take a stab at the growing Muslim presence in France and Europe in general, which has left many conservative nationalists throughout the European Union distraught. With the issue of halal meat on the table, the Jewish observance of kashrut has also come under fire.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trailing behind opposition candidate Francois Hollande in opinion polls, addressed the mounting concern about the meat situation and called upon products to label kosher and halal foods as such.  This has served as a platform for Sarkozy to promote his liberal values, and allowed right-leaning politicians to delineate the threat Islam allegedly poses to France’s governmental structure.  The socialist opposition to Sarkozy has widely discussed allowing immigrants to vote in municipal elections, and some say this will result in the implementation of a halal food program in schools and an enlarged Muslim, immigrant representation in the government. In the midst of this controversy, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon controversially suggested that Jews and Muslims reconsider their views on ritualistic slaughtering to accommodate changing times.
 “Religions should think about keeping traditions that don’t have much in common with today’s state of science, technology and health problems,” Fillon told Europe 1 radio. The prime minister suggested the rituals were once installed for hygienic reasons that are no longer of concern. “We live in a modern society,” he said.

Jewish authorities were caught off guard by the prime minister’s remarks.

“I am astonished by this statement by the prime minister,” said Richard Prasquier of CRIF, a well-respected coalition of French Jewish organizations. “The government has no place giving advice about religious traditions.”

In an election year, people are surprised a religious question has received so much attention.

 “France’s problems are so major, as we are in a period of crisis,” said French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, “so how can the issue of kosher meat and halal meat be [such] a major problem for France?”

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