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French author argues ‘halal’ is a recent invention

The French anthropologist Florence Bergeaud-Blackler argues in her book, Le marché halal ou l'invention d'une tradition [The Halal Market or the Invention of a Tradition] that strict Islamic dietary laws were invented by multinational corporations.

Published: July 5, 2017, 11:31 am

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    Bergeaud-Blackler says that the “halal” food label, which is religiously permitted food for Muslims, was “recently invented” for a potential commercial market, in a collusion between Iranians and the multinational agrifood industry. In an interview with the French daily newspaper, Libération, she said:

    “I speak of invention of the ‘halal market’ in the sense that we are not dealing with an ancient tradition imported from Muslim countries. The halal market never existed in the Muslim world until food ‘big business’ created it and exported it. The halal convention was born in the 70s and 80s. At this time, two ideologies triumphed on the international scene: on the one hand, Muslim fundamentalism, including the proclamation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and, on the other hand, neo-liberalism, with Thatcher and Reagan. This convergence, unscheduled and unexpected, would allow these two ideologies to work together to establish a halal food industrial protocol”.

    According to Bergeaud-Blackler, halal food, for centuries, had only been the prohibition of pork. All food, with the exception of pork, that had been produced both locally and non-locally, by “People of the Book” [Christians and Jews] was considered halal.

    However after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, halal became a food requirement sanctified by economic interests. In the 1970s, Iran and Saudi Arabia, engaged in a competition to spread their vision of Islam throughout the world, were aided by multinationals such as Nestlé, to set up the large global halal food market.

    A report by Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard estimated the halal food market in 2014 at $1.37 trillion, representing almost a fifth of the total food and beverage market worldwide, and an increase of 6.2 percent compared to 2013.

    “In Europe, the halal market is growing at an estimated annual rate of between 10-20 percent. It is a demand driven by a general desire for Sharia compliance among a growing Muslim population,” says Paulius Kuncinas, business analyst and managing editor at Oxford Business Group.

    Nestlé is currently number one worldwide, followed by Aldo’s, Cadbury, Kraft, Kellogg’s and others. Fast food outlets such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Red Rooster, KFC and Subway also have an halal meat option.

    Agrifood businesses helped to separate Muslims and non-Muslims food in European countries. “Splitting in two the space between what is permitted and what is not, creates a certain social anxiety and leads to a behavior of avoidance. When you eat exclusively halal, you do not invite home non-halal people, for fear this person will invite you in return. These patterns of avoidance combine with speech that rejects of “impure” food. The confusion between halal and purity is disturbing.”

    Gilles Kepel, professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, noted the same separation by means of nourishment: “By exacerbating the question of halal, the political actors of Islamism are leading a logic of rupture — Muslim children are incited to abandon school canteens, and this helps them to distance the youth from the school and from the nation”.

    Kepel believes halal food is the second battle Islamists are leading in France and in Europe after the veil. “Initially, halal is presented as a consumption pattern; halal is part of a demand for pluralism: we eat halal like vegan, organic or kosher. And retail companies are not mistaken: their supermarkets offer a wide range of halal products in the aisles, with an estimated market of 5 billion euros…. the political actors of Islamism… see halal as an opportunity for community control and they strive to radicalize and exacerbate…”

    Halal food has begun to be a major source of conflict in France. Companies face growing demands for halal food in canteens, and although they are not legally required to supply halal food, many companies fear that if they do not comply with the demands, they will be called “racist”.

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