By Dr Chris Allen, Lecturer in Social Policy & independent adviser to the Government on Anti-Muslim Hate
Here’s a controversial statement: the recent anti-halal hysteria has nothing to do with the welfare of animals. It’s just good old-fashioned Islamophobia.
This is not to say that some people don’t have sincere concerns about the way in which animals are slaughtered: they do.
But these are not the people now jumping on the anti-halal bandwagon. Instead, those jumping on the bandwagon are doing so because they seem happy to eat any old dead animal as long as it’s not a dead ‘Muslim’ animal.
So where did this hysteria come from?
Well for the past few years, groups like the British National Party and English Defence League have been campaigning against halal food. Nothing surprising there. But most recently, the hysteria has emerged in response to a number of overly sensationalised news stories in the British tabloid press.
First, the Daily Mail ran a story about how fast food chain Subway had ‘banned’ pork products in some of its stores in response to ‘strong demand’ from Muslims. Failing to acknowledge this was a commercial decision – Subway aren’t making money selling pork products in heavily populated Muslim areas – the Mail preferred to infer that this was due to Muslim ‘force’.
In response, The Sun’s headline last Wednesday screamed: “Halal Secret of Pizza Express”. Besides the ‘secret’ not being a secret – Pizza Express had been publicising this for almost two years and had tweeted about it too – what the headline could have easily said was, ‘More Evidence of Creeping Sharia Found in Pizza Express’.
A day after, more fuel was added to the fire when the BBC reported that Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and the Co-op were all selling halal New Zealand lamb.
Concerned that ‘millions’ were eating halal meat without knowing it, the Mail reported on the ‘stealth’ takeover of Britain’s supermarkets by Muslims. Accompanying the article were CCTV stills taken inside a halal slaughterhouse alongside the comment, “more than 100 sheep appeared to writhe in agony after being ritually killed”.
But isn’t that what happens in all abattoirs? Animals are killed, they writhe about. To quote Morrissey, meat is murder.
And there’s the hypocrisy. None of those jumping on the bandwagon are concerned about the morality of ‘murdering’ animals or their welfare. They are bothered they’ve been told they’re eating Muslim meat. Evidence of this can be found by having a quick look at the hashtag #boycottpizzaexpress. Not many concerned for the animals are there?
In fact if they were, then all of those on the anti-halal bandwagon would probably be concerned with more than just the last few seconds of the animal’s life.
And that’s because as Animal Aid state, whether halal slaughtered or not, the type of chicken to end up on a pizza will likely have been industrially hatched before being moved to a giant barn known as a ‘broiler shed’ in which 40-50,000 chickens live at any given time. Fed with drugs to ensure un-naturally rapid growth, the chickens are likely to suffer from leg deformities that can prevent them from reaching food and water alongside the routine development of heart, lung, liver and kidney problems. Despite being fed antibiotics to keep them alive, around 50 million chickens die each year in such conditions before reaching the abattoir.
Chickens bred for eggs are worse. Soon after hatching, chicks are sexed. Whilst the females have their beaks forcibly removed before being moved on to laying, the males are thrown into macerating machines that grind them up – while alive – for use in animal feed. Approximately half of all chicks hatched for this purpose are therefore brutally killed.
As Russell Brand put it, “become a vegetarian if you’re offended by the concept of chickens dying, don’t be a racist”.
On considering the evidence, if the anti-halal bandwagon isn’t Islamophobic then some might be pleased with Subway’s decision to stop the sale of pork products given the “harsh and relentless” factory farming methods that pigs are exposed to. Not only are all pigs mainly housed indoors throughout their lives but female pigs are also repeatedly made pregnant using artificial insemination. Kept in farrowing crates, the pregnant pig is unable to move forwards or backwards let alone turn around. After giving birth, the piglets are taken away at three to four weeks at which time the sow is once more impregnated.
Having fattened the piglets with a high protein diet, most of the pigs are sent for slaughter at around seven months. Once at the abattoir, they are given a powerful electric shock to their heads before having their throats ‘sticked’ with a knife. If done incorrectly, the electric shock can cause agonising pain and leave the animal fully aware. Yet even if applied correctly, if left too long before ‘sticking’, the pig regains consciousness before being killed. Such is far from uncommon if Animal Aid is to be believed. But of course, there’s no outrage about this because it’s not Muslims that are slaughtering the pigs.
As I said at the outset, this is not about dead animals but about dead Muslim animals. To be brutally honest, it’s not even about animals, it’s about Muslims pure and simple.
And that’s why I’m calling it exactly what it is: Islamophobia.