Yesterday afternoon I switched on the radio to find that the top news story in our nation of food banks, rising child poverty and mass unemployment was halal meat. It’s remarkable that Pizza Express serving up halal chicken is such a big story given that virtually meat-eater in the country has had an Indian takeaway or a kebab at some point in their lives. So I think it’s fair to say that non-Muslims enjoying a bit of halal meat in Britain is nothing new.
From what I’ve seen on social media there are several lines of objection. One is a fairly well-meaning argument is that animal rights should be paramount over religious traditions. Firstly, it’s worth remembering that if stunning an animal is the benchmark for a ‘humane’ and ‘civilised’ act of slaughter then the vast majority of halal meat is pre-stunned: 97% of cattle, 96% of poultry and 90% of sheep, according to the Food Standards Agency. And in the case of Pizza Express, 100% of its halal chicken is pre-stunned. Secondly, the eminent physiologist Harold Hillman has argued that stunning paralyses rather than anaesthetises. In other words, the animal still feels the pain, you just can’t see it. So to claim that ‘our’ way is ‘civilised’ while ‘their’ way is ‘barbaric’ is both disingenuous, alarmist and dangerous. If the Sun, the Mail and the Express have front page stories next week about battery farming or foie gras then I’ll graciously accept that this controversy has been about animal welfare all along, but somehow I doubt it.
Another concern is that halal meat should be labelled so that people know what they’re eating and I’m in full agreement with this. In the case of Pizza Express, it’s clearly stated for all to see on their website and has been for some time now. They’ve even Tweeted about it a few times over the past two years. So all in all, it’s a bit of a non-story.
But the much more sinister argument is the idea that this story is yet more ‘evidence’ to support the narrative that ‘they’ have come over here and are telling ‘us’ how to live. This also relates to the recent press reports that some Subway stores now only sell halal meat. Yet this policy has been in place since 2007 and far from being a Muslim plot to ban all pork products in our green and pleasant land; it’s simply an example of a company trying to sell more sandwiches by catering to its customers in certain areas of the UK. It’s standard practice elsewhere too. For example, there are a number Subway stores in the US which only serve kosher meat.
Often this line of thought is accompanied with the add-on that there’s a double standard at work because, so the argument goes ‘if we went over there we’d have to live by their rules’. Personally, I’ve never understood the logic of: ‘we’re better than them because we’re tolerant and they’re not, but because they’re not tolerant we shouldn’t be tolerant either.’ But in this case (as with the ‘you couldn’t build a church in a Muslim country’ line) it’s just factually wrong. If for example, you found yourself a bit peckish in the capital city of Bangladesh, a county where more than 90% of the population are Muslim, you could get all the pork products you’d ever want from the German Butcher shop.
What’s important about this last argument however is that it illustrates perfectly how Islamophobia in Britain works as a form of racism. For the person making this argument, all Muslims are foreigners determined to impose their alien and backward customs upon us, the civilised, enlightened British. There’s no recognition that most Muslims in the UK are actually born here and thus are as British as anyone else.
The real agenda in all this is to mark out Muslims and other minority groups as a threat to ‘our way of life’, despite the fact that the very worst they could be accused of is robbing every free-born English man and woman of their sacred right to have bland ham rather than bland turkey ham at every single UK chain of an American sandwich shop.