Jewish and Muslim leaders in France have reacted angrily at suggestions by Prime Minister François Fillon that certain religions should rethink their "ancestral traditions" of religious slaughter of animals, suggesting they were “outdated” and not in line with “Republican tradition”. The comment came as President Nicolas Sarkozy - seeking re-election in the April-May ballot - and his ministers kept up efforts to woo far-right voters from the anti-immigrant National Front led by Marine Le Pen.
Richard Prasquier, head of the Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, said that he was "shocked" by Fillon's "astonishing" declaration, and added: "The government has no place giving advice about religious traditions." French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim asked: “France's problems are so major, as we are in a period of crisis, so how can the issue of kosher meat and halal meat be a major problem for France?”
Fillon's office said that the prime minister would meet with Bernheim soon to discuss the issue. The head of President Sarkozy’s government had stirred anger on Monday by saying that "religions should think about whether they should keep traditions that don't have much in common with today's state of science, technology and health problems."
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) slammed what it said was the use of Muslims as "scapegoats" in the election campaign in which halal slaughter of animals has become a hot-button issue. Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate and frontrunner in opinion polls, said Tuesday his rivals had now gone too far and called for "restraint". He declared: "Our Muslim and Jewish fellow citizens feel hurt, whatever their political allegiances might be.” CFCM leader Mohammed Moussaoui confirmed this. "The CFCM does not understand why Islam and Muslims are being used as scapegoats in this campaign and cannot accept this," he told the news agency AFP.
Marine Le Pen launched the debate last month when she claimed all meat from Paris region abattoirs was prepared using Islamic halal traditions and that non-Muslim consumers in the capital were being misled. However, it later emerged that Paris region abattoirs mostly supplied local Muslim butchers and that most meat sold in Paris came from outside the region.
Like kosher slaughter, the halal method requires the abattoir to kill the animal by slitting its throat. France is home to Europe's largest Muslim community, estimated at 4 million, and also has Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated at 650,000.