French Fast Food Chain Quick Sparks Halal Burger Appeal

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Quick-france A French council has lodged a complaint against a fast food chain that serves only meat that conforms with Islamic dietary laws at a local branch.

The mayor of Roubaix, in northern France, said the halal menu constituted “discrimination” against non-Muslims.

The Roubaix branch is one of several restaurants at which the chain, Quick, took non-halal products and pork off the menu in November.

The move has triggered the latest row over France’s Muslim minority.

Several deputies from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party have condemned the move, while Marine Le Pen, a vice-president of the far-right National Front, warned of “Islamisation”.

Their comments came ahead of regional elections in France next month, and against the backdrop of a debate over French national identity launched by Mr Sarkozy’s government.

‘Going too far’

In Roubaix, Mayor Rene Vandierendonck, a socialist, called for a boycott of the Quick branch, and the town council has filed a complaint for discrimination with a regional court in Lille.

“I’m not bothered by the fact that there is a halal menu,” Mr Vandierendonck said.

“But this is going too far because it is the only menu on offer and it has become discrimination.”

Quick decided to take a bacon hamburger off the menu at eight of its 350 branches, replacing it with a halal version that comes with smoked turkey.

It said the move was designed to test the “commercial interest and technical feasibility” of introducing halal menus.

The Quick manager responsible for the Roubaix branch said there had been a slight increase in business after the introduction of halal menus and that he had not received complaints from customers, AFP news agency reported.

France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, estimated at more than five million people.

Debate has recently focused on the Islamic veil, with a French parliamentary committee recommending a partial ban on women wearing Islamic face veils last month.

12-9

A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

11-30

Ban Racism And Not The Burqa

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bindu Gurtoo, Countercurrents.org

So the French president has gone and done it. In the first presidential address in the French Parliament since 1848, the esteemed President talked about… the Burqa! By declaring, quite theatrically in the parliament that there was no place for the burqa in France, Mr. Sarkozy has undone the goodwill that President Obama so painstakingly earned for the West in Cairo last month. Not only that, by making a fatwa like declaration, he has given the Islamic hardliners another opportunity to raise the bogey of western cultural imperialism. Well, what else can one expect from a man who seems to have little clue on how to deal with global recession, or to tackle the rising unemployment in his country or even to get his countrymen and women to put in an honest day’s labour without going on a strike. Bombastic statements such as these confirm the long held belief of the coloured world that liberty is the white man’s concubine who uses her exclusively for his pleasure.

Pray, Mr. Sarkozy, how is burqa a garment of exclusion while the catholic nun’s habit is not? Granted that the burqa condemns the wearer to a claustrophobic formlessness, but, what about the two piece bikini designed by a man for the voyeuristic pleasure of the male gaze? How can a culture which connives in forcing teenagers to attain impossible thinness and applauds bizarre garments as high fashion, or sit in judgment over others’ attires? Come on Frenchies, tell us, as instruments of debasement and oppression, how are decadence, racism, substance abuse, bulimia, porn and pedophilia any less than the burqa? If, by banning the burqa you are trying to rescue Muslim damsels in distress, then may we suggest a more worthy alternative? How about giving the Muslims in your country genuine equal opportunities that are not sabotaged by racial snobbery?

While you rush to ban the burqa the way you banned the turban, why not ban a few other things such as tobacco, liquor and skinny fashion which have debased and destroyed a great many of your people? But we know you are not going to do that, Mr. Sarkozy for these are valued as expressions of the haute French culture. And one does not desecrate one’s culture by rudely hiving off bits, does one? We suspect Mr. Sarkozy that you have learnt your lessons in governance from the redoubtable Robespierre whose guillotine had once worked overtime in the name of democracy.

Perhaps Mr. Sarkozy, it is time you stepped out of the Muslim woman’s wardrobe and directed your attention to some real issues such as climate change, recession and the future of the European Union. Or do we conclude that it is because you are incapable of pondering over these problems that you take refuge in her cupboard? Do come away from her closet, President and let the Muslim woman decide for herself what she would like to wear. Ah! You are only trying to lend a helping hand, aren’t you? Please desist! For history shows us that the helping hand often ends up slapping the helper. As the president of the nation that pioneered popular uprising, you ought to know that revolutions have to germinate in native soil and can never be successfully grafted. Instead, place your trust in the Muslims to decide on the destiny of their cultures for themselves.

Perhaps, Mr. Sarkozy, the time has come for France to follow the example from across the Atlantic of her once good friend and partner- in- revolutions and elect colored leaders? Though it may seem a daunting task for a man of your intellect, but think Mr. Sarkozy, think!

(The author is a member of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers’ Bureau. Email: bindugurtoo@gmail.com, website: www.citizen-news.org

11-31

Niqabi, Interrupted

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Wearing my niqab is a choice freely made, for spiritual reasons

By Naima B.Robert

Niqab3 I put on my niqab, my face veil, each day before I leave the house, without a second thought. I drape it over my face, tie the ribbons at the back and adjust the opening over my eyes to make sure my peripheral vision is not affected.

Had I a full-length mirror next to the front door, I would be able to see what others see: a woman of average height and build, covered in several layers of fabric, a niqab, a jilbab, sometimes an abayah, sometimes all black, other times blue or brown. A Muslim woman in ‘full veil’. A niqabi.

But is that truly how people see me? When I walk through the park with my little ones in tow, when I reverse my car into a parking space, when I browse the shelves in the frozen section, when I ask how to best cook asparagus at a market stall, what do people see? An oppressed woman? A nameless, voiceless individual? A criminal?

Well, if Mr Sarkozy and others like him have their way, I suppose I will be a criminal, won’t I? Never mind that “it’s a free country”; never mind that I made this choice from my own free will, as did the vast majority of covered women of my generation; never mind that I am, in every other respect, an upstanding citizen who works hard as a mother, author and magazine publisher, spends responsibly, recycles and tries to eat seasonally and buy local produce!

Yes, I cover my face, but I am still of this society. And, as crazy as it might sound, I am human, a human being with my own thoughts, feelings and opinions. I refuse to allow those who cannot know my reality to paint me as a cardboard cut-out, an oppressed, submissive, silenced relic of the Dark Ages. I am not a stereotype and, God willing, I never will be.

But where are those who will listen? At the end of the day, Muslim women have been saying for years that the hijab et al are not oppressive, that we cover as an act of faith, that this is a bonafide spiritual lifestyle choice. But the debate rages on, ironically, largely to the exclusion of the women who actually do cover their faces.

The focus on the niqab is, in my opinion, utterly misplaced. Don’t the French have anything better to do than tell Muslim women how to dress? Don’t our societies have bigger problems than a relative handful of women choosing to cover their faces out of religious conviction? The “burka issue” has become a red herring: there are issues that Muslim women face that are more pressing, more wide-reaching and, essentially, more relevant than whether or not they should be covering with a niqab, burqa or hijab.

At the end of the day, all a ban will do is force Muslim women who choose to cover to retreat even further – it is not going to result in a mass “liberation” of Muslim women from the veil. All women, covered or not, deserve the opportunity to dress as they see fit, to be educated, to work where they deem appropriate and run their lives in accordance with their principles, as long as these choices do not impinge on others’ freedoms. And last time I looked, being able to see a woman’s hair, legs or face were not rights granted alongside “liberté, egalité et fraternité”.

As a Muslim woman living in the UK, I am so grateful for the fact that my society does not force me to choose between being a practising Muslim and an active member of society. I have been able to study, to work, to establish a writing career and run a magazine business, all while wearing a niqaab. I think that that is a credit to British society, no matter what the anti-multiculturalists may say, and I think the French coul d learn some very valuable lessons from the British approach.

So, three cheers for those women who make the choice to cover, in whatever way and still go out there every day. Go out to brave the scorn and ridicule of those who think they understand the burka better than those who actually wear it. Go out to face the humiliating headlines. Go out to face the taunts of schoolchildren. Go out to fight another day. Go out to do their bit for society and the common good. Because you never know, if Mr Sarkozy and his supporters have their way, there could come a day when these women think twice about going out there into a society that cannot bear the way they look. And, who knows, I could be one of them.

And, while some would disagree, I think that would be a sad day.

Na’ima B. Robert is the founding editor of SISTERS , a magazine for Muslim women and author of ‘From My Sisters’ Lips ‘, a look at the lives of British Muslim women who cover.

11-29

Sarkozy Says Burqas Are Unwelcome in France

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susanna Ferreira and David Gauthier-Villars in Paris

President Nicolas Sarkozy took sides in a growing debate on the burqa, a head-to-toe garment that is worn by some Muslim women and that conceals their faces, saying it isn’t a religious symbol but “a sign of enslavement and debasement” of women.

“The burqa is not welcome on French territory,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”

Mr. Sarkozy, who was addressing a joint session of the French Parliament at Versailles — the first French president to address the legislature in more than a century — also pledged further government investment to help the country out of its recession.

Almost halfway through his five-year term, Mr. Sarkozy is struggling to deliver on his electoral pledge to downsize the French state. Instead, his government is spending to try to boost the economy, which is expected to shrink 3% this year.

He told lawmakers he would sharply reduce the state’s “bad budget deficit,” but he also unveiled a government bond issue to finance industrial, education and cultural projects.

Mr. Sarkozy’s speech, delivered at the château of Versailles, signaled his growing domination of French government. He used a change he introduced last year in France’s constitution that allows the president to address lawmakers directly.

Opposition lawmakers called the address a “narcissistic exercise” and said it only served Mr. Sarkozy’s taste for pomp. They said the speech highlighted how Mr. Sarkozy has relegated Prime Minister François Fillon to a subordinate role.

Mr. Sarkozy said he endorsed holding a parliamentary inquiry to study the small, but apparently growing, phenomenon of women wearing the burqa on French streets. The move could be the first step toward an outright ban on the coverings.

This month, a group of 76 lawmakers called for France to ban the garment, which is often associated with the Salafi strain of Islam and is worn by only a small percentage of Muslim women. The lawmakers appealed for a parliamentary commission to study the issue.

Some Muslim lobby groups, however, have urged the French government to refrain from holding a public debate on the issue, saying it would stigmatize France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest.

France has strict rules separating state and religion, including a 2004 law banning veils, crosses, and other religious symbols and dress from public schools and government buildings.

The French debate was spearheaded by André Gerin, a French lawmaker and mayor of Vénissieux, near Lyon. The veils are “a test for our civilization,” Mr. Gerin said in a telephone interview, adding that his goal is to “liberate these women.”

Mr. Sarkozy said that he won’t raise taxes and that it is time to make spending cuts. He proposed slashing the number of local-government representatives, and said he will decide by mid-2010 whether to raise the minimum retirement age, which stands at 60 years for most workers.

So far, Mr. Sarkozy has maintained his popularity despite the economic slump. Still, he has been forced to shelve some of his plans to slim down France’s state in order to promote a livelier, more prosperous economy.

The budget deficit is likely to shoot up to €140 billion ($194 billion) this year — 7.5% of gross domestic product compared with 3.4% in 2008. Tax revenues are falling because of the recession, and Mr. Sarkozy has spent public funds to prop up banks and struggling auto companies.

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