French minister 'shocked' over halal supermarket aisles

French minister 'shocked' over halal supermarket aisles
The interior minister linked the presence of halal and kosher supermarket aisles to a failure to integrate in the wake of last week's beheading.
4 min read
22 October, 2020
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe [Getty]
France's interior minister courted controversy this week by expressing his horror at the presence of halal food aisles in supermarkets.

Gerald Darmanin's comments come in the wake of the beheading last week of a school teacher who showed his students controversial caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Since then, France has pledged to "intensify" a crackdown on "Islamist extremism".

The country's interior minister has now linked supermakets to this fight.

Seperate aisles for halal and kosher products promote the formation of unintegrated, separatist communities in France, Darmanin claimed on Tuesday.

The interior minister has "always been shocked to walk into a supermarket and see that there was an aisle of such [religious] community food", he told BFM TV.

"I understand very well the halal butcher shops... I do not criticise the consumers but those who sell them something," Darmanin continued.

"I understand very well that halal meat is sold in a supermarket, what I regret is the aisles... So you have the aisle for Muslims, the kosher aisle and then all the others... Why specific aisles?"

Companies selling clothes and food catering to religious minorities have a "responsibility" in the formation of "separatist" communities, the interior minister claimed.

"I'm simply calling on CEOs to understand that they can contribute to public peace and the fight against separatism," Darmanin added.

He later clarified that he did not want to see an end to supermarkets stocking "respectable" kosher and halal products.

$8 billion market

The interior minister's comments provoked shock and ridicule on social media and even within Darmanin's own party.

"I'm not shocked, when I do my shopping I go to the Breton products section because I am Breton," said Richard Ferrand, a member of President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche party.

"In my district... there is a large company that exports 500,000 tons of chicken to Saudi Arabia and it's halal chicken. So, I can see that when it allows entire industries to survive and businesses to prosper, and we consider that we are adapting to market demand, then [producing halal food] is not an issue," Ferrand was quoted as saying by Politico.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and its halal food market is estimated to be worth $8 billion.

Leftist MEP Manon Aubry also derided Darmanin over the remarks.

"The breeding ground for religious extremism would therefore be… Carrefour's halal ravioli," Aubry said in a tweet.

"In his retaliation against 'communitarian cuisine', does Darmanin also propose to ban Easter eggs and advent calendars from supermarkets?"

Journalist Ramses Kefi added: "He has decided to light a thousand fires to make people forget something simple: he is the minister of the interior - therefore somewhat responsible for security.

"Apart from getting rid of halal Fleury Michon mortadella and Samurai sauce, what is his plan?"

Some social media users questioned whether French citizens abroad should avoid buying Camembert cheese, according to Connexion France, lest they become "separatist" communities.

'Normalised' Islamophobia

While many social media commentators made light of Darmanin's comments, others pointed to what they called rife anti-Muslim sentiments in France.

"Unfortunately here in France racism and Islamophobia has been kinda normalised, not long ago a former president compared black ppl to monkeys and today a minister (who's accused of rape) said that hes shocked that there's halal shelves in supermarkets," one Twitter user wrote. 

The interior minister was accused of rape and sexual harassment by two women in 2018; prosecutors ultimately dropped a criminal case against him, saying they were unable to prove a lack of consent.

Just two days after last week's shocking beheading, two Muslim women were stabbed near the capital's iconic Eiffel tower.

Eyewitnesses said the victims were called "dirty Arabs" during the incident, which is being treated as a hate crime by the French police.

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