A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at a motorway service station near Oxford.
Culinary options were limited, so I found myself waiting in line at Subway, behind a group of teenagers – seemingly nice kids of about 15 or 16.
Because I’m chronically nosy, I was ear-wigging their conversation
“I wonder if it’s halal?”
“Is it like ham, then? Does it taste like ham?”
“But is it halal? It’d better bloody not be.”
“If it is, that’s disgusting.”
“Yeah, I’m not eating here if it’s halal.”
Bloody hell. I don’t even know where to start describing how sad overhearing that conversation made me.
I get that this can be a sensitive subject. And my opinion on it might not be the same as yours. That’s okay. We can respectfully disagree, I’m sure.
But to me… those kids were being offensive.
Now, if you happen to believe that stunning an animal and slitting its throat (which applies to the vast majority of both halal and shechita slaughter in this country) is somehow less acceptable than stunning an animal and gassing it, or electrocuting it, or any of the other non-religious ways that animals are slaughtered in the UK – well, that’s your opinion and I can respect that.
But if your objection is simply based on a fuzzy understanding that halal meat is different, and Muslim, and therefore “disgusting” – well, I have an issue with that.
I was still thinking about this incident a few days later when my friend Joanna, who lives in Israel, remarked about the rise of anti-semitism in the UK and Europe. I said that, in the UK at least, I think it’s still considered very shocking and unacceptable in most circles to say something anti-semitic. But Islamophobia? I see that becoming frighteningly common.
My fear is that my country – which is renowned for being tolerant, and liberal, and accepting (Daily Mail readers aside) – is becoming a place where it acceptable to treat someone unfairly because of their faith – providing that faith is Muslim. I have written about this before – racism dressed up as moral outrage at the supermarket check-out.
Consider how many stories you read in the press about halal meat. How does it compare to stories about schechita, and kosher meat? For every story you read about Muslim faith schools, how many have you read about Christian faith schools? For every debate about the niqab, how many debates do we have about the turban? How often does the Daily Mail get its knickers in a twist about Sikhs, or Quakers, or Mormons?
And then there are things like this, which I saw yesterday a short drive from my home – sorry for the shocking photo quality, it was a sunny day:
An Italian restaurant, and in every window a sign announcing that the establishment is HALAL FREE.
I was shocked when I saw it. Because the sign isn’t about providing helpful information to anyone. That sign is all about letting Muslims know they’re not welcome in this restaurant; and non-Muslims that they’re not about to be “polluted” by eating any “disgusting” meat that is – to all intents and purposes – identical to any other meat in every single way except for the manner of slaughter.
Maybe the owner has a strong religious faith – but personally, I don’t believe these signs were about faith. Not least because no God that I understand would be okay with this crap. The only thing I see that’s disgusting here is intolerance, mistrust, and hostility.
To quote the kids in the service station, I’m not going to be eating there. It’s disgusting.