France today: a tale of halal foie gras and burkas
Rise in halal sales comes as French pols get hot under the collar about the burka
Is any culinary delicacy so inimitably French as the taste of pate de foie gras? Snails and frogs are for the more discerning French palate but foie gras, particularly during the festive season, is universally popular. From Carcassonne to Calais, foie gras – made traditionally from goose livers, but more often now from duck livers - is an essential part of the Christmas feast in France and it appears many of the country's six million Muslims have acquired the taste too.
Sales of halal foie gras have increased ten-fold in the last two years, delighting supermarket chains across France. "It is one of our bestsellers, we were selling more than 30 a day" said the manager of a Parisian branch of Carrefour, while a spokesman for a leading meat wholesalers announced that demand for halal duck and halal capon has been "unprecedented" in 2009.
According to Antoine Sfeir, the Lebanese-born founder of the newspaper, Cahiers de l'Orient, the reason behind the boom in halal French delicacies is easy to explain: "First generation Muslims were traditionalists while the second generation were too busy working," he says. "They just didn't have the means, with seven or eight kids, to buy foie gras."
But, says Sfeir, the current generation of French Muslims "feel they should make more of an effort to integrate."
Halal foie gras isn't cheap. It costs more than standard foie gras – about 15 euros - but that's because each tin has to receive a certificate of authentication from a mosque, stating that the meat conforms to halal practices.
Liberation has seized on the news of halal foie gras' soaring popularity as a positive "symbol of integration". The news gives the left-wing newspaper the perfect chance to sing the praises of multiculturalism at a time when the issue is creating deep fault-lines throughout the country.
At the heart of the problem is the burka, the all-enveloping garment, with only a small slit for the eyes, worn by a minority of Muslim women across western Europe.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has made no secret of his distaste for the burka but in his most recent pronouncement on the subject, on Tuesday, he stopped short of supporting calls for its boycott. Instead he said he would reserve judgment until the end of the month when a parliamentary report is due to be published on the divisive issue.
Such reticence didn't go down well with members of his centre-right UMP party, the majority of whom are fiercely opposed to the burka - though there are similar divisions within the opposition Socialist party.
On Wednesday, Socialist party spokesman Benoit Hamon described the burka as "imprisoning women" but said that to create "an exceptional law wouldn't have the desired effect". Instead the Socialists intend to engage in dialogue with burka-wearing Muslims in an effort to encourage a change in behaviour.
But on the same day Aurélie Filippetti, one of the Socialist party's high-fliers, released a statement saying: "My position is unchanged, I am in favour of a law [to ban the burka]."
The confusion in the two main parties has allowed one man to thrust himself forward as the mortal enemy of the burka and, potentially, of Sarkozy. Jean-François Cope is the Mayor of Meaux and president of the UMP in the national assembly; charismatic and good-looking, the 45-year-old harbours ambitions to become President of France and has supplanted Sarkozy as the hardline right-winger within his party.
Cope has this week launched a bill making it a punishable offence to wear the full Islamic veil in public in France. He wants the bill adopted by parliament after the regional elections in March. Those Muslim women that flout the law would be fined 750 euros, while any man found guilty of forcing a woman to don a veil would receive an even bigger fine.
Cope says: "In my view the burka has two problems: its respect for women and its security. If we don't act quickly the risk is that one day, in a year, or two, or three, the burka will be a fashion accessory, the last word in chic. But the burka isn't a religion question, we have to get away from this misconception. The burka is about those extremists who seek to test the Republic."
With studies estimating that fewer than 2,000 French women wear the burka one might wonder if Cope isn't using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Perhaps it won't be long before he's squashing the halal foie gras too. ·
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