When there is a profit to be made, capitalism has no political spirit and can collude with any ideology -- from democracies to totalitarian tyrannies. This view was most recently set forth by the French anthropologist Florence Bergeaud-Blackler in her book, "Le marché halal ou l'invention d'une tradition" ("The Halal Market or the Invention of a Tradition").
Bergeaud-Blackler claims in her book that "halal" food (food that, in Islam, is religiously permitted) was "recently invented" as a label and as a potential commercial market, in a collusion between Iranian fundamentalists and multinational agrifood businesses. In an interview with the French daily newspaper, Liberation, she said:
"I speak of invention of the 'halal market' in the sense that we are not dealing with an ancient tradition imported from Muslim countries. The halal market never existed in the Muslim world until food 'big business' created it and exported it. The halal convention was born in the 70s and 80s. At this time, two ideologies triumphed on the international scene: on the one hand, Muslim fundamentalism, including the proclamation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and, on the other hand, neo-liberalism, with Thatcher and Reagan. This convergence, unscheduled and unexpected, would allow these two ideologies to work together to establish a halal food industrial protocol".
According to Bergeaud-Blackler, halal food, for centuries, had been reduced in Muslim countries to the prohibition of pork. All food, with the exception of pork, that had been produced both locally -- and non-locally, by "People of the Book" (Christian and Jews) -- was considered halal. But after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, halal became a fundamentalist food requirement habit, sanctified by economic interests. In the 1970s, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which were engaged in a competition to spread their vision of Islam throughout the world, found useful help by multinationals such as Nestlé, which had in mind the creation of the large global halal food market.
Bergeaud-Blackler says food businesses and Islamic fundamentalists found a common interest to convey a new idea: Muslims have specific "needs" in terms of food. Before the Iranian Revolution, Islamists, including radicals like Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, considered that Muslims could consume food produced by countries of Christian and Jewish tradition. But, aware that a "food border" might produce some effects in politics, the fundamentalists have changed their position. The food produced in secularized countries was proclaimed haram (forbidden) and a specific Muslim food market began to arise.
According to Bergeaud-Blackler, by industrializing halal food production, agrifood multinationals gave a strong hand to fundamentalists and helped to build a separation wall between Muslims and non-Muslims in European countries:
"Splitting in two the space between what is permitted and what is not, creates a certain social anxiety and leads to a behavior of avoidance. When you eat exclusively halal, you do not invite home non-halal people, for fear this person will invite you in return. These patterns of avoidance combine with speech that rejects of "impure" food. The confusion between halal and purity is disturbing."
The separation wall, however, goes far beyond common sociability. According to Gilles Kepel, professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies:
"By exacerbating the question of halal, the political actors of Islamism are leading a logic of rupture -- Muslim children are incited to abandon school canteens, and this helps them to distance the youth from the school and from the nation".
In France, for example, where public schools are the traditional tool of social and cultural integration, this is especially important.
According to Kepel, halal food is the second battle Islamists are leading in France and in Europe. Once the veil covers the heads of most Muslim women, the time has come to achieve the secession of the Muslim population with halal:
"Initially, halal is presented as a consumption pattern; halal is part of a demand for pluralism: we eat halal like vegan, organic or kosher. And retail companies are not mistaken: their supermarkets offer a wide range of halal products in the aisles, with an estimated market of 5 billion euros.... the political actors of Islamism... see halal as an opportunity for community control and they strive to radicalize and exacerbate..."
In France, in the workplace, halal has begun to be a major source of conflict. Companies are confronted by growing demands for halal food in canteens. In France, companies are not legally required to supply halal food, but many companies, if they do not comply with the demands, fear being treated as racist.
Shop sign in French and Arabic for a halal butcher's shop in Rue de Patay, Paris. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons / Mu)
By now, all Western companies specializing in food, poultry, candy, meat, fast food, and retail chains are deeply involved in halal production. Nestlé is number one worldwide, competing fiercely with other food multinationals such as Woolworths, Cole's, Aldo's, Cadbury, Kraft, Kellogg's and hundreds of others. Fast food outlets such as McDonald's, Burger King, Red Rooster, KFC and Subway have invested in halal meat, sometimes only abroad.
A report established by Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard estimated the halal food market in 2014 at $1.37 trillion. This represents 18.2% of the total food and beverage market worldwide, and an increase of 6.2% compared to 2013.
For "Big Business," the more things that are declared "forbidden" in the name of Islam, the more products declared "permitted" must be produced for "good Muslims" to buy.
For fundamentalists, the more that Muslims adhere to these outward signs of Islam -- halal food, veiled women, burkinis -- the easier it is to separate Muslims from non-Muslims.
"In Europe, the halal market is growing at an estimated annual rate of between 10-20%. It is a demand driven by a general desire for Sharia compliance among a growing Muslim population," according to Paulius Kuncinas, business analyst and managing editor Asia, at Oxford Business Group.
We can now safely say that Muslim population in Europe -- and in France -- is totally under cultural and religious control led by different Islamic organizations (Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood). In 2016, according to a study, "A French Islam is Possible", released in France by the Institut Montaigne, 70% of the Muslims polled said they "always" buy halal meat; 22% buy it "sometimes" and only 6% "never".
The next stage is that, if most Muslims consider a veil and halal food as Islamic obligations, they will soon ask for sharia and Islamic courts -- as in Great Britain.
Governments will have to decide what to do: start trying to hold back the encroachment of Islamism or to split each European country in two: one for Islamists, the other part for non-Muslims.
Yves Mamou is a journalist and author based in France. He worked for two decades for the daily, Le Monde, before his retirement.