France's answer to McDonald's has provoked a political row by deciding to sell only halal meat in eight of its fast-food restaurants.
In the midst of a debate about whether the full-length veil should be worn in France, the "marketing exercise" by the Quick hamburger chain has generated new complaints – some sincere, some electorally motivated – about the alleged "Islamisation" of French society.
Quick, which is almost entirely owned by a French state investment arm, began its experiment in towns with large Muslim populations last November. Not a single customer, or politician, complained until the far- right politician, Marine Le Pen, claimed this week that the "halalburgers" amounted to an "Islamic tax" on French consumers.
The Socialist mayor of Roubaix, in northern France, and centre-right members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party have since protested against Quick's decision as "un-Republican", "discriminatory" and "sectarian". There are regional elections in France next month.
In an attempt to calm the debate, Quick pointed out yesterday that it was untrue to say that "halal" food – food prepared according to Islamic traditions – was being forced on all the customers in eight (out of its 362) restaurants. All the burgers in the restaurants come from halal beef, it admitted. Bacon had been replaced by turkey. But non-halal products – from fish to cheese to beer – are still available.
The president of the French Muslim council, Mohammed Moussaoui, also tried to put the row into perspective. There had been restaurants serving only halal or kosher food in France for many decades, he pointed out. Why had there been no complaints until now?
Mr Moussaoui also pointed out that there were thousands of restaurants in France which offered only non-halal food. Muslims had not complained that this was "discriminatory" or "sectarian".
Quick said its "experiment" was intended to test a growing market for halal foods in France, estimated to be worth €4bn (£3.5bn) a year.Reuse content