French Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently called on Jews and Muslims to rethink their kosher and halal ritual slaughter laws, a clear indication that French politicians are in campaign mode.
“Religions should think about keeping traditions that don’t have much in common with today’s state of science, technology and health problems,” said the Prime minister in a radio interview on Monday, “we live in a modern society.”
Fillon’s comments come as President Nicolas Sarkozy and his party, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) seek to court conservative voters ahead of the presidential election in May.
The issue of ritual slaughter is part of larger narrative in French society concerning French identity and immigration. But the prime minister’s comments are more reminiscent of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front party than the center-right party that the UMP purports to be.
Indeed, it was Le Pen’s daughter – current National Front and Presidential candidate – Marine Le Pen that brought the issue to the fore in mid-February, by claiming that “all the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception.” It turned out that her statement wasn’t entirely accurate. Still, Sarkozy and his allies did not want to be outbid in a contest for prized constituents, so they have raised the rhetoric, focusing more on the themes of ‘Secularism’ and ‘French culture’ as the campaign proceeds. This includes Sarkozy himself, who over the weekend urged butchers to label distinctly meat slaughtered in accordance with religious laws.