Bill on Humane Slaughter Yields New Front for Muslim Tensions
AMSTERDAM — It has not been a good year for Ahmet Kilic. Sales are down in the store where for the last two and a half years he has sold groceries and meat, slaughtered according to halal conditions. The store, on the southern edge of this Dutch city, was started 22 years ago by his brother and uncle, natives of Turkey, who took it over from its former Dutch owners.
But many of the Turks who are their clients have moved farther out of the city; moreover, customer access is blocked by work to lay tram tracks on the street in front.
“Things are not good,” he said, tallying up sausage, an all-beef variety, and Turkish white cheese, which the Greeks call feta, for a shopper.
Now he fears they could get worse. The Dutch Parliament will vote Tuesday on a bill that, if enacted, will effectively require even Jewish and Muslim butchers to stun animals — mechanically, electrically or with gas — before they are slaughtered, eliminating an exception in current law.
A tiny animal rights party, which has two seats in Parliament, proposed the bill, arguing that failing to stun the animals before slaughter subjects them to unnecessary pain.
The debate over the bill has divided the Dutch. Because the bill would mainly affect Muslims, of whom there are about 1.2 million in a Dutch population of about 16 million, compared with a Jewish population of 50,000, the debate has become a focus of Dutch animosity toward Muslims.
Surveys have shown that more than 60 percent of people questioned said they supported the bill. Virtually all the parties in Parliament’s lower house are expected to vote for it, after which it will go to the upper house for approval. Only Christian democratic parties have opposed the bill, not on animal rights grounds, but in defense of religious freedom.
Although Geert Wilders, the Dutch political leader best known for animosity toward Muslims, had nothing to do with framing the law, his name has become linked with it among immigrants.
“It’s Geert Wilders’s law against halal,” Mr. Kilic said. “I don’t feel good about it. But if someone wants to ban our meat, then we will have to import it.”
The Muslim population’s resistance has been strong, but scattershot, given its fragmented nature, including Turks, the largest group, Moroccans and others. Still, Muslim leaders have made clear their opposition to the bill, and have joined with Jewish leaders to try to stop it.
But the Jewish community, roughly half of it in Amsterdam, including about 10,000 Israeli immigrants, is better organized. It would be far less affected than the Muslims, as only about 3,000 animals a year are kosher slaughtered under close veterinary supervision. But in an increasingly secular Dutch society, Jewish leaders see religious practices under siege.
“It’s not hard to protect religious freedoms when a society is religious,” said Ronnie Eisenmann, a lawyer who is president of the Jewish Community in Amsterdam. “But when people are increasingly secular, it’s then that it counts.”
The head of the animal rights party, Marianne Thieme, 39, a lawyer and vegetarian, denies animosity toward religious groups. The law is necessary, she said in written answers to questions, because the general regulations on slaughter, including stunning the animals before killing, “are set aside when it comes to ritual slaughter.”
She said there was a “worldwide consensus among scientists that animals suffer terrible if they are not first stunned before slaughter.”
She cites in defense of the law Jewish scholars, including Aaron S. Gross, a professor of religious studies at the University of San Diego, who point to the fact that many more liberal Jewish communities, including some in the United States, regularly practice stunning before shechita, as Jewish slaughter is known.
Still, many Muslims and Jews see the proposed ban as one facet of a growing European hostility toward immigrants and diversity.
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