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Under the knife in Amsterdam 28 juin 2011

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Immigration, Religion.
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International Herald Tribune  (USA) Tuesday, June 28, 2011, p. 4

John Tagliabue, Amsterdam

It has not been a good year for Ahmet Kilic. Sales are down in the store where for the past two and a half years he has sold meat, slaughtered according to halal conditions, and groceries. The store, on the southern edge of the 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 slaughtering them, eliminating an exception in current law.

A tiny animal rights party, which has two seats in Parliament, proposed the bill, asserting 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 slaughtered to kosher standards 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 » if they are not stunned before slaughter.

In defending the law, she cites 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 regularly practice stunning before shechita, as Jewish slaughter is known.

Last week, Jews and Muslims wrung a concession out of lawmakers when the lower house agreed to an amendment. If religious organizations can show that their method of slaughter causes no more pain than industrial slaughtering, they will obtain a license for five years.

Mr. Eisenmann mocks the provision. « Since there is no number for pain and suffering in industrial slaughterhouses, how can you prove you have less? » he said. « It throws overboard freedom of religion. »

Muslims, particularly the Turks, are often more relaxed about the possible ban. Ulas Okten, whose Turkish bank sent him to work in Amsterdam two years ago, picked among the groceries in Mr. Kilic’s store. Though a Muslim, he said he did not insist on halal meat. « Though I do think that meat from which the blood has been drained, as in halal, is tastier, » he said.

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