Slaughterhouse Quebec, or, That’s a halal of a way to make a country

The Journal de Montréal website is this morning running footage of chicken heads being cut off. This is an excellent step up in verisimilitude for Quebecor, which had heretofore preferred chicken suits and anchors who act like chickens with their heads cut off. But already I digress.

The thinking behind today’s QMI Two-Minute Hate is that “everybody in Quebec eats halal,” and that a Parti Québécois MNA with some extra time on his hands has decided this is the biggest threat to Quebecers’ health. English story here in the Globe. And you can see why the PQ and its house organ in Quebec’s biggest city, the Journal, would be concerned. I know a separatist who ate some wings once and turned into a Muslim. True story.

The Journal does eventually get around to admitting that, despite the PQ’s late-breaking outrage, there is no difference under Canadian food safety regulations between meat that’s slaughtered after being stunned and meat that’s slaughtered under halal or kosher traditions. But it’s all so horrible, goes the subtext. The chickens “are hung, still alive, from hooks,” says a photo caption. And on and on.

You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Youtube is full of videos of chickens being slaughtered and cows being slaughtered. Having given them a glance, I now know that animals are often hung from hooks during their last minutes in many of our finer secular and religious culinary traditions.

What’s a bit striking, although perhaps not as surprising as it should be, is that the pipeline for this latest bit of alarmism began at a microphone perched in front of Marine Le Pen, the leader of her father’s right-wing Front National party in France. Le Pen, who’s polling better than her dad did in the end but not well enough to be much of a factor in this spring’s French presidential elections, has lately been working on a polarity shift that’s gone largely unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic: where Jean-Marie Le Pen was suspicious of Jews, Marine worries about Muslims, thus bringing her solidly into the mainstream of modern European xenophobia. The younger Le Pen’s electorally motivated fascination with unlabelled halal meat dates from late February — about three weeks ago.

That the Quebec left — for the PQ is still a leftish party — should be really quick to pick up on a talking point of the French right is, again, not as surprising as it should be. When one wants to promote the defensive self-awareness of an identitary nous, one is often on the lookout for some autres to warn against.

In my last blog post for L’actualité a year ago, before I admitted to myself that I couldn’t devote that project as much time as it deserved, I quoted at length from an excellent analysis by UQAM sociologist Micheline Milot, who talked about how easy it is to slip from an attitude of tolerance toward religion — “you and I don’t have to do the same thing” — to one of intolerance toward others’ displays of religion — “because I don’t show off my religion, you must not.” As always, these issues could use a good talking-about, once we get over this week’s foolishness, which consists of telling one another that THAT SANDWICH YOU’RE EATING WAS ONCE A DEAD MUSLIM BIRD.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.