The Guardian – March 10, 2012
French President Sarkozy’s decision to make the labelling of halal meat pivotal to his re-election campaign has infuriated, alienated and dismayed France’s Muslim community, which may number as many as six million, and the backlash is growing. Members of the booming educated and entrepreneurial Muslim middle class say they are tired of being cast as scapegoats in Sarkozy’s wooing of the extreme right and have accused him of dangerous and divisive election tactics.
The phoney war over halal meat erupted in February when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, claimed consumers were eating halal unknowingly. Sarkozy, trailing the Socialist frontrunner François Hollande, accused her of whipping up an artificial controversy. Shortly afterwards, with Le Pen snapping at his heels in the opinion polls, Sarkozy performed a volte-face. In spite of surveys showing that voters were less concerned about halal meat than they were about the weather and football, he announced it was “the issue that most preoccupies the French”.
In alienating Muslims Sarkozy is ignoring the spending power – the halal market, for example, is growing at 20% a year more than organic food – of a socio-economic group that might otherwise have been tempted to vote for his business-friendly, free-market agenda.