Saint-Denis, the city of 110,000 inhabitants north of Paris, concentrates some traumas and obsessions of contemporary France. The basilica of Saint-Denis houses the tombs of 43 kings of France, from Dagobert in the seventh century to Louis XVIII in the nineteenth. Ten minutes to the south, is the imposing Stade de France, at whose doors an Islamist terrorist He committed one of the bombings that on 13 November 2015 hit the French capital and its surroundings. Five minutes walk north of the basilica, epicenter of French Christianity that the president, Emmanuel Macron, likes to frequent to reconnect with the deepest national tradition, is the rue Gabriel Péri, a commercial street similar to so many in France. Its peculiarity lies, first, in the abundance of hairdressers afro And second, in that many of the pizzerias, butchers, kebab stores and Asian restaurants, there is a sticker stamped with the word halal, where they sell meat sacrificed according to Muslim rites.
"This explosion of halal It is one of the most significant phenomena of the transformations and identity affirmation of Islam in France since the first decade of the 21st century, "writes Gilles Kepel, specialist in Islam, in his book Quatre-vingt-treize (Ninety-three) , published in 2013.
The 93 of the title is the postal code of the French department of Seine-Saint-Denis, whose most populated city is Saint-Denis. It is the first Muslim department in the country, which presents a highest poverty rate in France and the mirror of dysfunctions-school failure, precariousness, discrimination, ghettoization– that afflict the banlieue, the mestizo and episodically convulsive periphery of the big cities. Nowhere else, as in "the 93", the ghost of Islamization is projected in France, the fear of an advance of a fundamentalist version of the Muslim religion, that – in the most radical manifestation of these fears – Islam ends up sweeping to the Christian kings of Saint-Denis.
Halal, a business that represents more than 5,000 million euros a year in France, according to some calculations, has become a way of reaffirming its identity for many French Muslims. Also, given the amount of money that moves, it can be an opportunity for the authorities: whoever controls this money will be able to manage a French Islam that today depends in part on foreign money.
The possibility of obliging, without exception, the stunning of animals when sacrificing them, as happens in northern European countries or, recently, in Belgium, seems remote here, the western country with the most Muslims (almost six million, an 8, 8% of the population) and the first European market, as well as export power to the Middle East.
In France, where the far right of the National Front added more than ten million votes in the last presidential elections, the battle of halal is another. It is cultural and political. It reflects tensions by the definition of secularism, the principle that guarantees freedom of worship and the separation of the State and the churches.
The Bordeaux veterinarian Alain de Peretti is responsible for the organization Hail Vigilance, which has filed several complaints to the courts to achieve the suspension of the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. Their fight ranges from the protection of animals and consumers – questioning the hygiene of procedures to kill according to halal standards – to the questioning of halal as an instrument to impose sharia or Islamic law. "Islam can evolve, but as it is today it is incompatible with our society," says Peretti at a café in the Trocadéro square in Paris.
15 kilometers away, from his office on the sixth floor of the only high-rise building in Rosny-sous-Bois, another municipality of Seine-Saint-Denis, M'hammed Henniche overlooks the eastern banlieue of Paris. Henniche, born in Algeria and immigrated to France in the nineties, is one of the central figures of the Muslim world in "the 93". He is the general secretary of the Union of Muslim Associations 93 (UAM 93), a pressure group that influences local politics. He is also responsible for Halal Verif, one of the organizations that certify that a meat is halal or not.
"Halal has become an element of identity for the Muslims of France. Maybe young people do not pray, they drink alcohol, they have relationships with girls, but the red line is halal, "says Henniche. "For them, it is what makes the difference between being or not being a Muslim." In the generation of parents and grandparents who came to France was different. The norm was less strict. Since the late 1990s, a competition was established to tighten the conditions for a product to be halal. In some sectors, traditional purity certifiers – the mosques of Paris, Lyon and Évry, linked to countries such as Morocco and Algeria – began to be under suspicion of laxity. New certifiers appeared that had to watch because the meat was indeed licit, which is the meaning of halal. Halal Verif 'is one of them. A battle was opened that mixed the mercantile with the theological. Can a Muslim consume meat from animals sacrificed by Christians or Jews? If halal is prescribed to disgorge the animal without stunning it previously, can it be electrocuted to mitigate the suffering?
In his book, Kepel describes a "clash of halales" between a stricter model of religious inspiration, and another cultural or lifestyle, which compares with the consumption of bio products. "In this planetary debate," he writes, France "is above all an echo chamber of the tensions that cross world Islam, partially filtered by the Maghrebi tradition of the French Muslim culture, but that every day gives way to an 'e- Islam 'whose portals [DE INTERNET] they put the young generation directly in contact with the dogmatic and financial centers of the Arabian Peninsula and the Near East. "
Macron has proposed reducing dependence on foreign money with the capacity to intoxicate French Muslims with extremist ideas. One possibility, suggested by the essayist Hakim El Karoui, close to Macron, would be to create an oenege that would act as the central authority and raise a fee or levy on halal trade and other business areas such as organized trips to Mecca.
"There is a lot of money, and badly used by those who pretend to be representative. I propose an organization that does not represent but rather regulates, "El Karoui said in an interview in September when he presented a report on the advance of Islam prepared for the Institut Montaigne ideas laboratory. "The Salafists take control of theology is an immense problem for Muslims and for Europe, because the Salafists explain that we must separate ourselves from the rest of society. There is a problem of formation of religious pictures. Money is needed to instruct magnets and remunerate them. In France there are 2,500 places of worship and a thousand permanent magnets, of which 300 are salaried by a foreign country. "
From foreign interference to radical drift, from the Republic's attachment to secularism to the risk of the fragmentation of France into watertight communities, halal can be a key piece in Macron's policy to reorganize French Islam.