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Germany

#Halalchallenge: Racism in the guise of animal rights

Social media users are using provocative videos to protest the appearance of halal meat at supermarkets in Germany. They call their campaign civil disobedience; critics call it sanctimonious and Islamophobic.

"The nationwide Halal Challenge has begun," a

Facebook

page recently announced. The stunt follows on the

Ice Bucket Challenge,

an Internet trend that got thousands of people to pour gallons of near-freezing water over their heads to somehow draw attention to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Generating attention is likewise the aim of the Halal Challenge, though this time it is not for an incurable disease but instead for the animals who are slaughtered according to the Islamic halal code. "Put pork on the #halalcounter and film it," the challenge instructs. "Then post the video in your Facebook timeline, on Instagram or on YouTube or wherever; then nominate your friend to participate next!"

The Islamic rules for eating halal are quite similar to Judaism's kosher dictates. Pork is taboo. Generally, meat is only considered fit for consumption when it is slaughtered under particular conditions. Animals must be fully bled out and are often killed without sedation - though in Germany every animal has to be sedated before it can be slaughtered.

Despite what the organizers say about animal rights, the Halal Challenge is a provocation targeted at Muslims. Many supporters are not known for their animal rights activism, but they do have reputations for their right-wing activism. The Blog Dittmer Facebook page supported the challenge from the start. Melanie Dittmer, the initiator of Bonn's anti-Muslim Bogida movement, is well-known for her racism. Also promoting the action quite loudly on his own Facebook page was Dominik Roeseler, a speaker for Pegida and co-founder of Hooligans against Salafists.

War in the supermarket

The first videos have begun to roll in. On Twitter, the hashtag was momentarily one of the top trending topics in Germany, though it was also used by users who were trying to draw attention to the challenge's racism. The Facebook page already has nearly 4,200 fans.

Groups that oppose Muslim immigration and/or the halal diet have attacked the Facebook pages of

supermarkets

such as Rewe and Edeka. The companies have reacted defensively. Edeka, for example, posted that only "a few individual sellers" produce their meat products in line with Islamic guidelines. Besides, the chain claimed, none of the products came from animals that hadn't been sedated before being slaughtered.

Austria's Spar supermarket chain capitulated. After a store in Vienna offered halal meat on a trial basis, Internet users accused the company of supporting animal cruelty. The comments often employed Islamophobic language. "Spar has ended its sampling of halal meat in its Vienna store due to the (unfounded) accusations and the overheated Facebook discussion surrounding it," the chain announced on the social network. The posting stated that slaughter had always taken place according to Austria's guidelines, with the animals sedated. Then groups criticized Spar for giving into the xenophobes.

It has become rare to find supermarkets that don't have a wide assortment of vegan or lactose- and gluten-free products, yet only a few stores carry products that are prepared according to halal guidelines. As such, supermarkets that would carry such in-demand products would likely get an economic boost: In Germany, more than 4 million Muslims spend up to 5 billion euros ($5.7 billion) annually on food.

The halal label is concerned with more than just the rules for animal slaughter

. "Those who feed themselves according to halal should actually only consume meat once a week and should know exactly under which conditions their food has been prepared," Hamza Wördemann, of Germany's central Muslim advisory board, told German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung."

In an ethical-religious context, halal has a much broader meaning. As opposed to haram, or forbidden, halal means, good, allowed. And good also means no factory farming, fair wages, healthy animals and respect for creation.

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