A controversial decision by the Belgian region of Flanders to ban ritual animal slighter for religious purposes has angered the country’s large Jewish and Muslim minorities, both of whom view the move as evidence that the national government in Brussels is taking a more aggressive approach towards targeting religious communities in the staunchly secular, bilingual country that also serves as the base for the European Union’s main institutions.
While the law has only come into force in the Flemish-speaking north of the country, it will soon also become the law of the land in Francophone Wallonia. The new legislation sees Belgium join Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Slovenia, who also have laws that ban religious communities from carrying out
The ban received strong support from animal rights activists and Belgian nationalists, both of whom oppose outward displays of religious behaviour. Animal rights lobbyists successfully lobbied both the Flemish and Wallonian regions with an argument that under Muslim halal and Jewish kosher rituals do not allow for the animal to be sedated prior to being slaughtered, something militant animal rights groups say is a violation of the animals’ rights.
The religious authorities from both the Jewish and Muslim communities in Belgium condemned the ban and defended their centuries-old slaughtering rituals as both religions require the animal to be “in perfect health and to be killed in a way that meets strict hygienic standards and ensures that the meat, when later consumed, is both clean and safe.
Under kosher and halal requirements an animal has to be in perfect health before it’s killed, which precludes stunning methods. However, they’re required to be slaughtered with an extremely sharp knife in a single, deep cut to the throat. According to proponents, it results in a faster, more painless death than non-kosher or -halal slaughtering.
Belgium is home to more than 800,000 Muslims (the highest comparative number in the European Union) and approximately 45,000 Jews, out of a total population of just over 11.4 million people.
The new law was championed by a right-wing Flemish nationalist, Ben Weyts, a man who came under heavy criticism in 2014 for attending the 90th birthday of Bob Maes, the far-right Belgian politician who collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Belgium during World War II.