Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kosher, halal, and circumcision

The Muslim immigration to Europe brought with it quite a lot of concern of locals about both Jewish and Muslim traditions that have been around here for a very long time, but are now coming to the public attention again with a new force.

Many Muslims and Jews say that at least some of the people who raise these issues just don't like Muslims, Jews or both. This is undoubtedly so, but it doesn't mean that these are not real issues. It's just that the debate on them sounds rather strange nowadays.

First of all, I find it really strange that people on all sides of the debate often claim that ritual slaughter is barbaric. Or that it is humane. Ritual slaughter, just like regular slaughter, can be as barbaric or as humane as you make it.

At best, the ritual slaughter is cutting the animal's throat very fast with a sharp knife, with the result that the animal loses consciousness immediately. At worst, the animal does not lose consciousness immediately and is hoisted up by its hind legs to bleed out while conscious.

In spite of the popular misconceptions to the contrary kosher and halal slaughter are permitted in Finland, as long as it's done in a proper slaughterhouse and the animal is stunned right after the cut. There is nothing particularly barbaric about this method, unless you disapprove of eating meat in general.

There are some disagreements among both Jews and Muslims as to whether it's kosher/halal to stun the animal after the cut. And yes, some think that it's not, Jews more often than Muslims. Do we have to cater to them? The demand for any kind of kosher meat is so low in Finland that it is AFAIK not slaughtered in Finland anyway, and as for halal - well, stunning is permitted in Saudi Arabia, so wouldn't that be kosher (sorry) enough for the vast majority of Muslims? And IME Jews and Muslims are people like everyone else, in that in the absence of superkosher and superhalal they make do with what they have.

Has anyone besides Abdullah Tammi ever demanded unstunned kosher or halal meat in Finland? (That's not a rhetorical question.)

One point that is rarely raised: people who wish to follow very strict kosher and halal guidelines and don't believe in stunning don't need to become vegetarians or compromise their beliefs, of they are not so inclined. Fish does not require ritual slaughter in Judaism or Islam, and stunning birds after cutting their necks is not required by law in Finland.

In short, I think that Finland already has the right laws, as in Eläinsuojeluasetus 7.6.1996/396.

As to circumcision, the situation is complicated. There is no proper law, and treating it as battery is difficult since authorities have in effect permitted it ever since Jews and Muslims lived here, which is a fairly long time. It has become an issue only after the Muslim immigration of the 90s, which made it more common, raised demand for having it taxpayer-funded, and brought the issue of the female circumcision. A few thoughts on banning circumcision:

1. The people who discuss circumcision as is it were a medieval custom long forgotten in Europe and only brought here by recent Muslim immigration are of course very wrong. Circumcision has been around and permitted for a long, long time. I think that a child's right to bodily integrity is more important than freedom of religion, and that banning non-medical circumcision would be a great step forward, but that's exactly what it would be: a huge step forward. It should be treated as such. As in "we realize that is has been permitted pretty much all over the Western world all the time, but times change and we think it's time to ban it, and this is why...".

2. The people who think that it should be funded by taxpayers are making a step backward. It used to be funded by NHS in UK; when it stopped being so, the rates fell dramatically.

3. The problem of people not obeying the law and doing it anyway is real, and something needs to be done about it. OTOH, if it were illegal it would be a lot less common. My rather obvious suggestion would be to make it mildly punishable if done illegally but in proper medical conditions, and make the punishment a lot more severe for people who do it in a way that endangers the child's health. OTOH, the punishments for grievous bodily harm are ridiculously small in Finland in any case.

Anyway: I see how it is a matter of principle for many people, but IMO even laws that would make at least some people give up on this custom would be good.

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