Opinion

How the Far Right Accused a Chocolate Bar of 'Islamizing' Europe

'Don’t buy from Muslims!' Toblerone's halal certification triggered a far right campaign to boycott Muslim-owned businesses - part of a wider strategy to suffocate Muslim life in Europe

Toblerone, target of a far right boycott campaign
Wikimedia/Ashley Pomeroy

A few weeks ago, Toblerone made international headlines. The popular triangular chocolate bar that had been halal-certified in April 2018 became the target of a concerted campaign by far-right groups.

Several European far-right party members called for a mass boycott of Toblerone, after belatedly discovering its halal certificate. They introduced the hashtag #BoycottToblerone, which quickly spread to other European countries, including Austria, the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

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Prominent far-right figures like Jörg Muethen, a high-ranking member of the Alternative for Germany, criticized the Toblerone news as evidence of Europe’s stealth "Islamization" in action. The vice-chair of the far-right cross-European parliamentary group "Europe of Nations and Freedom Group" (home to the strongest European far-right parties), Harald Vilimsky, warned against "creeping Islamization."

He wrote on Twitter: "We have always warned against this development. Creeping Islamization has to be unconditionally stopped! I can confidently refrain from halal chocolate. You too?" 

While halal means that a food has been prepared according to Muslim ritual ethics and thus not include prohibited substance such as pork products or alcohol, for the far-right, this was a sign of "Islamization." For Toblerone, nothing had changed in the process of production, since the Illinois-based producing company Mondelz had already had high standards of food safety.

While many commentators ridiculed the boycott campaign, the actual debate is not about the actual food and the purported health impact of going halal.

The idea of boycotting halal food is closely connected to the campaign gaining strength across Europe, to ban of halal (and Jewish kosher) slaughtering. Belgium, Slovenia, Iceland, Sweden and Norway already ban ritual slaughter; restrictions are in place in Germany, France, Spain, Austria,the Baltic states, Finland,Poland, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Greece.

Bearing in mind the relatively small Jewish populations of most of these countries, except for France, and the determined focus of today's far-right, the primary target of these ever-stricter regulations is Muslims.

A man walks past a halal butcher shop in Paris. March 9, 2012
AP

The leader of the most well-known Czech far-right party, Tomio Okamura, who has compared Islam to "Hitler-style Nazism," once explained this strategy in a ten-point program of how citizens can fight "Islamization" –his own country boasts a Muslim community that makes up a bare 0.002 percent of the population.

"We can show our discontent by not buying anymore from Muslims," he declared, adding, "every kebab we buy is just another step towards the burka." Another recommendation in his ten points was to "go for a walk with dogs and pigs in front of mosques and Muslim centers" in order to show them that they are unwanted.

A chapter of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party once organized a campaign against a local Muslim butcher with the slogan: "No to the Muslim butcher." Previously, another campaign was launched against the global grocery chain SPAR to remove halal meat they had introduced on sale.

And it is clear what these activists want: To create conditions that are sufficiently uncomfortable to push Muslims to finally leave the country. To get rid of Muslims.

Supporters of the anti-Islam movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) attend a demonstration in Dresden, Germany, October 21, 2018
\ DAVID W CERNY/ REUTERS

Obviously, if you have no food to eat, you cannot survive; if you have a limited source of food compared to the general population, you are living under institutionalized discrimination and intimidation. This is the reason why the Islamophobic industry is so obsessed with the notion of halal as a campaign and a trope. Deleting halal food equalizes the erosion of Muslim life.

Threatening Muslims in economic terms becomes a similarly useful tool for the far-right to get rid of Muslims. If ethnic grocery stores, which often offer halal products, are also boycotted, as Okamura suggested, many self-employed Muslims will lose their economic capacity.

It's not much of a stretch to see a line between the call not to buy from Muslims or to boycott those companies that accommodate Muslim beliefs in their products and the anti-Jewish boycotts orchestrated by the Nazi regime. That boycott was initiated no less than three months after coming to power in Germany, under the slogan "Don’t Buy from Jews."

The call for a boycott of halal-certified food mirrors the same patterns of thought of Nazism that wanted to wipe out the Jewish existence in Europe. Today, it is white supremacists that try to turn the clock back and reverse the Muslim presence in the West.

Destroying the foundations for readily-available food conforming to Muslim beliefs and culture is an attempt to dress in "health-conscious" clothes the strategy of the far-right to suffocate, immiserate and eventually extinguish Muslim life in Europe.

Farid Hafez is a Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative and Senior Scholar at Salzburg University in the Department of Political Science and Sociology. He is the editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbook and co-editor of the European Islamophobia Report. Twitter: @ferithafez