How G4S helps Israel break the Geneva convention

Lisa Nandy calls for the government to take action over G4S’ participation in illegal imprisonment.

BY LISA NANDYPUBLISHED 30 SEPTEMBER 2012 9:48



Since 1967, more than 730,000 Palestinian men, women and children are estimated to have been imprisoned by Israeli military courts. The majority of such prisoners are held in detention facilities inside Israel, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of these prisoners into Israel.

The practical consequence of this violation is that many prisoners, including children, receive either limited or no family visits, due to freedom of movement restrictions. In the case of children, this lack of adequate family contact also violates their rights under article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Israeli Prison Service figures released in June of this year, 85 per cent of Palestinian prisoners, including children, were detained inside Israel. Of 4,706 prisoners, 285 were held in administrative detention, without charge or trial.

The UK government has confirmed that Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians is contrary to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that they have raised this with the Israeli government and will continue to do so. In a recent letter to me, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP stated that the FCO is lobbying Israeli authorities for a number of improvements, including a reduction in the number of arrests that occur at night, an end to shackling and the introduction of audio-visual recording of interrogations.

Such diplomatic pressure is important - but what of the British companies that keep Israel’s prisons running? According to corporate accountability campaigners, the security giant G4S, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority in 2007 to provide services to a number of prisons and detention facilities. Some of these are known to house prisoners transferred from the West Bank.

What’s more, the company has installed a central command room in Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank, which houses a centre where prisoners are tried under military law. Ofer Prison is located in what the Israeli military refers to as the “Seam Zone”, which means access for visiting families is highly restricted.

G4S have said that it will exit from all the contracts it holds in the West Bank at the earliest opportunity the contract terms allow. They also say that they have not violated any international laws, which on this specific issue may be correct, given that the Geneva Conventions apply only to Governments that have ratified their terms. Despite these limitations, the UK government can still act - yet it refuses to.

Alastair Burt told me that, despite being aware of G4S’s involvement in Israeli prisons, the Foreign Office has not discussed the issue with the company and believes that the “provision of services in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a matter for G4S.”

Last June the UK Government co-sponsored a UN resolution that places duties on states to protect against corporate abuse of human rights. The commitment is meaningless if the government refuses to take action in a clear-cut case such as this.

Companies that have been involved in grievous human rights abuse continue to be listed on the London Stock Exchange, seriously damaging the reputation of British business abroad and making it more difficult to compete for those businesses which are trying to uphold high ethical business and trade standards. Such abuse by any corporation is not merely a matter for the company, but for everyone who supports and believes in the basic concept of human rights.

Halal hysteria
The British “debate” about meat, animal cruelty and ritual slaughter has become a proxy for deep fears about Muslims in our midst.
BY MEHDI HASAN PUBLISHED 09 MAY 2012

I am sitting in one of London’s finest Indian restaurants, Benares, in the heart of Mayfair. I’ve just placed an order for the “Tandoori Ratan” mixed-grill appetiser – a trio of fennel lamb chop, chicken cutlet and king prawn.
I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty excited. Most of the upmarket restaurants in London do not cater for the city’s burgeoning Muslim population. Benares is one of the few exceptions: all of the lamb and chicken dishes on its menu are halal.
The restaurant opened in 2003 and its owner, Atul Kochhar, is a Michelin-starred chef. “Right from day one, we’ve kept our lamb and chicken halal,” Kochhar says. “It was a very conscious decision because I grew up in India, a secular country, where I was taught to have respect for all religions.” Kochhar, who is a Hindu, says Muslims make up “easily between 10 and 20 per cent” of his regular diners. It isn’t just a taste for religious pluralism that has dictated the contents of his menu; serving halal meat makes commercial, as well as cultural, sense.
To other, perhaps less tolerant types, however, the rise and rise of halal meat in the west and here in the UK, in particular, is a source of tension, controversy, fear and loathing. British Muslims are living through a period of halal hysteria, a moral panic over our meat. First there came 9/11, 7/7 and the “Islamic” terror threat; then there was the row over the niqab (face veil) and hijab (headscarf); now, astonishingly, it’s the frenzy over halal meat.
Last month, MPs in the Commons rejected a ten-minute-rule bill that would have made it mandatory for retailers to label all of the halal and kosher meat on sale and make it clear on the packaging that the animals were “killed without stunning”. The bill’s proponent, the Tory backbencher Philip Davies, claimed that the meat was being “forced upon” shoppers “without their knowledge”. It was defeated by the narrowest of margins – 73 votes to 70.
As is so often the case, the right-wing press is behind much of the fear-mongering and misinformation. “Britain goes halal … but no one tells the public,” screamed the front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday on 19 September 2010. The paper claimed that supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, pubs and big sporting venues such as Wembley Stadium were “controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public”.
The following week, readers were treated to two more stories suggesting a sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent, animal-loving, non-Muslim Britons. “How 70 per cent of New Zealand lamb imports to Britain are halal … but this is NOT put on the label”, said the Daily Mail on 25 September 2010. “Top supermarkets secretly sell halal: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S don’t tell us meat is ritually slaughtered,” proclaimed the Mail on Sunday the next day.
With the threat from terrorism receding, Britain’s Islam-baiters have jumped on the anti-halal bandwagon, and not just the neo-fascists of the British National Party and the English Defence League, which has a page on its website devoted to its (anti-) “halal campaign”, but mainstream commentators, too. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle – who once wrote a column entitled “Islamophobia? Count me in” – has demanded that halal meat be banned and called for a boycott of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and the rest until they agree to stop stocking halal products. “I will buy no meat from supermarkets,” he wrote, rather melodramatically, back in 2010.
In this year’s French presidential election, candidates seemed to spend more time discussing halal meat than rising unemployment or the ballooning budget deficit. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, alleged that “all the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception”, while the outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that the halal issue was a “central concern” for French voters. (For the record, halal constitutes 2 per cent of all the meat sold in Paris.)
Last year in the Netherlands, the lower house of parliament approved a bill, introduced by the Party for the Animals (PvdD) and backed by the Islamophobe Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, to have all ritually slaughtered meat, including halal and kosher, banned. The Dutch government refused to sign off on the bill but agreed to appoint a commission to consider tighter procedures for slaughter.
Stun guns
So, what is it about halal that provokes such anger and hysteria? The word literally means “lawful” and refers to any object – not just food – or action or behaviour that is deemed permissible under Islamic law.
For meat to be considered halal, three conditions must be met:
1) The animal must be healthy and uninjured and, crucially, it must be killed with a cut.2) All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body.3) The slaughterer must recite the appropriate Islamic prayer at the time of slaughter.
Islam, like Judaism, prescribes a single-cut method of slaughter: the animal is killed with a quick cut to the throat using a sharp knife. This allows the blood to drain out and, it is believed, makes the meat cleaner.
Naturally, the image of blood flowing out from the slit throat of a dead cow or sheep doesn’t help. But Muslims, like Jews, insist that so-called ritual slaughter is humane and pain-free because the animal quickly loses consciousness. “There is no time to start feeling any pain,” in the words of Dr Majid Katme, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.
In contrast, modern western non-ritual methods of slaughter demand that the animal be rendered unconscious before it is killed – usually by means of stunning, with a bolt gun, or electrocution. The stunning of livestock before slaughter has been compulsory in the EU since 1979 but most member states, including the UK, grant exemptions to Muslims and Jews.
So, for the moment, non-stunned halal meat is available in Britain, but contra the Mail on Sunday, there’s not enough of it to satisfy the growing demand. As a Muslim, I often have great difficulty in deciding where to eat out, given the lack of halal restaurants (hence my excitement at Benares). One recent survey suggested nine out of every ten UK Muslims adhere to the strict rules on halal eating – that is, they reluctantly opt for the salmon, and not the steak, when eating out.
Nonetheless, even though they represent just 3 per cent of the population, Britain’s two million Muslims tend to eat much more meat, on average, than their non-Muslim counterparts. Reports suggest that British Muslims consume a fifth of all red meat sold in the UK.
I have British Muslim friends who book their holiday flights on Emirates, whatever their end destination, specifically in order to be able to stop off in transit in Dubai and buy a Big Mac from the airport’s halal McDonald’s. Some Muslims, it seems, will travel to the corners of the earth in pursuit of halal food.
Is it any wonder that the UK halal meat market is estimated to be worth £3bn? Or that fast-food chains in the UK such as McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza are working on trials offering halal meat?
Nando’s, the Portuguese mid-market restaurant chain, has perhaps gone furthest and fastest. One in five of its branches in the UK now serves halal-certified chicken, and I never cease to be amazed by the sea of hijabs among the diners at the Nando’s in south Harrow that has been my “local” for the past decade.
Then there’s KFC, which has responded to the raft of halal fried-chicken franchises (see Sophie Elmhirst’s piece on page 28) by running a halal trial in a hundred of its restaurants nationwide. On its UK website, KFC promises its customers that “our food is just as tasty and finger lickin’ good as it has always been”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also includes a list of defensive answers to “frequently asked questions” such as “Why have you chosen my store?” and “Does this mean your animal welfare standards have changed?”.
Protecting animals is the cover behind which critics of halal meat often hide. This month, Professor Bill Reilly, a past president of the British Veterinary Association, condemned the rise in the number of animals killed in ritual slaughter as “not acceptable”. “[I]f we cannot eliminate non-stunning, we need to keep it to the minimum,” he wrote in the Veterinary Record. “This means restricting the use of halal and kosher meat to those communities that require it for their religious beliefs and, where possible, convincing them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.”
Opponents of ritual slaughter cite a raft of scientific studies that condemn the practice as painful and abusive. In a much-discussed report published in 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), an independent body that advised the UK government until its dissolution last year, argued that ritual methods of slaughter resulted in “significant pain and distress” for the animal and recommended that Muslims and Jews be banned from slaughtering livestock without stunning the animals first.
The FAWC’s findings were backed by a major EU-funded study “on issues of religious slaughter”, which concluded in 2010: “… it can be stated with the utmost probability that animals feel pain during the throat cut without prior stunning”.
Case closed? Not quite. Ruksana Shain, of the Muslim consumer group Behalal.org, says the scientific evidence against halal slaughter “isn’t conclusive”. But she would say that, wouldn’t she? OK. Well, consider the verdict of Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, who leads the university’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative.
“Many of those attacking religious slaughter have no clue as to what is happening,” he tells me. “It is more of an Islamophobic issue, not an animal well-being issue.” Compared to modern, secular methods of slaughter, he says, “the traditional or Prophetic method might actually be equal or possibly superior” because the initial pain of the throat cut results “in the animal releasing large quantities of endorphins, putting it in a state of euphoria and numbness”. The cut thus serves as its own stun. The scientific evidence against halal slaughter, Regenstein says, “is extremely weak and has often been done poorly with an agenda driving a desired outcome”.
Missing defence
To pretend that Muslims do not care about animal welfare is unfair. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet warning Muslims not to harm livestock; mistreatment of animals is considered a sin by the vast majority of Islamic scholars. In fact, advocates of halal slaughter can call on their own slew of scientific studies for support.
In 1978, research led by Wilhelm Schulze of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover showed that “the slaughter in the form of a ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to EEG [electroencephalography] recordings and the missing defensive actions [of the animals]”. The German Federal Constitutional Court based its 2002 verdict permitting ritual slaughter on this study.
Then there are the writings and research of Temple Grandin, professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and one of America’s leading experts on the humane treatment and slaughter of livestock. She sees no difference between stunned and non-stunned slaughter if both are conducted properly and professionally. When a ritual slaughter is “done really right”, Grandin has said, “the animal seemed to act like it didn’t even feel it – if I walked up to that animal and put my hand in its face I would have got a much bigger reaction than I observed from the cut, and that was something which really surprised me”.
Remember, the “secular ways of slaughter”, as Regenstein points out, also have their downsides: “If the public were to discover that animals were subject to a pre-slaughter intervention – like having their skull cracked open, [being] electrocuted, or put in a gas chamber – they might not really like that either.” Shouldn’t consumers have a right to know which of these methods were used? Shouldn’t they be told about the danger of “mis-stunning”, which leaves the animal conscious and in pain, and occurs “relatively frequently”, according to a 2004 report by the European Food Safety Authority? Why not label all meat with detailed explanations of how exactly the animal in question was killed, and let consumers decide? “Why only pick on halal?” Ruksana Shain asks.
In the Commons debate on food labelling on 24 April, the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who is Jewish, criticised Philip Davies for singling out Muslims and Jews, saying he had “picked on two small minorities who share the way in which the meat they eat is killed”. However, Kaufman added that he would not have expressed his “total opposition to this bill” if it had cast its net wider to include other animals such as chickens that had been kept in “dreadful conditions”.
Preventing animal cruelty goes far beyond the “debate” about stunning or not stunning. And ironically, not all Muslims are opposed to stunning. There are two main organisations that regulate the halal food industry in the UK – the Halal Monitoring Committee, which has a “blanket ruling disallowing stunning in any form”, and the Halal Food Authority, which allows controlled stunning where the “animal or the birds do not die prior to slaughtering”, and which has certified KFC’s stunned chicken as halal.
Thus, most Muslim, and non-Muslim, participants in the heated debate over halal meat are ignoring a critical point. Data produced by the Meat Hygiene Service in 2004 suggested that roughly 90 per cent of halal slaughter in the UK involved stunning. In September 2011, the Food Standards Agency reported that “the majority of animals destined for the halal trade in both the red and white meat sectors are stunned before slaughter”. So what’s all the fuss about?
Consider the scare stories from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, which automatically assume that all halal meat derives from the traditional,  non-stunned method of slaughter. What drove both papers’ coverage of the story? Are we seriously expected to believe that either the Mail or the Mail on Sunday gives a damn about animal rights? I struggle to recall the last occasion on which either tabloid splashed on the abuse or neglect of animals. More often than not, Mail columnists reserve rather harsh words (“deranged fanatics”, to quote Richard Littlejohn) for animal rights activists.
Crucially, if the hysteria over halal meat in Britain isn’t the product of Islamophobia, how do halal-obsessed politicians and journalists explain their silence on the subject of kosher meat? The 2003 Farm Animal Welfare Council report condemned both halal and kosher methods of slaughter. Yet, for instance, the Mail on Sunday, despite referring to “ritually slaughtered meat” in the headline of its “Britain goes halal …” report, went on to discuss only halal meat for the first 24 paragraphs of the piece before mentioning kosher meat – in passing – in the 25th paragraph.
The truth is that halal has become a proxy for much deeper fears and concerns about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population in our midst. “It’s being used as a political issue, especially by xenophobic and Islamophobic folks, to whip up a backlash against ‘the other’,” Regenstein says.
To pretend otherwise is naive, if not disingenuous. If this was a debate about animal welfare, it would be about all forms of slaughter; if it was a debate about ritual slaughter, it would address kosher, and not just halal, meat.
“Why only pick on halal?” It’s an important question in need of an urgent answer.

Halal hysteria

The British “debate” about meat, animal cruelty and ritual slaughter has become a proxy for deep fears about Muslims in our midst.

BY MEHDI HASAN PUBLISHED 09 MAY 2012


I am sitting in one of London’s finest Indian restaurants, Benares, in the heart of Mayfair. I’ve just placed an order for the “Tandoori Ratan” mixed-grill appetiser – a trio of fennel lamb chop, chicken cutlet and king prawn.

I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty excited. Most of the upmarket restaurants in London do not cater for the city’s burgeoning Muslim population. Benares is one of the few exceptions: all of the lamb and chicken dishes on its menu are halal.

The restaurant opened in 2003 and its owner, Atul Kochhar, is a Michelin-starred chef. “Right from day one, we’ve kept our lamb and chicken halal,” Kochhar says. “It was a very conscious decision because I grew up in India, a secular country, where I was taught to have respect for all religions.” Kochhar, who is a Hindu, says Muslims make up “easily between 10 and 20 per cent” of his regular diners. It isn’t just a taste for religious pluralism that has dictated the contents of his menu; serving halal meat makes commercial, as well as cultural, sense.

To other, perhaps less tolerant types, however, the rise and rise of halal meat in the west and here in the UK, in particular, is a source of tension, controversy, fear and loathing. British Muslims are living through a period of halal hysteria, a moral panic over our meat. First there came 9/11, 7/7 and the “Islamic” terror threat; then there was the row over the niqab (face veil) and hijab (headscarf); now, astonishingly, it’s the frenzy over halal meat.

Last month, MPs in the Commons rejected a ten-minute-rule bill that would have made it mandatory for retailers to label all of the halal and kosher meat on sale and make it clear on the packaging that the animals were “killed without stunning”. The bill’s proponent, the Tory backbencher Philip Davies, claimed that the meat was being “forced upon” shoppers “without their knowledge”. It was defeated by the narrowest of margins – 73 votes to 70.

As is so often the case, the right-wing press is behind much of the fear-mongering and misinformation. “Britain goes halal … but no one tells the public,” screamed the front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday on 19 September 2010. The paper claimed that supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, pubs and big sporting venues such as Wembley Stadium were “controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public”.

The following week, readers were treated to two more stories suggesting a sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent, animal-loving, non-Muslim Britons. “How 70 per cent of New Zealand lamb imports to Britain are halal … but this is NOT put on the label”, said the Daily Mail on 25 September 2010. “Top supermarkets secretly sell halal: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S don’t tell us meat is ritually slaughtered,” proclaimed the Mail on Sunday the next day.

With the threat from terrorism receding, Britain’s Islam-baiters have jumped on the anti-halal bandwagon, and not just the neo-fascists of the British National Party and the English Defence League, which has a page on its website devoted to its (anti-) “halal campaign”, but mainstream commentators, too. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle – who once wrote a column entitled “Islamophobia? Count me in” – has demanded that halal meat be banned and called for a boycott of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and the rest until they agree to stop stocking halal products. “I will buy no meat from supermarkets,” he wrote, rather melodramatically, back in 2010.

In this year’s French presidential election, candidates seemed to spend more time discussing halal meat than rising unemployment or the ballooning budget deficit. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, alleged that “all the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception”, while the outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that the halal issue was a “central concern” for French voters. (For the record, halal constitutes 2 per cent of all the meat sold in Paris.)

Last year in the Netherlands, the lower house of parliament approved a bill, introduced by the Party for the Animals (PvdD) and backed by the Islamophobe Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, to have all ritually slaughtered meat, including halal and kosher, banned. The Dutch government refused to sign off on the bill but agreed to appoint a commission to consider tighter procedures for slaughter.

Stun guns

So, what is it about halal that provokes such anger and hysteria? The word literally means “lawful” and refers to any object – not just food – or action or behaviour that is deemed permissible under Islamic law.

For meat to be considered halal, three conditions must be met:

1) The animal must be healthy and uninjured and, crucially, it must be killed with a cut.
2) All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body.
3) The slaughterer must recite the appropriate Islamic prayer at the time of slaughter.

Islam, like Judaism, prescribes a single-cut method of slaughter: the animal is killed with a quick cut to the throat using a sharp knife. This allows the blood to drain out and, it is believed, makes the meat cleaner.

Naturally, the image of blood flowing out from the slit throat of a dead cow or sheep doesn’t help. But Muslims, like Jews, insist that so-called ritual slaughter is humane and pain-free because the animal quickly loses consciousness. “There is no time to start feeling any pain,” in the words of Dr Majid Katme, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.

In contrast, modern western non-ritual methods of slaughter demand that the animal be rendered unconscious before it is killed – usually by means of stunning, with a bolt gun, or electrocution. The stunning of livestock before slaughter has been compulsory in the EU since 1979 but most member states, including the UK, grant exemptions to Muslims and Jews.

So, for the moment, non-stunned halal meat is available in Britain, but contra the Mail on Sunday, there’s not enough of it to satisfy the growing demand. As a Muslim, I often have great difficulty in deciding where to eat out, given the lack of halal restaurants (hence my excitement at Benares). One recent survey suggested nine out of every ten UK Muslims adhere to the strict rules on halal eating – that is, they reluctantly opt for the salmon, and not the steak, when eating out.

Nonetheless, even though they represent just 3 per cent of the population, Britain’s two million Muslims tend to eat much more meat, on average, than their non-Muslim counterparts. Reports suggest that British Muslims consume a fifth of all red meat sold in the UK.

I have British Muslim friends who book their holiday flights on Emirates, whatever their end destination, specifically in order to be able to stop off in transit in Dubai and buy a Big Mac from the airport’s halal McDonald’s. Some Muslims, it seems, will travel to the corners of the earth in pursuit of halal food.

Is it any wonder that the UK halal meat market is estimated to be worth £3bn? Or that fast-food chains in the UK such as McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza are working on trials offering halal meat?

Nando’s, the Portuguese mid-market restaurant chain, has perhaps gone furthest and fastest. One in five of its branches in the UK now serves halal-certified chicken, and I never cease to be amazed by the sea of hijabs among the diners at the Nando’s in south Harrow that has been my “local” for the past decade.

Then there’s KFC, which has responded to the raft of halal fried-chicken franchises (see Sophie Elmhirst’s piece on page 28) by running a halal trial in a hundred of its restaurants nationwide. On its UK website, KFC promises its customers that “our food is just as tasty and finger lickin’ good as it has always been”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also includes a list of defensive answers to “frequently asked questions” such as “Why have you chosen my store?” and “Does this mean your animal welfare standards have changed?”.

Protecting animals is the cover behind which critics of halal meat often hide. This month, Professor Bill Reilly, a past president of the British Veterinary Association, condemned the rise in the number of animals killed in ritual slaughter as “not acceptable”. “[I]f we cannot eliminate non-stunning, we need to keep it to the minimum,” he wrote in the Veterinary Record. “This means restricting the use of halal and kosher meat to those communities that require it for their religious beliefs and, where possible, convincing them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.”

Opponents of ritual slaughter cite a raft of scientific studies that condemn the practice as painful and abusive. In a much-discussed report published in 2003, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), an independent body that advised the UK government until its dissolution last year, argued that ritual methods of slaughter resulted in “significant pain and distress” for the animal and recommended that Muslims and Jews be banned from slaughtering livestock without stunning the animals first.

The FAWC’s findings were backed by a major EU-funded study “on issues of religious slaughter”, which concluded in 2010: “… it can be stated with the utmost probability that animals feel pain during the throat cut without prior stunning”.

Case closed? Not quite. Ruksana Shain, of the Muslim consumer group Behalal.org, says the scientific evidence against halal slaughter “isn’t conclusive”. But she would say that, wouldn’t she? OK. Well, consider the verdict of Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, who leads the university’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative.

“Many of those attacking religious slaughter have no clue as to what is happening,” he tells me. “It is more of an Islamophobic issue, not an animal well-being issue.” Compared to modern, secular methods of slaughter, he says, “the traditional or Prophetic method might actually be equal or possibly superior” because the initial pain of the throat cut results “in the animal releasing large quantities of endorphins, putting it in a state of euphoria and numbness”. The cut thus serves as its own stun. The scientific evidence against halal slaughter, Regenstein says, “is extremely weak and has often been done poorly with an agenda driving a desired outcome”.

Missing defence

To pretend that Muslims do not care about animal welfare is unfair. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet warning Muslims not to harm livestock; mistreatment of animals is considered a sin by the vast majority of Islamic scholars. In fact, advocates of halal slaughter can call on their own slew of scientific studies for support.

In 1978, research led by Wilhelm Schulze of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover showed that “the slaughter in the form of a ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to EEG [electroencephalography] recordings and the missing defensive actions [of the animals]”. The German Federal Constitutional Court based its 2002 verdict permitting ritual slaughter on this study.

Then there are the writings and research of Temple Grandin, professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and one of America’s leading experts on the humane treatment and slaughter of livestock. She sees no difference between stunned and non-stunned slaughter if both are conducted properly and professionally. When a ritual slaughter is “done really right”, Grandin has said, “the animal seemed to act like it didn’t even feel it – if I walked up to that animal and put my hand in its face I would have got a much bigger reaction than I observed from the cut, and that was something which really surprised me”.

Remember, the “secular ways of slaughter”, as Regenstein points out, also have their downsides: “If the public were to discover that animals were subject to a pre-slaughter intervention – like having their skull cracked open, [being] electrocuted, or put in a gas chamber – they might not really like that either.” Shouldn’t consumers have a right to know which of these methods were used? Shouldn’t they be told about the danger of “mis-stunning”, which leaves the animal conscious and in pain, and occurs “relatively frequently”, according to a 2004 report by the European Food Safety Authority? Why not label all meat with detailed explanations of how exactly the animal in question was killed, and let consumers decide? “Why only pick on halal?” Ruksana Shain asks.

In the Commons debate on food labelling on 24 April, the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who is Jewish, criticised Philip Davies for singling out Muslims and Jews, saying he had “picked on two small minorities who share the way in which the meat they eat is killed”. However, Kaufman added that he would not have expressed his “total opposition to this bill” if it had cast its net wider to include other animals such as chickens that had been kept in “dreadful conditions”.

Preventing animal cruelty goes far beyond the “debate” about stunning or not stunning. And ironically, not all Muslims are opposed to stunning. There are two main organisations that regulate the halal food industry in the UK – the Halal Monitoring Committee, which has a “blanket ruling disallowing stunning in any form”, and the Halal Food Authority, which allows controlled stunning where the “animal or the birds do not die prior to slaughtering”, and which has certified KFC’s stunned chicken as halal.

Thus, most Muslim, and non-Muslim, participants in the heated debate over halal meat are ignoring a critical point. Data produced by the Meat Hygiene Service in 2004 suggested that roughly 90 per cent of halal slaughter in the UK involved stunning. In September 2011, the Food Standards Agency reported that “the majority of animals destined for the halal trade in both the red and white meat sectors are stunned before slaughter”. So what’s all the fuss about?

Consider the scare stories from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, which automatically assume that all halal meat derives from the traditional,  non-stunned method of slaughter. What drove both papers’ coverage of the story? Are we seriously expected to believe that either the Mail or the Mail on Sunday gives a damn about animal rights? I struggle to recall the last occasion on which either tabloid splashed on the abuse or neglect of animals. More often than not, Mail columnists reserve rather harsh words (“deranged fanatics”, to quote Richard Littlejohn) for animal rights activists.

Crucially, if the hysteria over halal meat in Britain isn’t the product of Islamophobia, how do halal-obsessed politicians and journalists explain their silence on the subject of kosher meat? The 2003 Farm Animal Welfare Council report condemned both halal and kosher methods of slaughter. Yet, for instance, the Mail on Sunday, despite referring to “ritually slaughtered meat” in the headline of its “Britain goes halal …” report, went on to discuss only halal meat for the first 24 paragraphs of the piece before mentioning kosher meat – in passing – in the 25th paragraph.

The truth is that halal has become a proxy for much deeper fears and concerns about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population in our midst. “It’s being used as a political issue, especially by xenophobic and Islamophobic folks, to whip up a backlash against ‘the other’,” Regenstein says.

To pretend otherwise is naive, if not disingenuous. If this was a debate about animal welfare, it would be about all forms of slaughter; if it was a debate about ritual slaughter, it would address kosher, and not just halal, meat.

“Why only pick on halal?” It’s an important question in need of an urgent answer.

Was Jesus raised from the dead?
Barrister Andrew Zak Williams puts the Resurrection on trial
BY ANDREW ZAK WILLIAMSPUBLISHED 07 APRIL 2012 14:15

This Easter will see lots of Christians reminding us that the true meaning of the time of year doesn’t lie in chocolate eggs or in oversized bunnies.  Rather, Easter is a time to remember the most fundamental event in Christian history:  the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   What is more, many believers are convinced that they have three arguments with which they can prove that the resurrection really occurred.
But what would happen if we put the case for the resurrection on trial and let the readers of theNew Statesman sit in judgement?
The martyrs
The most commonly heard argument in favour of the resurrection is probably the most straightforward.  Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith.  Why would they have done this if they knew that the resurrection story was a hoax?   
According to sceptics, though, what this argument gains in simplicity it lacks in evidence.  Apart from the apostle James, whose death is referred to in the New Testament, there is no evidence that any of the apostles were killed.  Admittedly, a gnostic epistle mentions Peter and Paul as having “borne testimony” in a sense that probably means “been martyred”, but it gives no details.  Apart from these, the only references to martyrdom are in late hagiographic legends.
Besides, even if the apostles had been martyred, this alone would not provide convincing evidence for the resurrection.  Rather, the apologist must surely establish that any apostle who was killed was given the chance to recant his claims about the resurrection to avoid death and that he refused.  Not only is this not proven, it is not even alleged.
The near-contemporaneous evidence
The next argument involves looking at what Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians, perhaps twenty years after the crucifixion:
“… Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have died.” 
This is dynamite for the Christian apologist.  After all, surely Paul wouldn’t have written it if those who read the letter knew perfectly well that there were not more than five hundred believers who claimed to have seen a risen Jesus.  What is more, Paul introduces these comments by saying that he is merely reminding the Corinthians of the gospel that he has “received”.   Aha! cry the believers, he must have received this information from the leaders of the church when he visited them in Jerusalem a few years after the crucifixion.  In that case, the resurrection account must have circulated shortly after the crucifixion:  an indication of its likely truth.
The sceptical response is that this passage is a reference, not to a physical reappearance by Jesus, but rather to a spiritual one.  At first, this may sound unlikely.  But look at the Greek word that Paul uses for “appeared”:  ophthe.  It is the same one he uses in his other letters when referring to a spiritual appearance such as the one he claimed to have experienced on the road to Damascus.
Besides, a physical appearance by Jesus to over five hundred people is not mentioned anywhere in the gospels even though, in comparison, the post-resurrection appearances that are recorded in those texts pale into insignificance.   And is it really likely that so many of Jesus’ followers would have been gathered together in the days following the crucifixion?
American historian Richard Carrier concludes that “five hundred” may be a textual corruption from the almost identical word meaning “Pentecost”.  If he is right, the passage would appear to be referring to an event during which, according to Acts, over a hundred members of the early church believed that they saw fire from heaven descend upon them, filling them with the Holy Spirit.  It would not have taken much for their leader to persuade them that they had just seen the risen Jesus.
And look how the Corinthians passage continues:
“… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Could it be any clearer?  Paul thought of Jesus’ appearance to the five hundred as on a par with the vision he had received on the road to Damascus:  purely spiritual.  
What is more, Paul couldn’t have “received” this information from the leaders of the church, whether in Jerusalem or anywhere else:  Paul himself says elsewhere that he had not received the gospel from any man but rather from a revelation.
Quite frankly, it is difficult to know what to make of Paul’s letter.  Perhaps both sides have scored a couple of hits so far.  So let us move onto the third reason that is often given to support the resurrection account.
The role of women
In all four gospels, it is women who arrived at the tomb and discovered that Jesus’ body was missing.  Believers point out that in Jewish society at the time, a woman’s word carried less weight than that of a man.  Readers would have assumed that the women at the tomb were uneducated and terrified.  If the story of the empty tomb had been invented, surely it would have made sense for the gospel writers to pretend that male pillars of the community were present when the tomb was found to be empty.
But it must be remembered that the gospels were written more than thirty-five years after the crucifixion.  By then the Christian church was growing phenomenally.  Perhaps there was no longer the need to ensure that the empty tomb story was supported by reliable male witnesses.   Besides, it was especially among women that the church originally grew.  Perhaps it was in the church’s interests to give such a crucial role in the resurrection narrative to women.
Nevertheless it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that if the gospel writers had a free hand in concocting the resurrection tale, they missed an open goal when they decided to keep men away from the empty tomb.
Unreliable sources
Since we are considering the claim that a miracle occurred, we should expect evidence of a high standard:  so much so that we surely have the right to expect, at a minimum, the biblical accounts to be internally consistent.   Non-believers, though, argue that this is where the resurrection account runs into major difficulties.
If the resurrection were put on trial in a hypothetical courtroom, the gospels would almost certainly be ruled inadmissible.  After all, they’re the equivalent of witness statements summarising the evidence a witness intends to give in court.  Where a witness is unwilling or unable to attend court and so cannot be cross-examined, the chances of her statement being admitted in evidence fall drastically.  And that is so even when the judge knows her identity and has an uncorrupted, signed copy of her statement.   In the case of the gospels, we know virtually nothing about the writers – not even their true names – and can only guess at their sources.  Because we do not have the original manuscripts, for all we know, any part of any gospel could have been added up to a couple of centuries later.
Even so, let us assume that the gospels can be admitted in evidence.  Sceptics claim that we can place virtually no weight on anything they say about the resurrection.  This is for the simple reason that they are littered with major contradictions.
For instance, Luke and Acts make it clear that all of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after the resurrection were in and around Jerusalem.  But in Matthew and Mark the figure in the tomb who appeared to the women said that Jesus would go before the disciples into Galilee – a journey of several days from Jerusalem.  Matthew goes on to record that the disciples then made their way to Galilee where Jesus appeared to them.  Both accounts cannot be true.
And was it one woman, Mary Magdelene, two women or three women who found the tomb empty?  All these answers appear in the gospels.  Similarly, the gospel writers cannot agree on whether the woman or women were greeted by a man, an angel or two “figures” at the tomb.
More importantly, what was Jesus like at this time?   Luke’s Jesus states, “Look at my hands and my feet. … Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”   Yet John’s Jesus is able to walk through doors.
And scholars cannot agree whether the original manuscript of the earliest gospel, Mark, even mentioned the resurrection.
No wonder historian Charles Freeman concludes, “It is impossible to provide a coherent narrative account of what was seen.”
The best that believers can do is to try their utmost to reconcile the apparent contradictions.  For instance, although Luke writes that it was Mary Magdelene who attended the tomb, he does not specifically say that she was alone.  And although Luke and Acts indicate that Jesus stayed around Jerusalem after the resurrection, those texts do not specifically say so.
Yet, if you approach the resurrection accounts from an objective viewpoint, it is virtually impossible to avoid the conclusion that they are at odds with each other in important respects:  so much so that many Christians recognise this.
As we are about to see, this has grave consequences for the historical case for the resurrection.
So what happened?
You can possibly see why some Christians feel confident when they argue about the resurrection.  It hardly involves grappling with difficult science.  What is more, the role of women at the tomb and the fact that the resurrection story took hold relatively quickly give the account an air of authenticity lacking in many legends.
However, when a court investigates whether an event has occurred, the judge will want to know who the eyewitnesses are and what they saw.  This is where the case for the resurrection falls down.  The courts are used to eyewitnesses disagreeing over the details of a story.  But allow as much latitude as you like for the faltering memories and differing perspectives of eyewitnesses, and you still can’t explain the contradictions in the gospels surrounding what happened after the crucifixion.  In short, the testimony of the gospel writers is utterly unreliable.
And so the resurrection must be filed away along with hundreds of other unproven miracles proclaimed by the followers of the world’s many religions.
If Jesus was not resurrected, though, what really happened?    The burden of proving an alternative hypothesis can hardly fall on sceptics especially when the source materials are so problematic.  Even so, Charles Freeman has outlined a convincing theory that involves Caiaphas, Pilate’s high priest, disposing of Jesus’ body.  Desperate to send the Jesus movement back home, Caiaphas then left a message with the guards at the empty tomb, saying that Jesus had set off to Galilee.
And theologian John Shook suggests that Peter and James invented the resurrection account to shore up their own authority against Paul who arrived in Jerusalem boasting that Jesus had appeared to him in a vision on the way to Damascus.
The truth is that we will never know.  This is a debate that will not die … and if it does, it will probably come back to life.

Was Jesus raised from the dead?

Barrister Andrew Zak Williams puts the Resurrection on trial

BY ANDREW ZAK WILLIAMS
PUBLISHED 07 APRIL 2012 14:15


This Easter will see lots of Christians reminding us that the true meaning of the time of year doesn’t lie in chocolate eggs or in oversized bunnies.  Rather, Easter is a time to remember the most fundamental event in Christian history:  the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   What is more, many believers are convinced that they have three arguments with which they can prove that the resurrection really occurred.

But what would happen if we put the case for the resurrection on trial and let the readers of theNew Statesman sit in judgement?

The martyrs

The most commonly heard argument in favour of the resurrection is probably the most straightforward.  Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith.  Why would they have done this if they knew that the resurrection story was a hoax?   

According to sceptics, though, what this argument gains in simplicity it lacks in evidence.  Apart from the apostle James, whose death is referred to in the New Testament, there is no evidence that any of the apostles were killed.  Admittedly, a gnostic epistle mentions Peter and Paul as having “borne testimony” in a sense that probably means “been martyred”, but it gives no details.  Apart from these, the only references to martyrdom are in late hagiographic legends.

Besides, even if the apostles had been martyred, this alone would not provide convincing evidence for the resurrection.  Rather, the apologist must surely establish that any apostle who was killed was given the chance to recant his claims about the resurrection to avoid death and that he refused.  Not only is this not proven, it is not even alleged.

The near-contemporaneous evidence

The next argument involves looking at what Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians, perhaps twenty years after the crucifixion:

“… Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have died.” 

This is dynamite for the Christian apologist.  After all, surely Paul wouldn’t have written it if those who read the letter knew perfectly well that there were not more than five hundred believers who claimed to have seen a risen Jesus.  What is more, Paul introduces these comments by saying that he is merely reminding the Corinthians of the gospel that he has “received”.   Aha! cry the believers, he must have received this information from the leaders of the church when he visited them in Jerusalem a few years after the crucifixion.  In that case, the resurrection account must have circulated shortly after the crucifixion:  an indication of its likely truth.

The sceptical response is that this passage is a reference, not to a physical reappearance by Jesus, but rather to a spiritual one.  At first, this may sound unlikely.  But look at the Greek word that Paul uses for “appeared”:  ophthe.  It is the same one he uses in his other letters when referring to a spiritual appearance such as the one he claimed to have experienced on the road to Damascus.

Besides, a physical appearance by Jesus to over five hundred people is not mentioned anywhere in the gospels even though, in comparison, the post-resurrection appearances that are recorded in those texts pale into insignificance.   And is it really likely that so many of Jesus’ followers would have been gathered together in the days following the crucifixion?

American historian Richard Carrier concludes that “five hundred” may be a textual corruption from the almost identical word meaning “Pentecost”.  If he is right, the passage would appear to be referring to an event during which, according to Acts, over a hundred members of the early church believed that they saw fire from heaven descend upon them, filling them with the Holy Spirit.  It would not have taken much for their leader to persuade them that they had just seen the risen Jesus.

And look how the Corinthians passage continues:

“… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Could it be any clearer?  Paul thought of Jesus’ appearance to the five hundred as on a par with the vision he had received on the road to Damascus:  purely spiritual.  

What is more, Paul couldn’t have “received” this information from the leaders of the church, whether in Jerusalem or anywhere else:  Paul himself says elsewhere that he had not received the gospel from any man but rather from a revelation.

Quite frankly, it is difficult to know what to make of Paul’s letter.  Perhaps both sides have scored a couple of hits so far.  So let us move onto the third reason that is often given to support the resurrection account.

The role of women

In all four gospels, it is women who arrived at the tomb and discovered that Jesus’ body was missing.  Believers point out that in Jewish society at the time, a woman’s word carried less weight than that of a man.  Readers would have assumed that the women at the tomb were uneducated and terrified.  If the story of the empty tomb had been invented, surely it would have made sense for the gospel writers to pretend that male pillars of the community were present when the tomb was found to be empty.

But it must be remembered that the gospels were written more than thirty-five years after the crucifixion.  By then the Christian church was growing phenomenally.  Perhaps there was no longer the need to ensure that the empty tomb story was supported by reliable male witnesses.   Besides, it was especially among women that the church originally grew.  Perhaps it was in the church’s interests to give such a crucial role in the resurrection narrative to women.

Nevertheless it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that if the gospel writers had a free hand in concocting the resurrection tale, they missed an open goal when they decided to keep men away from the empty tomb.

Unreliable sources

Since we are considering the claim that a miracle occurred, we should expect evidence of a high standard:  so much so that we surely have the right to expect, at a minimum, the biblical accounts to be internally consistent.   Non-believers, though, argue that this is where the resurrection account runs into major difficulties.

If the resurrection were put on trial in a hypothetical courtroom, the gospels would almost certainly be ruled inadmissible.  After all, they’re the equivalent of witness statements summarising the evidence a witness intends to give in court.  Where a witness is unwilling or unable to attend court and so cannot be cross-examined, the chances of her statement being admitted in evidence fall drastically.  And that is so even when the judge knows her identity and has an uncorrupted, signed copy of her statement.   In the case of the gospels, we know virtually nothing about the writers – not even their true names – and can only guess at their sources.  Because we do not have the original manuscripts, for all we know, any part of any gospel could have been added up to a couple of centuries later.

Even so, let us assume that the gospels can be admitted in evidence.  Sceptics claim that we can place virtually no weight on anything they say about the resurrection.  This is for the simple reason that they are littered with major contradictions.

For instance, Luke and Acts make it clear that all of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after the resurrection were in and around Jerusalem.  But in Matthew and Mark the figure in the tomb who appeared to the women said that Jesus would go before the disciples into Galilee – a journey of several days from Jerusalem.  Matthew goes on to record that the disciples then made their way to Galilee where Jesus appeared to them.  Both accounts cannot be true.

And was it one woman, Mary Magdelene, two women or three women who found the tomb empty?  All these answers appear in the gospels.  Similarly, the gospel writers cannot agree on whether the woman or women were greeted by a man, an angel or two “figures” at the tomb.

More importantly, what was Jesus like at this time?   Luke’s Jesus states, “Look at my hands and my feet. … Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”   Yet John’s Jesus is able to walk through doors.

And scholars cannot agree whether the original manuscript of the earliest gospel, Mark, even mentioned the resurrection.

No wonder historian Charles Freeman concludes, “It is impossible to provide a coherent narrative account of what was seen.”

The best that believers can do is to try their utmost to reconcile the apparent contradictions.  For instance, although Luke writes that it was Mary Magdelene who attended the tomb, he does not specifically say that she was alone.  And although Luke and Acts indicate that Jesus stayed around Jerusalem after the resurrection, those texts do not specifically say so.

Yet, if you approach the resurrection accounts from an objective viewpoint, it is virtually impossible to avoid the conclusion that they are at odds with each other in important respects:  so much so that many Christians recognise this.

As we are about to see, this has grave consequences for the historical case for the resurrection.

So what happened?

You can possibly see why some Christians feel confident when they argue about the resurrection.  It hardly involves grappling with difficult science.  What is more, the role of women at the tomb and the fact that the resurrection story took hold relatively quickly give the account an air of authenticity lacking in many legends.

However, when a court investigates whether an event has occurred, the judge will want to know who the eyewitnesses are and what they saw.  This is where the case for the resurrection falls down.  The courts are used to eyewitnesses disagreeing over the details of a story.  But allow as much latitude as you like for the faltering memories and differing perspectives of eyewitnesses, and you still can’t explain the contradictions in the gospels surrounding what happened after the crucifixion.  In short, the testimony of the gospel writers is utterly unreliable.

And so the resurrection must be filed away along with hundreds of other unproven miracles proclaimed by the followers of the world’s many religions.

If Jesus was not resurrected, though, what really happened?    The burden of proving an alternative hypothesis can hardly fall on sceptics especially when the source materials are so problematic.  Even so, Charles Freeman has outlined a convincing theory that involves Caiaphas, Pilate’s high priest, disposing of Jesus’ body.  Desperate to send the Jesus movement back home, Caiaphas then left a message with the guards at the empty tomb, saying that Jesus had set off to Galilee.

And theologian John Shook suggests that Peter and James invented the resurrection account to shore up their own authority against Paul who arrived in Jerusalem boasting that Jesus had appeared to him in a vision on the way to Damascus.

The truth is that we will never know.  This is a debate that will not die … and if it does, it will probably come back to life.