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Religion, Animals, and Racialization: Articulating Islamophobia through Animal Ethics in The Netherlands

Department of Political Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Religions 2022, 13(10), 955;
Received: 21 July 2022 / Revised: 26 September 2022 / Accepted: 3 October 2022 / Published: 12 October 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Animals, and X)


In 2008, the Dutch Party for the Animals submitted a proposal to ban religious slaughter without prior stunning. The proposal was widely supported in the Lower House but finally rejected in the Upper House in 2012, mainly on the grounds of religious freedom. Academia was keen to study the polemic, but no research has attempted to study the controversy through a lens of racialization. This is remarkable, given the well-documented increase in Islamophobia and the political use of racism since (at least) the turn of the millennium in The Netherlands (and the geopolitical “West” at large). In this article, I demonstrate that a racializing dynamic is actually part and parcel of the Dutch controversy. I apply a reflexive thematic analysis to study archival material from the Dutch Parliamentarian debate and show that the dispute foremost references Islamic slaughter. Appeals to civilization, accusations of barbarism, dystopian warnings against Islamization, and invocations of Judeo-Christianity are discursive elements that feature in the debate and have racializing ramifications for Muslims. By unmasking this racializing dynamic, I offer a means to empirically explore the ways in which taxonomies of religion and race intersect with and through the politicization of animal ethics. When considering religious slaughter it is essential, I ultimately maintain, to observe the violence caused by socially constructed racial and species differences. Only if we hold both in serious regard do we have a chance to begin to imagine ourselves in relation to others differently and move towards more just futures—for humans and non-humans alike.

1. Introduction

“The Party for the Animals finds it incomprehensible that animals suffer because of a misplaced sense of political correctness. Our country is now a leading figure in animal mistreatment, as trade in meat from animals slaughtered without stunning has become a niche market. However, recently published research, including by the New Scientist, demonstrates that there are no valid religious nor technical reasons to slaughter animals halal, without stunning. We thus must stop with this practice immediately. We harm no one in their religious experience when we prohibit the ritual unstunned slaughter of animals,” said Marianne Thieme in 2007.1 Thieme is the former leader of the Dutch Party for the Animals (PvdD), and she was speaking during a Parliamentarian debate about the government statement of the newly formed cabinet following the general elections in the winter of 2006. The results of this election surprised many, as both Thieme’s animal rights party and the populist radical right, anti-immigration, and anti-Islam party Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, secured enough votes to enter Parliament for the first time. A year later, in 2008, the PvdD submitted a private member’s bill that proposed to disallow the religious slaughter of animals without prior stunning. With quite an unexpected intensity, the political debate traveled beyond the Parliamentarian walls, and heated discussions in Dutch society erupted (Havinga 2008). Political commentators, veterinarians, Jewish and Islamic representatives, animal rights activists, and academics tumbled over each other to share their strongly held opinions during TV and radio shows, in newspapers, at debating centers, and on social media. The Lower House passed the bill, but the Upper House ultimately rejected it in 2012, predominantly on the grounds of religious freedom. This rejection seemed to have ended the dispute, but in 2018, the PvdD submitted a new bill with the same aim, albeit phrased in a slightly different manner. Parliamentarian deliberation on this proposal is ongoing.2
While slaughter according to religious rites in The Netherlands applies to both Jewish and Islamic practices, in the quote with which this article starts, only the latter is singled-out. “Halal” is mentioned explicitly and exclusively when religious slaughter is discussed generally, for no apparent reason. This observation invites all sorts of questions. Why is Islamic slaughter gratuitously named? How does this affect Muslim communities? What does it disclose about Dutch politics and its perception of Islam? How does such focus on an Islamic practice impact the forging of political alliances in Parliament? And, on a normative level, what does such a singular focus on Islamic slaughter reveal about the (im)possibility of a joint antiracist and animal liberatory political project?3 While this article cannot engage with all of these questions, it does pursue the underlying hypothesis that unites these inquiries. Namely, the impression that Islamic slaughter figures in quite a unique way in the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter. I therefore set out to map and understand how references to Islam, Islamic practices, and Muslims figure in the Parliamentarian deliberations during the 2006–2012 period with the use of a reflexive thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006, 2019).
I demonstrate that a racializing dynamic is part and parcel of the Dutch controversy. While religious slaughter should, in the Dutch context, refer to both Jewish and Islamic slaughter, I show that the Parliamentarian debate is foremost about Islamic slaughter. Subsequent appeals to civilization, accusations of barbarism, dystopian warnings against Islamization, and invocations of Judeo-Christianity are discursive elements that feature in the debate and have racializing ramifications for Muslims. Namely, through each of these elements, Islamic communities are being shifted into two groups and labeled as either “good” or “bad” Muslims (Mamdani 2004) depending on their position vis-à-vis religious slaughter. The “bad” Muslims are consequently excluded from the imagined characteristics of Dutch civilization and assumed to pose a threat to the survival of Dutch culture. Invocations of Judeo-Christianity function to exclude Muslims (both “good” and “bad” Muslims) from the imaginations of Dutch culture and political history. The relevance of race for ways in which the controversy has developed is typically overlooked by academia and quickly dismissed by advocates of the bill. However, by unmasking the racial logic running through the dispute, this article offers a means to explore the connections between religion and race through a reflection on the political representation of animal ethics. As such, this article amplifies the religious and race studies scholarship that challenges the established theorization of religion and race as separate and distinct categories (Masuzawa 2005; Vial 2016; Topolski 2018a; Nye 2019). The article further adds to burgeoning efforts in the field of religious studies that consider the relevance of the animal (both as a modern figure and as a fleshly being) for the theorization of religion. This body of work particularly reflects on what religion is and does when encountering other categories of difference, such as race and species (Gross 2014; Johnson 2021). Ultimately, I shed light on the logic of racialization within the Dutch debate to be able to stress that, if we set out to grapple with controversies over religious slaughter, it is pivotal to consider the violence enacted through the social construction of both racial and species differences. Only if we hold both in serious regard can we attempt to imagine “a critical and transformational politics, [so as] to radically restructure our relationship with each other, animals, and the earth outside of domination” (Kim 2015, p. 21).

2. Researching the Dutch Case: Stressing Religion, Overlooking Racialization

Before delving into the analysis of the Dutch Parliamentarian debate on religious slaughter, let us consider the ways in which this controversy has been studied by academia so far. The Netherlands is certainly not the only European country reconsidering the permissibility of unstunned religious slaughter, yet the case has received substantial academic attention.4 A thorough review of the existent literature on this case leads me to conclude that academia has thus far identified the following main characteristics of the Dutch dispute. Firstly, the controversy indicates the successful entrance of the figure of the animal onto the political stage. Animals have become “a new sociopolitical category” (Valenta 2012, p. 30) and the concern for animal welfare a “developing social need” (van der Schyff 2014, p. 102). Consequently, proponents and opponents of the bill had to take a position vis-à-vis animal welfare (Janssen 2014b). Subsequently, the dispute evidences a shift in political perspectives on the accommodation of religious interests by the state (Zoethout 2013; Havinga 2020) toward a declining appreciation of religion in public life (Wallet 2013). Relatedly, the debate exemplifies the salience of secularism in Dutch society. Religious slaughter was understood to be a cultural practice enacted by ethnic minorities and therefore to be accommodated until roughly the 1990s (Wallet 2013). The practice became re-signified as religious, however, from the 2000s onwards under the duress of a growing critique on multiculturalism and appeals to secularism. The re-signification of religious slaughter as religious meant that it became a target of vehement criticism, which is interpreted by some scholars as an illustration of the increasing intolerance of religion (Schuh et al. 2012; Vellenga 2011, 2015). Correspondingly, the controversy signals the central role “multiculturalism” plays in Dutch politics. Some advocates of the bill laced their critique of multiculturalism together with their argumentations in favor of banning unstunned religious slaughter (Kurth and Glasbergen 2017). Lastly, it is observed that references to science are a key element in the political deliberations, during which scientific knowledge is presented as a collection of objective facts juxtaposed with a supposed partiality of religious worldviews (Valenta 2012; Janssen 2014a; Kurth and Glasbergen 2017).
While it is not my intention to deny that each of these elements figures as lines of argumentation in the debate, it does strike me that there are no in-depth academic studies grappling with the controversy through a lens of racialization.5 The political context in which the dispute emerged, I contend, invites at least a preliminary exploration in that direction. That is, The Netherlands has proven to be fertile soil for the incremental growth of hostility toward “foreigners”, in particular those perceived as Muslim. Typically, the origin of this hostility is attributed to the prolonged stay of “guest laborers” from Turkey and Morocco in the post-Second World War reconstruction era. In the second half of the 19th century, resistance against the presence of the guest laborers was expressed through a reductive discourse that tied nuisance and the workers’ presumed inclination to criminal and deviant behavior to their Islamic background, in turn perceived to be “backward”. Yet, it should be noted that The Netherlands’ contentious relationship with Islam dates back centuries, when the geography now named Indonesia was colonized in the late sixteenth century until Indonesia’s independence in 1945.6 Because Islamic slaughter was not officially regulated by Dutch law until 1977, some guest workers clandestinely slaughtered animals in their neighborhoods (Shadid and van Koningsveld 1992). Press images hereof caused much social uproar, which fueled the already existent tensions around guest labor in the country. These tensions culminated in several “race riots” during the 1960s and 1970s that specifically targeted immigrant neighborhoods (Schrover 2011).
Out of this social unrest, right-wing political parties emerged in the 1980s with an explicit anti-immigration political program. Rhetorical depictions of Islamic slaughter as a uniquely violent and “foreign” practice featured in their argumentation against multiculturalism (Shadid and van Koningsveld 1992; van Holsteyn and Mudde 1998). Furthermore, in the same period, longer-standing left-wing parties such as the Socialist Party (SP) would use mentions of Islamic slaughter, too, as an illustration of their critique of societal problems supposedly caused by Muslim immigrants. In 1983, the SP published two brochures about capitalism and guest labor, in which Islam is pointed out as the main cause preventing peaceful coexistence between guest workers and the Dutch:
“One should imagine what ghettos will arise from obsolete, and for us dangerous, immigrants, if we accept not only their gruesome slaughtering habits, but also their discrimination against women, their patriarchal-authoritarian pretensions, their subjugation of children, their tribal feuds. Why accept from newcomers what we ourselves have tidied up in customs and laws?”
Additionally, animal advocacy groups added fuel to the fire when singling out Islamic slaughter in a 1982 petition to the Lower House.7 The undersigned called for a legal requirement to sedate all religiously slaughtered animals prior to the act of throat-cutting and demanded a ban on all Islamic slaughter, regardless of prior stunning but with an annual exemption for the Feast of Sacrifice (Shadid and van Koningsveld 1992). The petitioners motivated their plea by warning against the ramifications of maintaining an exemption for religious slaughter, as that could set “a dangerous precedent in a multicultural society with 400,000 Muslims to be populated by many more Muslims in the near future, because of the ongoing family reunions and the “higher fertility rate” of Muslim families” (idem, p. 21). Muslims’ supposed “innate” ability to procreate in high numbers is an age-old racist trope that continues to roam around in Europe in the present day (Bracke and Aguilar 2020). It represents Islamic communities as a demographic threat to the survival and stability of “native” populations because of Muslims’ supposed high birth rates. Islamic slaughter thus figured as a building block in political and public discourses that critiqued Muslim presence in The Netherlands, in the course of which Muslims were essentialized and inferiorized as a homogenous group on the basis of their faith.8
While still relatively marginal in the 1980s, this kind of argumentation rose to prominence after the turn of the millennium. Haunted by the specters of geopolitical developments, such as the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks in the US, the subsequent War on Terror in the Middle East spearheaded by the Americans under false pretenses but followed by many European countries including The Netherlands, and several terrorist bombings claimed by Islamic groups on European grounds (e.g., in Madrid, London, Paris, and Brussels), a political discourse that centered on the undesirability of Muslim presence in The Netherlands moved from the margins to the center since the 2000s. While the late Pim Fortuyn is the most well-known right-wing representative hereof (De Koning 2016), this discourse has actually been so powerful in setting the parameters for political debate on key topics such as migration, multiculturalism, and religion that it has impacted the political programs of parties from left to right (Oudenampsen 2018). Liberal values such as women’s and gay rights, individualism, and secularism—once the achievements of hard-fought social struggles in the 1960s and 1970s—now became re-imagined as essential and inextricable core elements of Dutch culture and identity (Oudenampsen 2013). In a parallel move, Islam became imagined as intrinsically antithetical to those values and by extension a threat to Dutch culture. Under these conditions, in the Dutch socio-political imagination, anything related to Islam has become an a priori “difficulty that needs to be addressed” (Sayyid 2014, p. 3). The Netherlands thus birthed its own “Muslim Question” that problematizes Muslims as Muslims (Bracke and Aguilar 2020). This is evidenced by the ever-growing list of political concerns about phenomena (assumed to be negative) pertaining to Islam, e.g., veiling, the acceptance of sexual diversity, the construction of mosques, female genital circumcision, honor killing, and radicalization (Maussen 2004; Bartels 2004; Moors 2009; Korteweg and Yurdakul 2009; Mepschen et al. 2010; Bracke 2012; El-Tayeb 2012; Lettinga and Saharso 2014; De Koning 2020). I argue that the current Dutch controversy over religious slaughter should be understood against this background, the exact intricates of which need to be further parsed out.

3. Tracing Islamic Slaughter

This article traces the ways in which references to Islam, Islamic practices, and Muslims figure in the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter. I locate this inquiry in the Dutch Parliament, meaning that I study archival records of political deliberations in the Lower and Upper House.9 These documents were collected via the online archive of public announcements of the Dutch Parliament. The search phrase “ritueel slachten” (ritual slaughter) was applied to find relevant material, as this is the commonsensical Dutch term for religious slaughter. After a thorough review, 135 documents were selected for this study. This includes the private member’s bill and amendments, transcripts of Parliamentarian deliberations, motions, Parliamentarian questions, and responses from governmental officials. My study covers the years 2006 through 2012, as my earlier pilot research of the archive revealed that, from 2006 on, references to the practice started surfacing during Parliamentarian deliberations. I take the rejection of the private member’s bill by the Upper House in 2012 as the end point for this study. This study thus starts two years earlier than most existent scholarship on the controversy (as discussed in the previous section). Those studies generally take 2008 as a starting point—the year the animal rights party submitted its private members’ bill. In doing so, they overlook the importance of two political developments that are actually central to the evolution of the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter. Namely, the animal rights party (PvdD), as well as the anti-Islam party (PVV), both took seats in the Lower House for the first time in 2006, following general elections earlier that year. While the PvdD strove to abolish the exemption of the sedation requirements for religious slaughter, the PVV labored to end religious slaughter altogether, regardless of prior sedation. Their efforts gradually built toward a political momentum through which the private members’ bill could grow into a topic of forceful political and public debate.
I analyzed the archival records with the use of a reflexive thematic analysis, a qualitative research method developed by Braun and Clarke (2006, 2019). This method enabled me to identify references to Islam, Islamic practices, and Muslims and discover meaningful patterns across these numerous mentions. The goal of a reflexive thematic analysis is to identify key themes, which Braun and Clarke define as “stories about particular patterns of shared meaning across the dataset” (Braun and Clarke 2019, p. 592). I identified four overarching themes across the dataset:
  • Gratuitous and exclusive references to Islamic slaughter, Islam, or Muslims;
  • Appeals to civilization and accusations of barbarism;
  • Dystopian warnings of Islamization;
  • Invocations of Judeo-Christian fraternity.
In the following paragraphs, I introduce each of these themes and discuss their racializing features in depth. Together they give shape to and are expressions of a racializing dynamic that runs through the Parliamentarian debate.

3.1. Gratuitous and Exclusive Mentions of Islamic Slaughter

Throughout the political deliberations, there are many instances in which Islamic slaughter is exclusively mentioned without an equally explicit reference to Jewish slaughter. These mentions become significant when they are gratuitous, meaning that the commentary does not warrant an exclusive focus on halal slaughter. This is contrary to when issues are being discussed that are specific to Islamic slaughter, such as the characteristics of halal quality marks for meat. Examples of commentaries with a gratuitous and exclusive focus on Islamic slaughter are:
“Can you explain why you continue to allow halal slaughter without stunning, while in other countries the slaughter of animals without stunning has long been banned?”10
—Standing Committee for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Lower House
“My final comments concern ritual slaughter, halal meat and iftar meals. I would like to hear the minister’s opinion here. What can we do about this severe forms of animal abuse?”11
—MP Dion Graus, PVV
“We also ask the minister whether he is prepared to ban slaughter without stunning. A growing number of Muslims finds unstunned slaughter unacceptable. To underline once more, we do not object ritual slaughter, provided that it is accompanied by prior stunning and the label states that it concerns halal meat.”12
—MP Marianne Thieme, PvdD
“If the time of 40 s is exceeded, the animal must still be anesthetized. How does the State Secretary see this in practice? Will someone stand with a stopwatch? Is bish malla allah akbar called, after which time starts and you have to be ready with your knife als de drommel to cut off the animal’s neck?”13
—Senator Marjolein Faber-van de Klashorst, PVV
These quotes illustrate what frequently occurs during the Parliamentarian deliberations, namely that the term “ritual slaughter” is unnecessarily substituted, or followed, by phrases like “halal slaughter”, “halal meat”, mentions of “Muslims”, or references to Islamic practices such as iftar. This practice of breaking the day’s fast at sunset occurs during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. The last quote includes an Arabic phrase, which also draws our attention exclusively and gratuitously to Islamic slaughter. In doing so, while the debate on the legal permissibility of unstunned religious slaughter concerns Jewish and Islamic slaughter equally in the Dutch context, only an image of Islamic slaughter is conjured up in the minds of the audience (other MPs, government officials, journalists, and the general public).
The third quote mentions that “a growing number of Muslims finds unstunned slaughter unacceptable”, which illustrates a rhetorical moment that occurs more often in the debate, through which the Dutch Muslim community is split in two on the basis of their position vis-à-vis religious slaughter. Since the 9/11 attacks in the USA, the perception of Muslims in “the West” has transformed in such a way that Muslims are typically split into two groups. They are either “moderate”, “assimilated”, “integrated”, and therefore “good Muslims”, or “fundamentalist”, “radical”, “dangerous”, and therefore “bad Muslims” (Mamdani 2004; Ajala 2014; Topolski 2018b). While the quote does not call Muslims fundamentalist or dangerous, it does manifest the familiar tendency to split Muslims into a more favorable versus unfavorable group in order to subsequently criticize and exclude the “bad Muslims”. Such a division facilitates the articulation of more subtle forms of Islamophobia, what also has been called “liberal Islamophobia”. Mondon and Winter (2017) make a distinction between illiberal and liberal articulations of Islamophobia that, together, through their interplay, normalize Islamophobia. Whereas illiberal Islamophobia typically calls for the discriminatory, differential treatment of Muslims, liberal articulations of Islamophobia include the disapproval of such crude essentialization and inferiorization and infringement of liberal principles. Instead, liberal Islamophobes differentiate, to a limited extent, between “moderate” and “good” Muslims versus “bad” Muslims. Yet, they do articulate the civilizational superiority of “the West” in opposition to Islam (p. 17), which homogenizes and essentializes Islam. Importantly, liberal Islamophobia is able to hide behind its disapproval of illiberal articulations of Islamophobia, and in doing so, it normalizes Islamophobia and enables its entrance into the mainstream. As I will demonstrate later on in this article, Dutch Muslims who do not disapprove of unstunned slaughter (“bad” Muslims) are excluded from the imaginary degree of Dutch civilization (reminiscent of liberal articulations of Islamophobia) and are identified as a threat to the survival of Dutch culture (illiberal Islamophobia). It does appear that in the Dutch controversy on religious slaughter, liberal and illiberal articulations of Islamophobia are complementary to each other.
The last quote is further relevant for our discussion, as it includes the Dutch proverb “als de drommel”, which somewhat translates to “like the devil”. On the surface, this proverb means “very quick, fast”. The topic of discussion at this point in the debate is the maximum amount of time animals should be allowed to remain conscious after the first neck cut, which the proponents of the bill would like to be minimized to zero and the defendants of religious slaughter wish to allow for. This MP, who is in favor of the bill, sarcastically questions the practical execution of such a time limit. Thus she probably meant the “very quick” meaning of the proverb. However, “drommel” has an exclusively negative connotation in Dutch. If someone is called a drommel, they are said to be a pitiful person, or a devil. Interestingly, the underlying implication here is that the devil is to be pitied, possibly reminiscent of the Christian practice of repentance. As the word drommel follows the Arabic phrase bish malla allah akbar, by means of which an image of Islamic slaughter is invoked, the person who holds “the knife” is invoked as a pitiful person or a devil. Given the imagery of Islamic slaughter, it is a Muslim butcher that is called pitiful or accused of being a devil. Historically, non-Christian (e.g., Jews, Muslims) and non-white people have been marked as demonic by European Christian theological and later secular political elites for centuries (Heng 2018; Kotsko 2016). Such demonization went in tandem with depictions of those marked as demonic as less human, more animal-like, and monstrous beings (Heng 2018; Friedman 2000). Discourses of demonology are still intimately connected to racialization when they identify non-white people as markers of moral failing (Kotsko 2016) and as threats to the stability and coherence of “Paradise”, i.e., the nation, or the global order (O’Donnell 2020).14 The MP may not be aware of the racializing connotation to discourses of demonology, yet her words do not exist in a vacuum devoid of a historically developed, meaningful context. Instead, rhetorically placing Muslim butchers (implied with the Arabic phrase) in proximity to the figure of the devil invokes a century-old image in which Islam and evil “occupy proximal category membership” (Chen 2012, p. 96). By introducing the figure of the devil into a conversation on Islamic religious practices that occurs, and takes its particular shape, in the context of the Muslim Question, the MP thus reproduces “problematic proximities” (Ahmed 2011, p. 127) between Islam and danger, i.e., Islam as posing a political, cultural and moral threat to The Netherlands.
At other moments during the political deliberations, Islamic slaughter is not explicitly mentioned, but one can detect that Muslims are implicitly referred to. For example:
“How do the introducers [of the private member’s bill] think they can make enforcement manageable? After all, nobody finds scenes of illegal slaughter on small balconies desirable.”15
—MP Henk van Gerven, SP
“Meanwhile, animals are ritually slaughtered in small flats three high behind.”16
—MP Dion Graus, PVV
In The Netherlands, the popular image of Muslims considers them as non-white immigrants of lower socio-economic standing. They are said to live in small flats with narrow balconies, oftentimes “grouped together” in immigrant neighborhoods. Such neighborhoods are usually located further away from urban life, which is indicated by the Dutch proverb “three high behind”. This proverb is to conjure up an image of tall apartment buildings far away from the town or city center, which is, implicitly suggested, a much more desirable area to live in. Jewish people, on the other hand, are generally thought of as more well-off, living in richer, greener, and more centrally located neighborhoods (this, of course, borders on antisemitic stereotyping). The “small flats”, “three high behind”, and “small balconies” phrases in these commentaries thus refer to the imagined living conditions of an average Muslim person in The Netherlands and can be considered as another instance of the gratuitous and exclusive focus on Islamic slaughter. These neighborhood imageries epitomize that space can be racialized, i.e., “the ascription of socially constructed, historically specific, and hierarchical meanings associated with race on spaces” (Tuttle 2022, p. 4). Considering the importance of space and place for the ways in which animal practices by immigrants in the USA are perceived by the larger public, geographers Glen Elder, Jennifer Wolch, and Jody Emel observe that “when problematic practices occur in racialized and marginalized places (…) prospects of racialization on the basis of animal practices may rise still higher” (Elder et al. 1998, p. 87). Place, they argue, should thus be a central element of attempts to understand processes of “animal-linked racialization” (p. 72).
In the debate, practices related to Islamic slaughter are also exclusively and explicitly brought to the political arena via Parliamentarian questions posed to the minister. This includes questions about the undesirability of halal food being served in hospitals, prisons, and the Parliamentarian canteen; about municipalities organizing and financing iftar meals; or Catholic schools serving halal meat at Christmas celebrations. Notably, all these questions were asked by an MP of the PVV. In the same period, no Parliamentarian questions with a similar negative evaluation of the desirability of Jewish slaughter or related practices were posed.
In sum, the continuous, gratuitous, and exclusive references to Islamic slaughter during the political deliberations reveal that, in the hegemonic political imagination, religious slaughter is foremost tied to Muslim presence in The Netherlands. A presence that has for the past decades been under political scrutiny, resulting in the popularity of reductive discourse on Muslims in which “the multiplicity of Muslim identities and their interaction with myriad other changing identities” is erased (Selby and Beaman 2016, p. 9). Instead, “the Muslim” has become a static figure whose behavior is fully predetermined by its Islamic faith. Therefore, statements about the undesirability of unstunned religious slaughter carry with them indirect messages about the limited moral and political space in which Dutch Muslims can be. That is, “good Muslims” oppose animal slaughter without prior sedation, and “bad Muslims” do not (Mamdani 2004). Subsequently, over the course of the debate, “bad Muslims” become perceived in opposition to civilization and as a threat to the survival of Dutch society. Both “good” and “bad” Muslims are also imagined as an outsider to The Netherlands’ Judeo-Christian lineage.

3.2. Animal Welfare Is a Marker of Civilization

But what exactly is considered to be Dutch society and culture? During the debate, representatives from left to right repeatedly appeal to the notion of animal welfare. They argue that caring for the wellbeing of animals has become a key characteristic of contemporary Dutch society and that this emerging value is a marker of the country’s degree of civilization:
“It is increasingly accepted that animals should have a decent life and that they should be spared unnecessary suffering. See the justified discussions about intensive animal farming, livestock transport, mink breeding and the abuses in regular slaughter. That is deserved attention. In a civilized and developed country, we should not only treat each other decently, but we should also give animals a decent life.”17
—MP Martijn van Dam, Labour Party (PvdA)
“Rejection of the bill and thus the implicit acceptance of the proposed covenant stops the time, at 40 s. That is not appropriate in a society that strives for compassion and the next step in civilization.”18
—MP Marianne Thieme, PvdD
“The question remains whether we want such scenes of slaughter [religious slaughter] in a civilized country like The Netherlands. Gandhi already started from the thesis that the civilization of a country can be measured by the way in which animals are treated.”19
—Senator Marjolein Faber-van de Klashorst, PVV
The identification of the treatment of animals as an indicator of civilization is not new.20 In fact, norms around proper human–animal relations have been a meaningful feature of European colonial empires (Kete 2007). For example, influenced by a mixture of Victorian bourgeois perspectives on kindness towards companion animals as an indicator of civility (placed in juxtaposition to the “uncivilized” behavior of the lower classes towards animals) and Christian interpretations by the political elites that stipulated man’s God-given right to dominate the natural world but also articulated his duty to treat animals justly and kindly, the articulation of “correct” human engagement with animals fueled a civilizational discourse in the colonies of the British empire (Deckha 2013; Brantz 2007). Through this discourse, a hierarchical differentiation was made between the animal practices of the British and colonized elite versus the vast majority of the colonized (Samanta 2021; Poon 2014; Chakrabarti 2010). The latter’s animal practices (e.g., their interaction with “wild” animals, or eating “pet animals” like dogs) were seen as improper, savage, and cruel, and as indicative of their level of development. Differently put, the supposed savagery of their animal practices was extrapolated to figure in a colonial discourse that professed the deviant and racially inferior nature of the colonized populations. Crucially, therefore, regulations instigating norms of proper human–animal behavior and against animal cruelty functioned not only to “protect” animals but also to domesticate the indigenous peoples, and to signal the British civilizational superiority in contrast with the colonized (Fanon 1961; Deckha 2013; Samanta 2021). In the political debate on religious slaughter in The Netherlands, we can detect a similar logic in which norms around human–animal relations and a concern for the wellbeing of animals are tied to a civilizational discourse. Through this representation, a commitment to securing the wellbeing of animals has become an important marker of what it means to be civilized, and therefore, also, of what it means to be Dutch.
Further, civilizational discourse operates through an identification—and subsequent abjection—of barbaric practices (Brantz 2007). In the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter, accusations of barbarism adorn the controversy, too:
“According to many today does the treatment of animals reflect the level of civilization of a society and of a culture. Cruelty to animals is rightly regarded as barbaric, and not appropriate in a civilized society. (…) This justifies a ban on ritual slaughter without stunning.”21
—MP Marianne Thieme, PvdD
These accusations of barbarism carry with them the reverberations of a colonial era during which the colonized were considered of lesser worth—sub-human, even—because of their lack of civilization. Frantz Fanon alludes to this when he writes that “(…) the total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness. The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives’ heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality” (Fanon 1961, p. 211). Being placed on the wrong side of the civilization/barbarism dichotomy, then, has consequences that reach beyond a “mere” outlawing of one’s practices. It means to figure in a racializing logic that represents one as the abject yet constitutive outsider to the civilizational ideal.22 When the emerging societal concern for animal welfare is taken as a key indicator of modern Dutch culture and the country’s degree of civilization, such representation participates in and reproduces this logic. Namely, the communities for whom unstunned religious slaughter is important become excluded from the notion of civilization, and continuing to allow for unstunned religious slaughter would threaten The Netherlands’ degree of civility. This representation as a threat to civilization is particularly adverse for Muslim communities because, as I demonstrated before, primarily gratuitous references to Islamic slaughter feature in the Parliamentarian discussions. Such representation of Islamic slaughter threatening The Netherlands is taken a step further with the third theme I identified in the controversy: Islamic slaughter as a vehicle for Islamization.

3.3. Islamic Slaughter as a Vehicle of Islamization

While appeals to civilization and abjections of barbarism feature in the contributions of MPs from parties situated on the left, center, and right of the political spectrum, the suggestion that Islamic slaughter is indicative of the threat posed to The Netherlands by Islamization is exclusively made by MPs of the PVV. From the moment this party enters the Lower House in 2006, it lobbies for a ban on religious slaughter (regardless of prior sedation) and connects the abjection of the practice to a dystopian narrative about Islamization as threatening the survival of The Netherlands:
“We are heading for the end of European and Dutch society as we know it (…) Many Dutch people (…) see the Islamization of The Netherlands every day. (…) They are fed up with headscarves, those burqas, that ritual slaughter of animals, of honor killings, of blaring minarets and shrieking imams, of female circumcision, of hymen repair operations, of the mistreatment of gays, of Turkish and Arabic in the bus and train and in the folders at the town hall, of that halal meat at supermarkets (…) luckily there is still hope. The majority of Dutch people are aware of the fact that Islam is a danger.”23
—MP Geert Wilders, PVV, italics added
“Following a recent hearing on slaughter stunning methods, I would like to request an emergency debate, because the increasing Islamization in this country seems to affect not only the people but also the animals.”24
—MP Dion Graus, PVV
“Do you share the opinion that the barbaric slaughter of animals does not belong in The Netherlands? (…) Do you share the opinion that allowing halal baby food [in hospitals] further Islamizes healthcare and that this should be stopped?”25
—MP Fleur Agema, PVV
Conspiracy stories about Islamization as threatening the survival of European culture are commonplace amongst extreme right-wing political circles across the continent. In The Netherlands, the PVV has long declared itself as the only party that can protect the country against this supposed imminent risk.26 The theory of Islamization professes that the survival of Europe is at stake because a growing Muslim population is taking over the continent, backed by foreign Muslim political powers and facilitated by American and European institutions. European culture and its liberal values will be obliterated, and Europe’s “native populations” replaced by incoming Muslims (through immigration and Muslims’ higher birth rates). Historian Reza Zia-Ebrahimi (2018) argues that Islamization conspiracies constitute “conspiratorial racialization”. He critically researched the book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye’or, which gained a huge following after its publication in 2005 and popularized Islamization conspiracies across Europe (and beyond). Zia-Ebrahimi argues that conspiracy thinking is a “fundamental enabler of racialization” (p. 4) because it develops a radically essentializing notion of Muslimness that represents Muslims as “a monolithic group animated by only one will, that of dominating Europe and ultimately obliterating western civilization” (p. 6). Consequently, all Muslims are out to dominate the world because of their “Muslim essence”. Islam, in this line of reasoning, becomes naturalized as it discursively transforms into a biological, innate element that all Muslims supposedly share and by which their entire being is determined.
By tying their opposition to religious slaughter to warnings against Islamization, the MPs turn the political debate on religious slaughter into a site of conspiratorial racialization. The Dutch controversy over religious slaughter has thus, perhaps inadvertently from the perspective of other parties, become a vehicle for the expression and dissemination of Islamization conspiracies. Consequently, a possible legal intervention into the practice of unstunned religious slaughter is no longer “just” a matter of securing animal welfare, but has turned into an act of protecting the nation. Safeguarding The Netherlands is also central to the last theme I identified: invocations of Judeo-Christianity.

3.4. Appeals to Judeo-Christianity

The fourth and last identified theme centers around appeals made to the myth of “the Judeo-Christian tradition”. During the Parliamentarian debate, it is suggested that the centuries-long presence of Judaism in Europe and the supposed fraternal relationship between Judaism and Christianity form the cradle of European, and therefore Dutch, civilization. Remarkably so, the only MPs who make these comments belong to parties with an explicit Christian signature: the Christian-Democrats (CDA) and the orthodox-Protestant Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP):
“The Jewish religion existed long before European civilization. When we still walked around in bearskins, at least our forefathers, animals were already being treated with respect and care, in accordance with Jewish rites.”27
—MP Henk Jan Ormel, CDA
How things can change. Rabbi Evers writes the following in this context. Long before civilization had taken root in Western Europe and the Batavians still gambled away their wives in animal skins and built dolmens here, the Torah had already given many guidelines for our interaction with animals. Now the initiator of the bill wants to make this impossible, precisely by appealing to our civilization and with the accusation of unnecessary animal suffering, to make the unstunned ritual slaughter of animals impossible. The importance lies in that last word. How things can change! The Netherlands has achieved maturity by growing up in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is an important principle for our [Parliamentarian] group informing our assessment of the private member’s bill.”28
—MP Elbert Dijkgraaf, SGP, italics added
What seems to be implicitly suggested here is that because Judaism has been present on European soil for longer than Islam, Jewish communities are more integral to European and Dutch culture, history, and civilization, and are therefore more deserving to be allowed to continue their slaughter practices. Differently put:
“For Jews, there is the additional argument that ritual slaughter without stunning has been permitted in our country for centuries, with the exception of the 1940s and ‘45s.”29
—Senator Gerrit Terpstra, CDA
The invocations of Judeo-Christianity become even more prudent when we consider suggestions made by the SGP and another orthodox-Protestant party, the ChristenUnie (CU), to legally differentiate between Jewish and Islamic slaughter. They draw on some of the differences in requirements and execution of both types of religious slaughter and argue that Jewish slaughter causes less animal suffering. This, they argue, warrants a differentiation between the two practices with possibly different legal consequences for one or the other. Proponents of the bill question these parties’ interpretation of the academic literature and instead point to studies that show that even under ideal circumstances, either form of religious slaughter still causes more suffering than slaughter with prior stunning does. Consequently, they critique the discriminatory legal differentiation these parties suggest between Jewish and Islamic slaughter.
The idea that Europe’s civilization is fundamentally indebted to a shared Judeo-Christian tradition is a long-standing myth (Nathan and Topolski 2016), the exact contours of which differ per time and place. The current representation of Judaism and Christianity as having a fraternal relationship, and, as such, being the cradle of European and Dutch civilization, eschews the reality of the history of Jewish oppression in Europe at the hands of Christianity. Consider, for example, the 16th-century expulsion and forced conversion of Jews to Christianity on the Iberian Peninsula (Nirenberg 2018), or the popularity of 19th-century Protestant supersessionism in Europe that regarded Catholicism as being tainted by its interaction with Judaism (Topolski 2020). During this era, Judeo-Christianity was seen as an obstacle to be overcome before a better form of Christianity (Protestantism) could be arrived at. Now, during the debate on religious slaughter in the 21st century, the notion of Judeo-Christianity is invoked to suggest undisputed fraternity between the two religions. This paints a picture of Europe’s origin story independent from any interaction with Islam. Yet, as religion scholar Gil Anidjar (2003) argues, the idea and identity of Europe have actually emerged out of a conscious Christian political-theological project to define Europe in contrast to Islam and Judaism. In this process of self-narration through distinction, Jews became imagined as the theological and therefore interior enemy of Christian Europe. Muslims, on the contrary, became the political and therefore external enemy of Europe. Consequently, Islam is “historically constituted as exteriority” (p. xxi) to the political-theological project that is Europe. This implies that:
“… in naming itself as what faces Islam, “Europe” hides itself from itself by claiming to have a name and a face independently of Islam. This self-constitution is not only fundamentally related to the question of “religion” in its divisions. It carries with it in unavoidable ways the division between Judaism and Islam, the distinction of Jew from Arab”.
(p. xxii, italics added)
Anidjar’s analysis enables us to ask pivotal questions about what this geographic, political, and philosophical project called “Europe” exactly is, how it has historically and philosophically come into being, and with what kind of implications.30 This allows us to critically approach appeals made to Judeo-Christianity in the Parliamentarian debate. With their statements, the MPs reiterate the mythical suggestion that Judaism and Islam have a fundamentally different relationship with Europe, including The Netherlands. In their speech, Judaism is folded into the civilizational narrative of The Netherlands, and Islam is folded out of that narration. This discursive move entrenches once more the false externalization of Islam to European and Dutch culture and political history.31

4. Unwilling Companions: Religion, Race, and Animals

By now, I hope to have shown that a racializing dynamic is part and parcel of the current Dutch controversy over religious slaughter. As evidenced by the numerous gratuitous and exclusive references to Islamic slaughter, in the hegemonic political imagination, the practice of religious slaughter is foremost tied to Muslim presence in The Netherlands. This is not surprising if we acknowledge the socio-political background against which the Parliamentarian debate has developed. Called “the Muslim Question”, this is a socio-political context in which anything related to Islam is quickly marked as suspicious, foreign, and threatening because of a presumed Muslim essence that unites and dictates anything Islamic and anyone Muslim. In such a context, the proposed bill by the PvdD (perhaps unwillingly so) has evolved into a vehicle for the expression of racializing discourse. Appeals to civilization, accusations of barbarism, dystopian warnings against Islamization, and invocations of Judeo-Christian fraternity are discursive elements that have racializing ramifications for Muslims. Namely, through each of these elements, Islamic communities are being shifted into two groups, and labeled either “good” or “bad” Muslims, depending on their position vis-à-vis religious slaughter. “Bad” Muslims are consequently excluded from the imagined characteristics of Dutch civilization and assumed to pose a threat to the survival of Dutch culture. “Good” and “bad” Muslims together are also seen as outsiders to The Netherlands’ Judeo-Christian lineage. With this understanding of racialization, I build on the theorization of the relation between racialization and Islamophobia developed by Garner and Selod (2015). They argue that the racialization of religious communities occurs when a given group is essentialized and homogenized on the basis of their physical or cultural (including religious) traits (p. 12). The findings presented in this article add a layer of complexity to their definition, because in the Parliamentarian debate, a differentiation is made between “good” versus “bad” Muslims. This binary logic subsequently functions to further entrench the homogenization and essentialization of the “bad” Muslims and licenses their exclusion.32 My analysis of the Dutch Parliamentarian debate also underlines Mondon and Winter’s (2017) argument that illiberal articulations of Islamophobia (e.g., accusations of Islamization, only uttered by extreme-right politicians) can complement liberal articulations of Islamophobia (e.g., appeals to civilization, mostly uttered by left and center politicians). Beware, I am not arguing that the entire Dutch Parliamentarian debate about religious slaughter is racist, nor that any criticism on religious slaughter at any moment in time will always be steeped in racism. Rather, I hope to have shown that a racializing dynamic runs through the debate, amongst and at times interlacing with other lines of argumentation (e.g., on animal welfare, religious freedom, secularism, and science—as the existent body of scholarship on the Dutch case has gathered). Yet, the figuration of a racial logic in the debate is typically overlooked by academia and quickly dismissed by advocates of the bill. If this characteristic of the dispute is not acknowledged, our understanding of what is at stake (politically, societally, ethically) is inexorably limited—to the detriment of ongoing ensuing disparate reverberations of the controversy.
The exact contours of what Islamophobia entails and whether it can be considered a form of racism is highly debated in the academic literature (Meer and Modood 2009; Meer 2013; Larsson and Sander 2015; Hafez 2018; Lauwers 2019), a detailed discussion of which falls outside the scope of this article. Yet, for the purposes of this study, the work by Anya Topolski (forthcoming) is particularly helpful to grasp how the identified themes in the debate figure in a pre-existent and overarching racializing schema vis-à-vis Muslims in The Netherlands. Topolski argues that modern racial discourse has its roots in pre-modern theological debates about what constitutes “true religion”. In the course of this struggle, a discourse of hierarchical differentiations between Christian and non-Christian peoples (e.g., pagans, Jews, and Muslims) was invented and politicized, where non-Christians were “often viewed as heretics, heathens, barbarians, uncivilised and lesser beings” (idem). While the political influence of the Latin Church in Europe diminished over time, modern science followed in its footsteps by meaningfully ordering the world. Topolski stresses that the fields of philology and later on biology played an important role herein, as the categories they invented and transformed (Semite, Aryan) built on and further ingrained the pre-existing discourse that inferiorized the same groups of people on the basis of their non-Christianity. European political theology is thus intimately intertwined with modern racial discourse. Tracing the genealogy of race and religion in key Enlightenment thinkers leads religion scholar Theodore Vial (2016) to arrive at a similar conclusion, when he states that “race and religion are conjoined twins” (p. 1), which implies that “the category of religion is always already a racialized category, even when race is not explicitly under discussion” (idem). Religion scholar Mallory Nye argues along similar lines, too, but places his analysis of the function of the category of religion in the context of European imperial colonialism. The colonial project of racial classification, Nye (2019) stresses, occurred by means of folding the colonized peoples into (or out of) religious registers. Religion, as an interpretative and classifying tool, therefore had a racializing function. Religious registers were constructed from a European Christian viewpoint, with Christianity at the top of the invented stratification. Non-Christian cosmologies and spiritualities were relegated to dwell in the category of “world religion”, as Tomoko Masuzawa (2005) details, or placed outside the notion of religion altogether—and thus further away from the Christian European racial ideal of whiteness. This function, and the co-emergence of religion and race as registers for classifying human difference, leads Nye to conclude that “the category of religion in itself is a form of racialization” (p. 1). Placing an analysis of the co-constitutive nature of race and religion squarely into the context of Europe as a political project, Topolski maintains that the “race-religion constellation” (Topolski 2018a, p. 59) is rarely acknowledged in Europe nowadays, which hides its operative logic from view. She identifies this general misunderstanding of the historical and conceptual relation between race and religion as a key obstacle to the recognition of Islamophobia as a form of racism in contemporary Europe. Islamophobia, for Topolski, is thus always already a form of racism because of the inextricable link of modern racial taxonomies with pre-modern political-theological notions that classified, hierarchized, and managed human difference.
Building on the scholarship of these aforementioned authors on the multiple connections between race and religion, the research presented in this article shows that there is a third element that can tie these two together. Namely, the figure of the animal. Or, more specifically with regards to the research presented in this article: norms around human–animal relations (i.e., “animal ethics”, as a moral framework to answer the question “how should humans treat animals?”). The book The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications (2014), authored by Jewish Studies scholar Aaron Gross, is particularly relevant for this article, as its primary objective is to quarrel with impassionate controversies over religious slaughter, too. It discusses various instances of public outrage over events that took place at AgriProcessors, a corporation of industrial slaughter houses including kosher slaughter houses, as well as meat-packaging factories. Undercover footage filmed by activists of the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released in 2004 showed how the infliction of severe suffering to animals was standard practice during industrial kosher slaughter by AgriProcessors. One of the most painful practices this footage documented was the routine cutting and removing of the esophagi and tracheas after the application of the neck cut (shechita) while one in five animals was still conscious. In 2006, another undercover news story broke, this time by a New York Times journalist, which revealed the systematic mistreatment of workers, who were being given little training and limited access to health services. Then, in 2008, a large immigration raid resulted in the arrests of over 380 workers and revealed numerous human rights abuses, including child labor, sexual assault, and forced labor. In his book, Gross reflects on the responses of Jewish authorities and the wider public to each of these events. He notices that people seem to be most strongly outraged by the maltreatment of children, a little less about the exploitation of undocumented workers and the sexual assault of women, and the least about the abuse of animals. In an attempt to oppose this hierarchization of vulnerable populations who suffered at the hands of AgriProcessors, Gross’ book is dedicated to the formulation of a thesis that connects their vulnerabilities. Gross identifies the sacrificial structure of subjectivity undergirding the human/animal binary prevalent in (and beyond) Jewish scriptures that produces a specific way of being human, namely “the humane subject”. It is this sacrificial structure of subjectivity that is the primary root of violence against vulnerable populations as disparate (at least, commonsensically) as children, racialized undocumented workers, women, and animals.33 Gross provides the field of religious studies with a rare, and therefore important, analysis that weaves together some of the threads between religion, race, and animals. I have attempted to build further on the new territory he chartered, by demonstrating how race, religion, and animal ethics intersect in the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter.
Yet, we should pay heed to Claire Jean Kim’s warning of adopting a “single-optic vision” (Kim 2015), which is “a way of seeing that foregrounds a particular form of injustice while backgrounding others” (p. 19). In the case of the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter, that would be foregrounding the violence of racism while ignoring the injustices caused by human domination over non-human species. The social construction of species difference and the associated meaning-making process (what does it mean to be “human” or “animal”) is sedimented with a power imbalance. That is, it is Western science and philosophy by humans that has come up with a classifying scheme that has socially constructed the category “human” as distinct from and superior to “animals” (Plumwood 1993; Schiebinger 1995; Deckha 2006).34 Yet, species difference is generally completely naturalized and taken for granted, even amongst scholars interested in critical theory, power, and deconstruction (Kim 2015). Kim therefore strives to practice a “multi-optic vision” when interpreting controversies over animal practices by racialized and/or immigrant communities. Such a way of seeing deconstructs racial as well as species differences and aims to understand their connectedness (p. 15). With regards to the Dutch controversy over religious slaughter, a single-optic vision would risk ignoring the suffering of animals under human domination—with regards to religious slaughter, but also to many other normalized animal practices (industrial slaughter, animal testing for scientific purposes, the entertainment industry, etc). Such single-optic vision may also lead to a superficial interpretation of animal advocates as only being interested in critiquing immigrant animal practices, which opponents of the ban typically accuse the Party for the Animals of. Nothing could be further from the truth, if one considers their political programs and Parliamentarian interventions of the past decade. During the deliberations over the proposed bill to ban unstunned religious slaughter, MPs of this party (and a few other parties) strongly criticized the animal suffering caused by industrial slaughter, too. Yet, proposals to intervene in that practice have not gotten the same Parliamentarian support as the proposal to intervene in religious slaughter. And this should motivate us to pause, to critically reflect on what is happening, and ask why this is happening.
The argument that I put forward in this article is an outcome of that reflection and is steeped in a recognition of the wider socio-political climate in which anything and anyone related to Islam gets to be reduced on the basis of their (assumed) relation with Islam, and therefore becomes an a priori object of suspicion and problematization. It is this background, I contend, that has played a decisive role in the successful rallying of Parliamentarian support for the bill. I do not mean to foreclose the relevance of other elements that have played their part in making this issue quite a political success in comparison to other animal issues. For example, an intervention in religious slaughter does not challenge the animal practices of the Dutch majority (e.g., meat consumption), nor does it present a blow to the core structure of agriculture and the steep economic interests of this industry. Hence, it is certainly not only a racial logic that has provided fuel for the bill as it traversed across Parliament, gathering support (and, ultimately, rejection in the Upper House), but it is a relevant one, and one that should not be brushed off, or shoved aside, as is so often quickly done. Racializing dynamics are part of the current controversy, as I have demonstrated, and thus should be part of the conversation. Human supremacy, at the cost of animal lives and wellbeing, is another part of the issue, and thus should also be part of the conversation. As Kim (2015) writes, we are grappling with presumed competing injustices, and therefore the situation appears, for the moment at least, irresolvable. Yet, considering the relevance of racial violence and species violence together allows for an “ethics of mutual avowal”: “an open and active acknowledgment of connection with other struggles” that would “transform the contours and spirit of critique” (p. 20). This is no mean feat, but only if we “stay with the trouble” (Haraway 2016) do we have a chance to begin to imagine our relationships with others differently, allowing us to take a step towards more just futures for all—humans and non-humans alike.


This research was partially funded by the Fulbright Schuman Program and Research Foundation—Flanders.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


As any piece of (academic) work, this article is the fruition of collective thinking and learning. Words cannot express my gratitude for the community of incredibly thoughtful scholars I have met through the Race-Religion Constellation project at Radboud Universiteit. Conversations with Anya Topolski, Justine Bakker, Sophie Lauwers, Josias Tembo, Patricia Schor, Martijn de Koning and Margreet van Es have been foundational to my understanding of the relation between registers of religion and race. I am also beholden to my PhD supervisors Gily Coene and Iman Lechkar at Vrije Universiteit Brussel for the opportunity to pursue this research. I am further grateful to Mel Y. Chen for their generous support during my Fulbright fellowship at UC Berkeley. Additionally, I am thankful to the participants of IMISCOE 2019, ACSG 2019, APSA Religion & Politics Early Career Workshop 2020, Thinking Race and Religion VUB Masterclass 2021, EUROMIX Race and Religion Seminar 2021, Postcolonial Theory KU Leuven Workshop 2021, UC Berkeley’s GWS research seminar 2022, and UC Berkeley’s Critical Race and Animal Theory Working Group 2022 for their constructive feedback on different sections of this research. Lastly, I wish to thank Katharine Mershon and Aaron Gross for their support, and for having put together the special issue “Religion, Animals, and X” in which this article appears.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Handelingen, TK 45, 1 March 2007.
The direction of the political debate on the new bill may differ from the 2008–2012 debate, as three new parties have entered Parliament since. Namely, the populist radical-right party Forum for Democracy (FvD), which has expressed its support for the bill; DENK (“Think”), which has made discrimination against religious and cultural minorities one of its main concerns and opposes the bill; and BIJ1 (“Together”) which combines strong positions on antiracism with an animal rights agenda. However, the exact position of the latter on religious slaughter remains currently unclear.
See Deckha (2012) for a discussion on the relevance of race for feminist inquiries into the non-human. To consider the relevance of antiracism for animal liberation, see Ko and Ko (2017) and Ko (2020). To explore the challenges posed by a connected feminist, antiracist, and animal liberatory political project in The Netherlands and Belgium, see Jung (2021).
When occupied by Nazi Germany or under the influence of rampant anti-Semitism, multiple European countries banned Jewish slaughter in the 20th century (e.g., Germany and The Netherlands). Animal advocacy at times interlaced with anti-Semitic political agendas, and the exact relationship between the two deserves an in-depth study of its own (but see Wynot 1971; Metcalf 1989; Hornshøj-Møller and Culbert 1992; Brantz 2002; Tyaglyy 2004; Lavi 2007; Mesmer 2007; Collins 2010; Plach 2015 on the historical entanglements between antisemitism and campaigns against religious slaughter in Europe). For now, it suffices to mention that since the 19th and 20th centuries, Switzerland (1893), Norway (1928), Finland (1934), and Sweden (1937 for cattle, 1989 for poultry) require pre-cut or concurrent stunning (for both Jewish and Islamic slaughter). Around the turn of the millennium, we see another surge in legal interventions, with Estonia (2001), Austria (2004), Latvia (2009), and Greece (2017) mandating post-cut stunning. In the same period, Denmark (2014) and Belgium (2019, Wallonia and Flanders) set a pre-cut stunning requirement, and Slovenia (2012) banned the practice altogether. Poland banned unstunned religious slaughter in 2013, but the country’s constitutional court overturned that law a year later. Luxembourg and Germany both legally intervened in the practice in 1995. They either required pre-cut stunning (Luxembourg) or banned the right to unstunned religious slaughter for Muslims only (Germany). Since 2009, religious communities may apply for an exemption with the Luxembourgian authorities. Islamic slaughter without prior stunning is allowed again in Germany since 2002 (Smith 2007). A political discussion on the permissibility of the practice has emerged since the 2000s in more European countries still, such as The Netherlands, France, the UK, Ireland, and Spain. In 2020, the European Court for Human Rights ruled that EU member states have the obligation to reconcile both religious freedom and animal welfare and that it is within their discretion to disallow unstunned religious slaughter as long as fundamental rights are not violated.
A few publications come close to considering the peculiar role Islamic slaughter plays in the debate, but never really confront the topic head-on, nor provide an analysis of how the debate on religious slaughter manifests racializing tendencies (Janssen 2014a; Valenta 2012; Havinga 2020).
Indonesia declared its independence in 1945, after which a bloody liberation struggle ensued, lasting for four years. Hence, the exact year of Indonesia’s independence remains a disputed topic.
Leading up to the first Meat Inspection Act in 1922, Dutch animal advocacy groups already lobbied against the possibility of a religious exemption from the stunning requirement out of animal welfare considerations. At the time, this solely affected Jewish slaughter.
Historically, the Dutch animal advocacy movement has had a fraught relationship with racism and extreme-right politics. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, the environmentalist group “Ecological Movement” was outspoken on the supposed “overcrowding” of the planet, immigration, and animal welfare issues (including religious slaughter). Some members of this group were active in the Animal Liberation Front, too (AIVD 2004). Additionally, one of their prominent members, Alfred Vierling, was active in extreme-right political parties, e.g., the Centrumparty, Centrumdemocrats, and Dutch Block (Shadid and van Koningsveld 1992).
This research design prevents me from studying the contributions of other actors who took an interest in the topic, e.g., representatives of Muslim and Jewish organizations, animal advocates, veterinarians, scientists, etc. They, for the most part, contributed to societal discussions on the matter outside Parliament. I opt to focus on the speech by political parties during Parliamentarian deliberations, as those parties are in a position of considerable power, being the ones who ultimately decide to accept or reject the proposed bill. Consequently, Parliamentarian political parties’ contributions, in particular, carry a lot of weight and responsibility when it comes to defining a political issue, with possibly huge societal reverberations.
Kamerstuk, 28286/29683, nr. 96, 21 January 2008.
Kamerstuk, 28 286, nr. 233, 30 September 2008.
Handelingen, 30800-XIV, TK 22, 5 December 2006.
Handelingen, 31571, EK 32, nr. 3, 12 June 2012.
I am indebted to Justine Bakker for her suggestion to consider the relevance of demonology for this study. See Bakker (2022) for an excellent discussion of the notion of “demonic ground” in Sylvia Wynter’s oeuvre.
Handelingen, 31571, TK 54, item 4, 17 February 2011.
Handelingen, 30409, 15 February 2007.
Handelingen, 31571, TK 96, 22 June 2011.
See notes 13 above.
Handelingen, 31571, EK 12, 13 December 2011.
The importance of the category of the non-human animal for the history of European colonial empires and their afterlives is rarely acknowledged, particularly in comparison to the vast amount of postcolonial scholarship on the complex figuration of race, religion, gender, and sexuality in colonial projects of racial hierarchization (Deckha 2013). Yet, there is a growing transdisciplinary academic effort to consider the figuration of the non-human animal in European colonial imperialism and the postcolonial era (e.g., Shadle 2012; Few and Tortorici 2013; Sivasundaram 2015; Roy 2015; Montford and Taylor 2021; Samanta 2021; Sinha and Baishya 2020).
Kamerstuk, 31 571, nr. 4 herdruk, 2 June 2009.
See Césaire (1950) for a further discussion on civilization and colonization.
Handelingen, 30800-VI, nr. 115, 6 September 2007.
Handelingen, TK 87, 26 May 2009.
Aanhangsel, 2309, 16 April 2008.
In 2017, the FvD entered the Lower House, too, and has since disseminated similar rhetoric.
Handelingen, 31571, TK 54, 17 February 2011.
See notes 27 above.
See notes 19 above.
See Asad (2003), Göle (2012), and Larsson and Spielhaus (2013) for further discussions on the ways in which Islam and Muslims may figure in historical and philosophical conceptualizations of Europe.
Appeals to the Judeo-Christian myth for the purpose of targeting Islam in 21st-century Europe have been well documented. It fuels right-wing politics, Christian conservativism, and conservative nationalism around the continent (Morieson 2021; Molle 2018; Vollaard 2013; Carr 2006). In these invocations, Europe is imagined as a beacon of secular, humanist, and liberal values that supposedly originated in the continent’s Judeo-Christian past (Kluveld 2016). Critical scholarship has demonstrated that political secularism may cloak the enduring relevance of race for Europe, including the manifold interconnections between race and religion (Anidjar 2006; Fadil 2016; Topolski, forthcoming).
I am indebted to Martijn de Koning for this insight.
See Jackson (2020) for a critique on the primacy given to the human/animal binary within critical animal studies and posthumanism, which Gross’ argument seems to mirror. Contrarily, Jackson argues that “human” and “animal” categories emerged in Western thought in relation to the simultaneous intervention of the notion of “blackness”. Antiblack violence is, for Jackson, therefore not secondary to and deriving from the human/animal binary, but constitutes that binary.
The classification scheme of “humanity” has historically been interlaced with registers of race, gender, sexuality, disability, and class, so much so that “the human” has never been a stable category and may exclude “humans” too (e.g., racialized or disabled persons, women, gay, transgender, and poor people).


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Jung, M. Religion, Animals, and Racialization: Articulating Islamophobia through Animal Ethics in The Netherlands. Religions 2022, 13, 955.

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