In the last few months, I have been living in Abu Dhabi using my Sabbatical in this truly cosmopolitan metropolis. A few hundred meters from where I am staying, a megaproject is gradually coming into life; the Abrahamic Family House. It is a work signed by the famous architect Dr David Adjaye, an iconic composition of three different religious constructions in one place, St. Francis Church, Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue and Imam al Tayeb Mosque. I spend many mornings drinking my coffee on the balcony of my apartment, watching the shaping of this ambitious project that signifies the wish of the UAE for peaceful co-existence of the three Abrahamic religions for the years to come. I genuinely feel that I am experiencing a historic moment for humanity since the Abrahamic Family House will define the evolution of future generations, being identified as a beacon of light against sectarianism and religious radicalism of any form, shape or denomination.
Recently, thousands of kilometers away from alluring Abu Dhabi, the European Court of Justice upheld a ban on kosher and halal practices passed by the Belgian parliament. More European states, Greece included, took the same path. As a devoted dog person, someone who treasured the moments that Pablo and Blue offered and still offering me, I am a fervent supporter of the Bill passed last year by Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government in Greece against animal cruelty. I strongly believe in animal rights; I try to purchase only products that are against animal testing etc. However, I am equally, if more, against any kind and form of a de facto or a de jure resolution that does not allow a person to follow her/his religion freely when this is not against public security and collective interest.
A decision that bans Kosher and Halal practices moves against the religious rights of millions of Jews and Muslims in Europe, and it also deters Jew and Muslim tourists from coming and visiting Europe, adding one more burden on the heavily wounded European economy from Covid-19 pandemic and the energy crisis. A decision like this is an emphatic legal restriction of the fundamental right of every person to follow her/his religious practices freely.
I am negatively surprised by the decision of the European Court of Justice mainly because, on the one hand, it offers, without wanting it, of course, legal arguments to those in Europe who seek any given opportunity to add to their anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim rhetoric. On the other hand, a decision of that sort suggests new arguments to those who, to justify their Euroscepticism, speak about the so-called “Europe-Fortress” and the alleged cultural intolerance of Brussels.
From the end of the Second World War, free Europe had the opportunity to design and build, with the political and economic support of the US, a unique legal and political entity, where tolerance and peaceful co-existence was not just a political right but the corner-stone of the Union of Europe. The ideas of Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Altiero Spinelli, Konard Adenauer, and Walter Hallstein offered fertile ground for the flourishing of the European Union, bearing the fruits of tolerance and the unconditional acceptance of the “other.” At a moment where states from the West and the Middle East are making brave steps for the enhancement of the mutual understanding process, e.g. the signing of the Abrahams Accords, it is of an imperative necessity that the decision of the European Court of Justice on Kosher and Halal practices to be revised. Animal rights are essential and must be protected. The defeat of every kind of radicalism, such as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, is of paramount importance for the future of our world and for the European too.
Spyridon N. Litsas is Professor of International Relations Theory at the University of Macedonia