Intolerance blamed as turkey taken off the table

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2006, 12:00am

Government officials blame a bureaucratic blunder, but some Christians suspect 'creeping Islam'.

It started when a shipment of 17,000 frozen turkeys destined for Kuala Lumpur's top hotels and upscale homes arrived from the US on December 10. Authorities stopped the shipment from being unloaded, saying the importer could not certify the birds were slaughtered according to Muslim rites.

When the public complained the authorities backed off. But a day after they hit the market last week the Malaysian Islamic Development Department said the birds were not halal (permissible) and therefore forbidden to Muslims.

The department wrote to all 420 members of the Malaysian Association of Hotels to tell them the turkeys were not allowed. It then said all imported turkey meat was non-halal, fuelling suspicions among some Christians that Muslim bureaucrats were targeting them.

Hotels and restaurants responded to the announcement by taking turkey off Christmas menus, deciding that keeping their Muslim patrons happy was more important than trying to entice any of the nation's 2.7 million Christians to make a booking for a holiday feast.

'We can serve turkey but the cooking utensils, dinner plates and other items cannot be reused to prepare food for Muslims,' said a public relations executive at a major hotel chain, who declined to be named. 'It is cheaper and easier just to take turkey off the menu.'

Several big department stores also put up signs warning Muslims or took turkey off the shelves.

'Malaysia I weep for you,' wrote prominent blogger Y.P. Yap, blaming creeping Islam for the turkey 'fiasco' and other incidents of 'rising intolerance'.

'There was a time when I could eat pork and my Muslim friends eat their halal food on the same table,' he wrote. 'Today I no longer invite them home.'

'I share Uncle Yap's agony,' said opposition leader Lim Kit Siang. 'All Malaysians must be worried that our society is getting more and more oppressive.'