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Thursday, May 23, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Brigitte Bardot Vs. Muslim Sheep Slaying -- Animal-Rights Stand Criticized As Racist In Tone

Washington Post

PARIS - Brigitte Bardot is turning heads again. But this time the sex kitten of 1950s cinema is drawing attention as a controversial critic of France's large Muslim minority.

Now 61 and gray-haired, the longtime animal-rights activist has attacked the Muslim practice of slaughtering sheep for religious holidays by cutting their throats in open fields.

She touched off the latest controversy in an article in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro late last month. Recalling her family's "courageous" role in two world wars against Germany, Bardot wrote, "My country, France, my fatherland, is once again invaded, with the blessing of successive governments, (this time) by an over population of foreigners, particularly Muslims, to whom we owe allegiance.

"From one year to the next we are seeing the construction of mosques all over France while our village church bells grow silent for lack of priests," wrote the former actress whose movies once were condemned by the Vatican.

Were such slaughtering practices to continue, she added, "I might have to become an expatriate."

Bardot's attack on the ritual killings generated an outcry in France, home to an estimated 4 million Muslims, including many Algerian, Moroccan and black African immigrants whose presence has become a hot issue in politics. Critics quickly charged that Bardot's defense of sheep contained a strain of code-worded racism against the Muslim community, a legacy of the French colonial era in Africa.

A spokesman for the environmental group the Greens accused her of "using her popularity for nauseating ends" and taking the animal-rights movement "hostage with a tissue of untruths and cliches, picking up purely and simply the themes of the most xenophobic extreme right."

"I hoped for just such a reaction," Bardot said over the weekend.

She said she wants the French government to enforce its slaughtering laws, which she said require animals to be stunned or electrically anesthetized before being killed.

"If tomorrow Muslims stop slitting sheeps' throats, I will find them the most wonderful people in the world," she said. "I am not racist if one behaves normally."

The former actress's right-wing views, while not hidden, long have been overshadowed by her animal-rights campaigning. But they have been in clearer focus since 1992, when she married Bernard d'Ormale, a local leader in southern France of the right-wing National Front party.

"I'm one of the rare Frenchwomen who doesn't trim her sails" to the passing public mood, Bardot said.

Since she quit filmmaking, Bardot has maintained that her 46-movie career was simply a means to use her notoriety to further her animal-rights campaigning. She has hectored every French interior minister for the past two decades in her crusade to protect animals in a nation where an estimated 58 percent of households keep cats, dogs, birds or other pets.

With Leyla el Fourgi, a dual French and Tunisian national and president of Tunisia's Society for the Protection of Animals, Bardot confronted French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre last November about Muslim butchering, which, by special exception, is tolerated outside government-inspected slaughterhouses for major religious holidays, such as the Eid El Kebir, which marks Abraham's sacrifice of his son.

As her Tunisian friend argued that nothing in the Koran or Islamic law required any sacrifice for the Eid, Bardot said the minister told her there was a need to mollify the Muslim community. She said she told him he was afraid to apply the law.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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