Friday, December 29, 2006

The Suffering of Others

I recently asked a four year old if he knew where milk came from. "The supermarket" he told me. I couldn't disagree.

Like many Westerners (vegetarians, farmers and assorted others aside), I'm more than a little hypocritical when it comes to the food I eat. I'm probably too squeamish to kill an animal but I'll normally eat what's provided without really thinking much about how it got there.

But that handy "two for one" offer on chicken breasts at your supermarkets does come at a price. In truth, most members of western society are not best placed to question the morality of other cultures when it comes to the treatment of animals.

And yet, I see one particular criticism time and again. Here's one from a "harl" commenting on a post by Roy Hattersley on CiF.
Even, as I write this, thousands of sheep in Saudi Arabia are having their throats slit. SLOWLY, very slowly, as the religion dictates. I doubt very much the slaughters will feel a smidgen of empathy for the doomed animals. For this is Islam, and the suffering of others is to be enjoyed.
Perhaps "harl" is a vegan or something but I think it's more likely that s/he's a rabid Islamophobe. And, as I said, this sort of thing is pretty common.

Now, the whole idea of slitting an animal's throat and draining its blood, as required under Muslim tradition, is not something I want to think about. But is it morally worse than breeding chickens to be so fat that their legs can't support them? I doubt it. Cutting an animal's throat causes it to become unconscious quickly due to lack of blood to the brain; the animal suffers for only a short time. Broiler chickens, on the other hand, are miserable for the whole of their short lives.

We all know what they say about people in glass houses.

But the strangest thing about this relatively recent outburst of faux outrage over the process of Dhabiĥa is that so many of the Islamophobes are apparently unaware that the Jewish tradition requires almost exactly the same slaughtering process.

Please excuse me while I resort to a textbook manoeuvre:
Even, as I write this, thousands of sheep in Israel are having their throats slit. SLOWLY, very slowly, as the religion dictates. I doubt very much the slaughters will feel a smidgen of empathy for the doomed animals. For this is Judaism, and the suffering of others is to be enjoyed.
Yuck. A comment like that is clearly anti-Semitic and I doubt it'd last long on the boards of CiF before being removed. Harl's comment however, has been there since yesterday morning.

For all that free speech is hugely important, political discourse has always been conducted within certain boundaries of acceptability as defined by society. The above is a troubling illustration of the way that the standards of acceptability have changed with regard to the open display of Islamophobic views. The pros and cons of this could be debated in a reasonably healthy way if this change in standards applied across the board but it does not. It is criticisms of Muslims specifically which have become acceptable; there has not been a wider relaxation in attitudes towards aggressive criticisms of other cultures or communities. In fact, it can be argued (and many do) that the opposite has occurred. It's political correctness gone mad, I tell's you...

Not for Muslims though.

One further point. It should be noted that it is perfectly possible to object to this method of slaughtering animals without being Islamophobic or Anti-Semitic (or even hypocritical). But a consistently applied set of beliefs regarding the ethical treatment of animals is clearly not what is driving the current spate of criticism directed towards those who eat halal meats.

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Osama Saeed said...

Thanks for that bit of perspective Garry.

I recently wrote about this very issue, mainly to make the point that all these stories about the method of Muslim slaughter aren't just Islamophobically motivated, but they are also majorly inaccurate. If the animal does not die instantly, it's not halal, simple as that.

And yes, that's the same as Jewish slaughter. In fact Muslims were permitted in the Qur'an to eat their meat.

concernedresident said...

Look, if some Muslims refuse to distance themselves from the process of ritual slaughter of animals for profit and consumption, then they're all bastards.

It dawned on me the other day how distanced we are from the process. The other day I spotted a stall in Bath selling pork sandwiches with a bit of stuffing and apple sauce. Lovely, except that they took to advertising themselves with a picture of a smiling pig. And the porker itself was still mostly whole, having been spitroasted on site.

This shouldn't of made me feel queasy, but it did. In many ways the sight of killing animals for food is taboo in the west. We harbour pleasant ideals that our slaughterees are kept in humane conditions, overlooking the fact that their very slaughter takes place in distant, alien sheds, in the most mechanical and efficient circumstances possible.

And I still eat meat. Maybe its me who's the bastard.

sam_m said...

For what it's worth....I've lived in a Muslim / Arab country, with an agrarian economy.
I've "done" a coupla rams and countless chickens all "by the grace of God". I witnessed it well before I did it myself.
It's quick, it appears low stress for the creature and it certainly brings you closer to God.

I've twice seen cows slaughtered and cut up, in the uK.

I prefer the DIY method rather than getting my meat off the shelf at the supermarket. (It's closer to God) However you need an appropriate culture to support it, otherwise there'll be abuses. And the logistics of supplying high population concentrations gives you the supermarket.

As for "where does milk come from?" Why, we steal the babies from cows and then we steal the milk nature gave them for their babies. That's why we keep them in a way they can't get organised.