Animal rights are no excuse for racism

A meal on two plates: a large piece of chicken surrounded by fried onions and with a mushroom sauce on top, on a black plate on top of a wooden plate; behind it is a portion of potato chips in a metal mesh container with a long handle, on a plate with a small portion of salad. A glass of water to the left with a bottle of water behind the plate with the chips on. Behind the glass of water is a container with three pairs of knives and forks wrapped in a red paper tissue.The other day the 80’s pop star Morrissey, best known for being the frontman for the Smiths, gave an interview in which he backed the far-right party called For Britain, set up by a former UKIP member called Anne Marie Waters, and condemned halal (and kosher) slaughter, calling it ‘evil’ and ‘cruel’ and claiming that “if you use the term ‘humane slaughter’ then you might as well talk in terms of ‘humane rape’”, also claiming that “halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS”. He also poked fun at various politicians, claiming that “even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott” and that Sadiq Khan “tells us about neighbourhood policin’” and on that basis “cannot talk properly”. I made a point of going to one of my favourite HMC halal restaurants in Tooting and having their chicken steak (their red-meat steaks are rather too expensive for me at the moment) but it exposes a familiar problem in our society: people who think racism is acceptable in the name of animal rights or animal welfare.

Personally, I make a point of getting my meat from HMC-affiliated butchers and eating at similarly certified restaurants. The reason is less to do with stunning and more to do with the fact that other certifiers have been rather lax and that there are widespread reports that mechanical slaughtering (e.g. with an electric rotary blade) is used (when it has to be the slaughterer that does it with a knife in his or her hand) and that the blessing is in fact played over a loudspeaker rather than recited by a human being. The HMC monitors the supply chain from the abbatoir to the butcher’s or restaurant, not just the abbatoir. I would accept meat that had been stunned (electrically, not with a captive bolt) if all the other conditions were met. This is how meat was obtained for centuries before industrialised farming and slaughtering became a thing in the 19th century; Islam requires that animals not be slaughtered and knives not be sharpened in front of other animals, things that weren’t standard in western abbatoirs until quite recently (consider the cattle chutes invented by Temple Grandin, intended so that cattle were not stressed by seeing other animals slaughtered).

Over the years, I’ve come across many examples of racism prompted by examples of animal cruelty in other parts of the world. The usual excuse is the eating of dog meat, which goes on in parts of the Far East — China, Korea, Vietnam and a few other places. Morrissey himself has previously indulged in this kind of racism against Chinese people, calling them a “sub-species” on account of reports he had read of cruelty in Chinese circuses and zoos. Most recently I saw a Facebook post telling people to cancel their holidays in Indonesia because there was a community on one island that ate dog. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Indonesia will know that the majority of Indonesians are Muslims who do not eat dogs and that most holidaymakers to the country go to Bali, which was not the place mentioned in the post. China, like Indonesia, is a big country with many cultures and languages spoken and there are places where dogs are eaten and places where they are not, so we cannot make generalisations and call the Chinese cruel because we hear of this happening in one or two places.

Another favourite excuse for racism is the perception that the community or ethnic group one dislikes oppresses women; however, animal rights activists are generally no great friends of women either, however many women are willing to debase themselves for the cause. The group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are notorious for stunts in which women walk semi-naked, or are caged “like animals”, and advertisements in which women have fur coats ripped off them or are compared to the “dumb animals” whose fur they wear. Never mind the fact that in some very cold countries, fur is the ideal material to wear to keep oneself safe from the extreme cold. A couple of years ago I saw a video in which a woman was shown running from a hunt pack whose dogs overpowered her and tore her apart, aimed at maintaining pressure to keep the ban on fox hunting. Clearly, the comparison was between a human being (a woman was chosen supposedly because she was a mother and a vixen could have cubs when killed by a fox hunt) and an animal of a type known to menace livestock from chickens to sheep. Foxes are vermin, human beings are not. What part of that do these fools not get? (The same people are also noted for extreme hostility to disabled people, especially when they learn that keeping some disabled people alive requires medications that were tested on animals.)

Among the wealthy, a more sophisticated kind of racist animal activism exists: the multi-million pound campaigns for ‘conservation’ of so-called charismatic megafauna in impoverished countries in Africa, often at the expense of local people who are not allowed to farm or herd in whole tracts of their own countries so that westerners can admire the magnificent elephants, wildebeest, lions and so on, and may not shoot animals which menace them or their livestock. In the West, we regard the taming of the natural landscape as a mark of civilisation and we kill animals that get in the way, which is why we no longer have leopards in Europe or wolves and wildcats in Britain, but we expect African people to suffer so that rich whites can admire animals we would never allow to run loose in our own backyard.

There is a logical reason why non-stun slaughtering is allowed in countries with large enough religious minorities to demand it: they want to eat meat, there are farmers in this country who produce meat and want to sell meat, and it makes sense for it to be made available the way people want it, because they will otherwise source meat from out of the country or resort to other, not necessarily sustainable, sources of food (e.g. fish). There are so many examples of cruelty in western farming, not only to animals but also to the people living around the farms who, in some cases, are expected to live with the stench of pig manure in the air for much of the year (the farmers call it the “smell of money”), and as Animal Aid noted in a 2016 report on stunning, there is actually cruelty in the stunning process and the stunning devices are used to goad animals, not just to stun them before slaughter, so banning non-stun slaughter would not make farming in Britain, the USA or anywhere else a cruelty-free industry.

I’m glad Morrissey’s interview has provoked a backlash from fans and others; a much-retweeted response from one Beth McColl said that Morrissey had “erased his whole legacy of making music that people LOVED” and now sounded like a “topless granddad who ruined yet another barbecue by being racist”, and a range of bags with the slogan “Shut up, Morrissey” printed on them has gone for another production run. Personally, I always found his music dreary, tuneless and boring. But I would really like people to be less ready to make unpleasant generalisations about cultures they do not know much about based on reports of animal cruelty, because they do not usually reflect the whole culture and very often they are no worse than how farm animals are treated here.

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