One Thought too Many

Abdication of thought department, not to mention argument by innuendo department. Here is an opinion piece about a supposed conflict between two values, between inclusiveness and humane treatment of animals, between multiculturalism and banning cruel methods of slaughter.

But now a government-funded committee is expected to conclude that traditional Jewish and Islamic methods of slaughter are inhumane. The timing could not be better because, clearly, Britain’s Muslims are nowhere near alienated enough at the moment…This moral conundrum goes right to the heart of what it means to live in a multicultural society.

When you don’t have much of an argument, resort to sarcasm. What’s his point? That findings about which methods of slaughter are humane and which are not should be made on the basis of who will be alienated by them? Does that apply to findings and conclusions in general? If a government-funded committee concludes that foot-binding, or female genital mutilation, or child marriage, or child labour, or child military conscription, or slavery, or judicial torture is inhumane, will they be upbraided by columnists and hand-wringers for alienating British foot-binders or genital mutilators or judicial torturers? Does religion give people a right to torture animals without interference? If so, why? On what grounds? Does living in a multicultural society mean that one is not allowed to make trans-cultural rules or judgments? If so, is that not a recipe for chaos? Why should the wants of alienated Muslims trump the good of killing animals without causing them more suffering than necessary? Why does the columnist not even ask himself this question?

But the issue of halal meat is more blurred partly because, however the creature is slaughtered, we’re still talking about the moment of death, when surely it is the farm animal’s quality of life up to that point that is the bigger factor. We cannot call ourselves a multi-faith society and then only tolerate the aspects of other religions that match our western liberal values…If we are to be genuinely inclusive, we have to be certain before we go dictating our mix-and-match morality to other cultures. When it comes to what people eat, or how they prepare their food, we should let sleeping dogs lie.

That’s a very casual dismissal of the problem. Imagine, some people think animals raised for food should actually have both a decent life and a humane death. Some people also consider themselves secularists, and don’t call themselves ‘a multi-faith society’ at all, especially when they read people who fret about the alienation of religious groups and brush off physical pain and terror. If animals were Muslim too would he worry about them? And there’s the sly label ‘western liberal values’ for the goal of humane slaughter, as if it’s just some effete silly consumerist whim. Oh it’s all rhetoric – ‘genuinely inclusive,’ ‘dictating our mix-and-match morality,’ and then rushing past us ‘how they prepare their food’ as if we were talking about carrots or chocolate. When ‘their food’ consists of sentient, conscious beings, then yes, ‘how they prepare their food’ is the business of other people. And the dogs are not sleeping, that’s the whole point. They’re wide-awake, they can see and feel the knife.

Ibn Warraq of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society writes eloquently about this subject in his book Why I am not a Muslim:

The British legislation concerning slaughter was passed for ethical reasons, in other words, any method of slaughter other than that recommended by these laws was considered immoral. And in giving in to Muslim and Jewish demands for their own methods of butchering we in effect condone behavior that we have previously judged immoral. We sanction immorality because of our respect for the religion of others. Cruelty to animals is all right as long as it is religious cruelty!

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