The Uncomfortable Reality of Racism in the Animal Rights Movement

I had this as a tangent in a review of the book Sistah Vegan, and decided to re-post it now as its own thing, in response to the news that Belgium made Halal and Kosher slaughter methods illegal. I made it a little smarter, because new year, new look, new Paige.

new paige

Here are a couple of comments I stumbled upon recently, in response to an animal advocacy group sharing an article that said Canada was badly ranked for it’s treatment of animals (unsurprising).

halal comment

The first comment is frustratingly ignorant. The SPCA can only do so much, because the laws need to be updated. Pay attention to who you’re voting for. The laws also require law enforcement officers who are actually interested in enforcing the laws in order to be effective. Pay attention to who isn’t doing the enforcing and give them hassle when they fail to act.

The second comment is, you know, racist.

It’s ignorant, too, because, really. What is the SPCA supposed to do about an industry practice that is entirely legal and defined as “not animal cruelty” and instead one of the acceptable methods of slaughter?

I should expand on the “racist” thing though because I happen to know some people IRL who would take issue with that label, annoyingly. “It can’t be racist if it’s about a religion” OK Brent, best case scenario you’re a bigot, congrats, but I’m still going to call it racism because Islamaphobia gets directed at anyone who looks vaguely brown.

Why is it a problem that people are against the Halal slaughter method? Well – in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be a problem. Halal slaughter isn’t great, where animals are concerned. It requires animals to be alert during slaughter whereas otherwise the animal would be stunned first – although personally I think it’s not the biggest difference because animals slaughtered for food tend to be at least somewhat aware of what they’re heading for before they get stunned, especially if the slaughterhouse is badly designed or not following the top guidelines. But it makes enough of a difference to the individual animals that really that sort of practice shouldn’t be allowed – in an ideal world, where this slaughter method wasn’t a religious law and freedom.

Why single out Halal? Kosher is exactly the same. Also, why single out either Halal or Kosher? Why not single out the industry standard practice of grinding up male chicks while they’re still alert? That is not done because of religious laws, just for, I don’t know, expedience, maybe. Or what about gestation crates for pig mothers, which is a practice that causes immense suffering for years on end rather than for just a split second at slaughter? How about going after gigantic quotas that lead to massive stress among the already stressed-out workers, which of course leads to physical abuse of the animals, either as a necessity for reaching quota or as an outlet for frustration?

How I deal with Halal and Kosher is that I’m mostly silent about it, because there are, in fact, animal advocates of both the Muslim and Jewish persuasions who are having these conversations within their own communities and it isn’t my place as some rando Catholic to butt in. Why not allow them to take care of their own cultural practices, particularly these days, when their communities are under quite a bit of stress because of certain unmentionable somehow elected officials? Really, ever since September 11, 2001, it hasn’t been the opportune moment to start browbeating Muslim people about one of their cultural practices that isn’t the greatest for animals. Especially when non-Muslim Canadians aren’t exactly lining up to tidy up our own garbage practices.

Canada has plenty of animal rights issues to tackle that are not specific to Muslim or Jewish religious laws. Like the seal hunt.* Like all of those other meat industry standard practices I mentioned. How about the transportation of pigs for slaughter? That was kind of a big deal a while ago.

Also, Islam is in many ways a pretty animal-friendly religion. Sure, Halal requires animals to be alert for slaughter and there are the sacrificial animals during Eid al-Adha, but Muslims are technically not supposed to eat pork ever (good for pigs), and one of the pillars of Islam is fasting, which leads some Muslims to abstain from meat for lengthy time periods each year for their spiritual health (good for food animals in general).

I don’t know this commenter and for all I know “Halal” was just the first thing that popped into their head when it occurred to them to email the SPCA. But probably not. I think it’s more than safe to say that this is an example of someone who probably does care about animals, but who also is upset about Muslim people existing nearby and has decided to kill two birds with one stone and join the two pet causes.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t speak up here. I seriously considered it. I think things like this hurt everyone, because first of all, it’s racist, which is never good, and then there’s the fact that there easily could be a Muslim person scrolling through these comments, and animal rights needs allies, and to have allies we need to make people feel welcome, and not make them feel like they do anywhere people enthusiastically voted for Stephen Harper and his low key Islamaphobia. Finally, it does delegitimize us. People are looking for any excuse to dismiss animal rights as a thing worth discussing, and if you’re using it as a platform to be racist, you’ve basically handed them a perfect reason, the best possible reason, to stop listening forever.

The reason I didn’t speak up is sort of complicated. The first problem is that Facebook will then plaster that conversation on the walls of my friends, some of whom are my coworkers, and I didn’t want them to see me calling a stranger an Islamaphobe. And that’s basically what it would have been, because the second problem was that I couldn’t come up with anything calm and reasonable to say.

I still think the right thing to do was to think about it for a while and then post something along the lines of, “Hi there – Islam is a pretty animal-friendly religion, actually, considering the fasting and such, and there are lots of other, non-Islamic and totally legal industry practices that cause a lot of suffering to food animals, none of which the SPCA is capable of ending on its own. We need to vote smarter and put pressure on our elected officials so that they know we want animal welfare improvements. And also eat less meat, person who probably eats a lot of non-Halal and still probably inhumanely procured meat. Have a LOVELY non–Muslim-hating day!”

Alas. Next time.

*This was in the Sistah Vegan review without a line through it. I put one through it now because I can’t ignore that activists honing in on the seal hunt hurt First Nations people. It hurt them in the past, it hurt them in the more recent past, and it continues to hurt them now.

still think the fact that the federal government is very loud and perfomative in its support of First Nations people when it comes to the seal hunt but has militia-looking RCMP officers arrest pipeline protesters, who are not only protesting something ecologically damaging but also something illegal, which is a pipeline being built through lands that belong to First Nations peoples and not to The Crown, is more than a little bit important. If the world is moving on from seal products (and it looks like it is, for now), we should just develop a good basic income program and pilot it with people who are trying to sustain themselves on that industry, supplementing their seal income, and also maybe we can not build the stupid pipeline and actually deal with the multitude of other ways the First Nations are still being violated in this country.

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