As long as there are vegetarians and vegans around, the fact that slaughterhouses exist will always be a mark against anyone who chooses to sell meat. An old-fashioned meat pie can no longer be enjoyed with the blissful ignorance of times gone by.
If this were an alt right publication, they would probably title it Political Correctness Brings Barbarism to British Butchers. If published in the Guardian, on the other hand, the title would probably read Bigots Attack Cultural Food Practices. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about halal. Everything I say is applicable to kosher meat as well, but I’m not going to pretend that Islam is not currently winning the battle for media coverage, both positive and negative. Whatever happens to halal will probably happen to kosher as well.
To criticize the doctrines of a religion is not racist, but to disproportionately hammer down on a minority group for unjust reasons usually is. The ardent anti-halal brigade feel they have seized on an easy stance to defend. I’m not talking about the I just want it labeled so I can avoid it people—weak-minded types, who are so numb to the concept of eating dead creatures that they can’t even be bothered to attach any moral angle to it. No, I’m concerned with those who are slightly more educated on this issue. The cream of the EDL really feel like they’ve found something here that can finally legitimize their position. A hijab ban isn’t feasible—unless you want to live in a fascist state almost as authoritarian as the caliphate they so fear—but who can’t get behind the cause of fluffy little critters being bled to death?
When religious rules, particularly archaic ones, are put in place, they tend to follow a certain pattern. First they represent progress. For example, Mohammed limited the number of wives a man could have at a time of chronic polygamy. Secondly, they spread, and their practicality wins hearts and minds. Eventually, they represent regressive impulses. Society has moved on, but God-sent rules trump pragmatism in many a tribe.
The origins of the Islamic way of handling meat production are fairly easy to explain. To draw the blood out of an animal, pre-rigor mortis, is a sure-fire way to avoid family members getting food poisoning every other week. The practice would no doubt have represented incalculable progress for that group of people, and might possibly have been sufficient to propel them into an advanced stage of society, beyond that of other contemporary communities. However, in our post-enlightenment world, we should not be enslaved by such considerations. Lots of countries can safely protect against meat-based bacteria nowadays, without letting an animal bleed to death in agony. That’s why advanced slaughterhouses don’t tend to follow this practice.
A lengthy lifetime spent in the field, followed by a messy end is perhaps preferable to a few weeks in a cage, followed by a bullet to the brain. The pro-halal citizens and their apologists sometimes have a point. The Daily Mail will pay ten times more attention to halal meat than secular foie gras production, even though the processes involved are of equally dubious ethical standing. Even the carnivorous Gordon Ramsay once said that the inside of a standard British abattoir was “enough to make anyone fucking vegetarian.”
PETA’s stance on halal, on the other hand, amounts to nothing more than everyone should be vegan. Their website is crammed with dense text, but their criticism of halal slaughter barely amounts to a single sentence. The other 99% of the article is about secular Western practices. In a piece entitled “The Truth About Halal Meat,” this may seem rather odd. PETA is an irretrievably ideological organization at this point, though, so it’s no surprise that their article, like so many herbivores, lacks sharp teeth.
The educational Islamic website www.mustaqim.co.uk sports a fairly eloquent piece on this issue. First, it outlines a well thought-out justification for eating meat in the first place (it won’t convince the PETA soldiers, but what will?) and then it refers to seemingly legitimate studies about the pain animals undergo during approved, pre-kill stunnings. In a skillful dance around the facts, the writer says that slitting an animal’s throat results in a painless unconscious state within three seconds. The animal’s unsettling writhings may be horrifying to watch, he argues, but they are nothing compared to the inner turmoil an animal actually feels, post-stun, during a non-Islamic killing.
This all sounds fairly reasonable, until you remember one thing: the most ethical, advanced, high-tech farmers do not use the Mohammed-approved method. Also, what do devoutly religious people generally do when confronted by rational opposition? They either change their viewpoint, or fabricate (or blindly believe) unsound evidence.
I have the utmost respect for any religious person who views the killing of animals as a kind of barbarism and decides to go meat-free as a result. I also have no beef (all puns intended) with the ignorant, who can’t possibly be expected to know about the entire journey a piece of lamb took on its way to their plates. Who isn’t a hypocrite on such matters? But I’m in favor of legislating against animal cruelty: I’m pro-freedom, but not the freedom to cause unnecessary harm to a sentient being.
I’m also not in favor of placing disproportionate pressure on any specific group. What I am advocating is a rational look at this entire matter. Our mainstream meat production system is questionable at best: stun guns often malfunction; pigs graze each others’ hides in tiny pens for years; thousands of chickens put up with everything short of hell fire until an AI finally wrings their necks. If we infidels want to be in a righteous position in this debate, we need to earn it. Any flesh-chomping Brit who spends all day calling halal butchery inhumane should take an educated Muslim on a tour around an average Western abattoir. We can’t take the moral high ground on this. Animal slaughter in the UK involves scenes that would not be out of place in a horror movie, but on an unimaginable scale. Action needs to be taken—not by vegan terrorists, or placard-waving theocrats, but by compassionate, rational thinkers.
British and American attitudes towards gay marriage, until recently, were fairly in line with conservative Islamic beliefs. We have legalized same sex marriage now, though, so we finally get to slag off Saudi Arabia’s institutionalized homophobia without being accused of hypocrisy. We need a similar revolution in the meat-making world—only then can we finally start nitpicking about our Muslim friends’ butchery practices.
Bon appetit, comrades.