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If the anti-halal movement argues against cruelty to animals, Ruby Hamad asks why are campaigners not moved by the similar cruelties that happen in Australian abattoirs on a daily basis?
Ruby Hamad

26 May 2016 - 11:52 AM  UPDATED 26 May 2016 - 12:52 PM

This month, former hard rock singer Gary ‘Angry’ Anderson announced his Senate bid with Australia’s newest political party, the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA). The far-right party runs almost solely on an anti-Islam platform.

Another ALA candidate is Kirralie Smith, the face of the anti-halal movement in Australia. Smith claims halal certification is a front for terrorism, and, amongst other things, has challenged Gold Logie winner Waleed Aly to an intellectual duel on the Quran.

The anti-halal movement, while still a fringe group, is gaining steam. In April, anti-Islam protestors descended on a halal festival, starting an actual bloody brawl under the guise of “defending Australian culture.”

And in a short Facebook post from April, Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi, who is Muslim, shared an excerpt from an email she had received, addressed to “Mr Faruqi”. Referring to her campaign against animal abuse in the dog racing industry, the sender asked, “Why do you care about the treatment of Greyhounds, and yet condone the sadistic killing of animals for halal certification?”.

Faruqi’s response highlighted the hypocrisy of this small, though very noisy, movement. “I am not a Mr and I am also vegetarian. Thanks for pretending to care about animals under the guise of Islamophobia,” she wrote.

Animal cruelty is a thorny issue. Most people would consider themselves to be against it and yet, most people would also be aware that eating animals necessarily involves killing them.

To stave off the guilt, we search for a way to mitigate the obvious cruelty and seem to have settled on the practice of “stunning” the process of rendering animals immobile or unconscious with a bolt gun to the head immediately prior to slitting their throat.

Giving the author of the email the benefit of the doubt, and assuming they do genuinely believe halal - which often but not always eschews stunning - is unforgivably cruel, why is it that they are not similarly moved by the same or similar abuses that occur in Australian abattoirs on a daily basis?

It’s a human trait that we can see so clearly in others unflattering qualities that we are impervious to in ourselves. This trait is spectacularly pronounced in Western countries like Australia thanks to the sense of superiority we have inherited from our colonial past. It was, after all, the firm belief that other cultures were inherently inferior that was the justification for their colonisation.

This sense of superiority has not ended even though colonialism - officially - has. One of the ways its legacy lives on is in the West’s fondness for castigating other cultures for behaviour it is itself guilty of.

In this era of cheap meat, animal cruelty is less an aberration and more a business model.

Take, for instance, the anger that erupted after the Cologne sexual assaults over New Year’s Eve, mostly by men of Middle Eastern and North African background. The backlash was so great it spawned the term ‘Rapefugees,’ and led to widespread calls for closed borders.

Meanwhile, the same people who ignore the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses and in the military blast Western feminists for not caring about “the real rape culture”.  

But nowhere, perhaps, is this hypocrisy more pronounced than when it comes to animal cruelty.

The issue first hit the mainstream in a big way with the 2011 Four Corners documentary A Blood Business that exposed tremendous suffering of cows exported to Indonesia by Australia.

But while the focus was on the ‘halal’ slaughter methods - which were undoubtedly gruesome - considerably less attention was played to Australia’s role in the scandal. That the suffering of the animals begins long before they set foot in a Muslim slaughterhouse was glossed over in the moral panic of how ‘they’ were treating ‘our’ cattle.

Also forgotten were the myriad ways that animals raised, slaughtered, and eaten in Australia suffer every day of their lives.

The lowdown on halal certification
Like mosques, headscarves and face-veils, halal certification is seen by many as a sign that Muslims are changing the Australian way of life.

The West invented the concept of the factory farm. While America remains the biggest culprit, housing billions of animals in “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFOs), Australia has adopted the American model, albeit on a smaller scale.

Here, millions of pigs and chickens are raised in cramped conditions in enormous sheds, often imprisoned in spaces barely bigger than their own bodies. They never see the light of day until the day they are sent to slaughter.

Speaking of slaughter, stunning doesn’t always work. The sheer number of animals passing through the fast-moving disassembly lines means many pigs and cows get skinned or boiled alive. Gassing pigs to death – an excruciating and terrifying end - is routine, and chickens, whether halal or not, are never the grateful recipients of a stun gun to the temple.

Regulations designed to minimise animal suffering are less than perfect. This is largely because intensive animal slaughter is fundamentally incompatible with animal welfare; whether halal or not. Indeed, a 2012 NSW government review found that every single red meat abattoir in the state breached animal welfare guidelines.

In this era of cheap meat, animal cruelty is less an aberration and more a business model.

We must at least be consistent; both in how we regard animals and how we compare ourselves to others.

In any case, most halal slaughterhouses in Australia do use a form of stunning at slaughter but this does little to ease the anger of the anti-halal warriors. So what is really going on?

As Faruqi pointed out, some do use animals as a front for open bigotry against Muslims. But more insidious are those who genuinely believe that Australia treats all the animals it kills for food humanely. These blinders are the result of generations of uncritical belief in the West’s own moral goodness; if we are good, then it necessarily follows that everything we do is also good, meaning there is no need for critical reflection. Anything that contradicts this belief - such as the blatant suffering of animals in our own food system - is ignored.

This is not a defence of halal or any kind of slaughter. Nor is it a call to veganism necessarily. We can choose not to care about animals, but we must at least be consistent; both in how we regard animals and how we compare ourselves to others. Because the culture that invented a method of farming that treats animals like machines rather than living beings really has no business lecturing anyone else on animal cruelty.

Love the story? Follow the author: Twitter @rubyhamad.

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