x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Better treatment of animals will help us to remain human

Avoiding the infliction of needless pain on animals is just the right thing to do.

Last Ramadan, a TV presenter described two practices for slaughtering animals. In the first, he showed appalling cases of animal cruelty as the animals waited to be “processed”. The handling was so gruesome that relief arrived only when the animals’ lives ended. In the second, he presented “good practice” in which animals are well treated and well fed before they had one bad day in their lives.

While the routine harvest of certain species means sustenance and continued healthy life for humans, it need not be inhumane. Treating animals with respect and dignity is something that can be regulated by law, but enforcement is an individual’s choice.

There are numerous stories of Prophet Mohammed showing kindness towards animals. These stories were recounted to us to foster some sense of care and sympathy. Prophet Mohammed did not shy away from helping animals, though his followers were generally very poor and hungry. We don’t seem to pay these stories much attention as we see many children and adults alike apathetic towards a thirsty kitten or a lost bird, or even towards the placement of bright-eyed fish in small fish tanks, let alone the small scared monkey that I saw over the weekend on my way to the cinema – firmly tied to the bonnet of a car.

To be sure, the whole concept of “halal” food is built around this concept of respect. The taking of life for our own benefit is not taken for granted. It is governed by ritual and invocation; a constant reminder to appreciate Earth’s bounty. So important are the details and the execution that failure to observe them renders the food “haram” or spiritually unclean and offensive.

Some feel that this is one of those topics for which an updated ruling or process is due, and that there is a need to strike a balance between adherence to the code and the requisite practicality of feeding hundreds of millions. At the other extreme, too much processing and little care for “the processed” lands us in cases of abuse.

There are numerous other interactions with animals that do not necessarily involve their consumption. For millennia we have used beasts of burden. Stubborn and muscular oxen moved soil, water and rock changing the shape of the old world according to our whim and fancy. During war and peace, horses were every bit a part of our heroics, love stories and failures. And sure enough, the camel made the difference between life and death in this region. Domesticated animals help the blind, the police, farmers and numerous others, and continue to play a vital role in the development of our societies as we move across time.

But nothing compares to the high price we exact on those smaller or generally less attractive creatures. They make our medication safe and our footwear desirable. The relentless sacrifice of millions of guinea pigs, lab mice and others for science, combined with age-old servitude of other animals, must register high in evolution’s memoirs, and has earned the victims’ surviving cousins the right to more considerate treatment.

As food processing becomes more obscure and food acquisition a simple visit to a grocery store, the early human valuation of a chicken, for example, has changed. We used to protect and house animals at our homes, and their head count was a measure of our wealth and social standing. Now we don’t mind seeing a cock fight to its bitter end. It’s crude but flourishing entertainment; competition, blood and money. Losing a few does not represent a threat to our food stockpile. On the other hand, in societies where there is closer interaction with nature the acquisition of animals as pets throws up a whole new angle. Dogs and cats can be showered with such affection that you would be excused in thinking they are rightful members of the family.

We see similar contrasting attitudes when it comes to the clothing industry. Baby seals and baby cows are equally vulnerable and needy of protection, but sensational news follows the cute and the pretty.

The fact is, we might regard ourselves as the superior race on this planet, and while we do not need to justify our actions to animals, we need to do so to ourselves to boost our humanity.

Anees Sultan is a writer and businessman based in Oman

Editor’s note: Rym Ghazal’s column “Single in the City” will resume next week