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Of cows and men

  • Published at 05:04 am September 29th, 2015
Of cows and men

As the work week starts for some of us, the rituals of sacrifice come to an end. Its remnants are still visibly smeared on the already desecrated streets of our cities: Blood and feces lie scattered on the side-walks and one can still get a tinge of that nauseating concoction slicing through the as-of-yet empty Dhaka air. Our drains run red, into the rivers, and out into the world. Crows and dogs pick and fight over the scattered scraps of cow and sheep guts.

Personally, the wretched remains are worth it if Dhaka remains as it is now: Empty of the majority of its inhabitants. But I do not wish to complain about the way these “sacrifices” are carried out -- with no regard for proper Islamic “etiquette,” which involves things like not killing the animal in front of other livestock, giving too much importance to the price of the cows and the number, actually caring about the being you are about to slaughter, among other things -- nor the way it is, year after year, dealt with with wanton disregard for the rest of the populace -- the slaughter is done on the streets, with no thought given to the sensitivities of other people, including children, or to the state of the streets once the deed is done.   

More than 500 designated “slaughter spots” were set out for the act. A quick glance out the window reveals most, if not all, did not take their future meat to these grounds, with no heard-of intervention from the authorities. That, too, is for someone else, and for another time.

During the festival of sacrifice, or, rather, more appropriately, the festival of the feast, analyses revolve almost exclusively from an introspective “human” viewpoint while dissecting the issue, which excludes how the animals feel from the process. This, I suspect, will be no different, for it is truly impossible to know.

The most one sees is a call to show mercy to the animals. That is neither here nor there; that is merely an easy opinion to have. Yes, you feel bad, especially and only if you see them, and perhaps only if they’re cute. And the guilt ends there.

Animal rights activists, of course, come up to spew the other extreme -- some say religion is incompatible with animal rights, some try to bring Islam into the mould and claim that it teaches us kindness towards animals and, as a result, must be against their slaughter. The latter claim would be half right.

It is very possible for one to still believe in animal rights, to believe that they should be treated “humanely,” if there is such a thing, and still let it be compatible with their consumption of meat, or using them as tools in farming or providing foodstuffs like milk. It doesn’t automatically make someone a hypocrite or a bad person; merely someone who believes that the human race is superior, or more worthy of life than other animals.

On the other hand, if one believes that killing any living being is wrong for one’s own selfish needs, then Eid-ul-Azha is not the platform to do it on, just because it places that cruelty on full display in front of us. Animals are being exploited on a far larger scale and more cruelly behind the scenes, at farms and by fast-food chains.

But if one believes that, where do we draw the line? Are killing mosquitoes and cockroaches wrong in this sense? Are vaccines and other medicines wrong because they, technically, take away life from living organisms? The counter-argument would bring up the existence, or lack thereof, of their ability to feel pain. Then what about trees and plants, which research has increasingly shown feel, at least, something? We wouldn’t be left with anything to eat.

Additionally, animals eat other animals, don’t they? Are they morally defunct? If the argument against that is their inability to comprehend their own actions, to paraphrase Chomsky, should beings which do not have the capability for responsibility be allowed rights? They do not realise the very concept. And we were “meant to” eat meat, weren’t we? It is our primary source of protein. “Meant to”? Is there such a thing?

Conversely, our rate of consumption of meat, coupled with the fact that it is an inefficient source of energy, makes it, objectively speaking, unsustainable. It is a better option to get our dietary requirements directly from the source, and with technology, such as the controversial genetic engineering, it is, in the long run, a far viable option. This plays well for the group that believes that meat should only be consumed when necessary. There are, after all, plenty of options available, for those who can afford it.

All of these trains of thought, these philosophies, pre-suppose an existing objective moral base on which they stand. In truth, such a platform doesn’t exist. All of these have valid points when taken properly into consideration. These are moot points that will forever be discussed and dissected and laws will continue to change and change again until the end of time, as it has always done before. But this is necessary, for the betterment of our species in the long run, if I may presume that momentary lapse of hubris.

For we may one day look back at this time, the same way we do on issues like slavery, and capital punishment, racism, and homophobia in some parts of the world, and be shocked at the way we had behaved. We may remember the innocent blood that pooled on our streets, and watch a repugnant ritual of killing, and see it in complete black and white, wondering how this was an issue that was even up for debate.