Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mobilizing Anti-Muslim Sentiment "For the Animals"

Trigger Warning: Post contains discussions of racism against Muslims and the Nonhuman Animal rights movement's role in promoting it.

Anti-Muslim protests in the U.K.
The hatred of and discrimination against all things Muslim is a social justice issue that is especially poignant in today's post-911 world where many live in fear of the latest reports on ISIS and few understand the complexities of Middle Eastern current events. In the West, the ubiquitousness of hate crimes against Muslims or anyone who "looks" Muslim makes life unsafe and unfair for many. Even the KKK is on board. The Huffington Post reported earlier this week that Ku Klux Klan literature has been promoting increased discrimination against Muslims.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end with hate groups. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement itself has a long history of mobilizing racist sentiment in order to garner support for Nonhuman Animal protection. True, many of the early activists were active in the anti-slavery abolitionist movement, but it is also true that many early rights and welfare laws specifically targeted communities of color at home and abroad in the colonies. In some ways, this was an act of deliberate racism, but movements also make "compromises" by pulling on racism to increase resonance.

Muslims in particular have routinely been the target of Nonhuman Animal rights activism, specifically in regard to slaughter practices. "Live export" campaigns go back at least as far as the 1980's, with organizations demonizing Muslim regions for their "barbaric" treatment of livestock sourced from Western countries. In my research, for instance, I have uncovered reports produced by direct action advocates in the U.K. who had been protesting live export, only to have Compassion in World Farming take credit for their activism without even being present at the protests.

Compassion in World Farming, "the world's leading farm animal welfare organization," continues to benefit from racist campaigning today. In a newsletter released today in promotion of their "The Secret is Out" campaign against Muslim slaughter, CIWF invites us to "Expose the Truth" by supporting their campaign, specifically, by donating and signing a petition.

From the CIWF newsletter: EXPOSE THE TRUTH I've got a secret to tell you. And I need your help to expose it. When we received a tip-off about a hidden trade in European farm animals we knew we had to find out more. But to do that our Investigation Unit had to visit one of the world’s most volatile border crossings, the Israeli‑controlled Kerem Shalom border, where the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt converge. They brought back some shocking evidence, which I’m sharing with you today. What they found was a trade in cattle, transported from the EU, being sent alive into war-torn Gaza to be slaughtered. They tracked down animals who had travelled thousands of miles by land and sea from Romania and Hungary – via Israel – to Gazan slaughterhouses where, frankly, it just isn’t possible to slaughter an animal without causing immense suffering.

Please note the following statement from the above excerpt which I have found to be especially problematic (emphasis mine):
They tracked down animals who had travelled thousands of miles by land and sea from Romania and Hungary - via Israel - to Gazan slaughterhouses where, frankly, it just isn't possible to slaughter an animal without causing immense suffering
This language implies that Muslims living in Gaza are inherently incapable of anything but cruelty. This statement also wrongly implies that killing Nonhuman Animals can be done without suffering. By contrast, readers are left to assume that 1. killing can be done "humanely," as long as it is 2. done by the "right" people in the "right" places. The language of "exposing the truth" and the "secret is out" also, I believe, pulls on Western conceptualizations of Islamic terrorism. CIWF frames their campaign as though the underground, clandestine evil of Muslims in slaughterhouses is being "leaked" to the public, who can now use that knowledge to intervene in the name of justice.

And what of the immense human suffering taking place in Gaza? Suffering brown bodies don't sell. CIWF relies on graphic images of animals being murdered and the societal hatred of Muslims in the West in order to promote their campaign. I charge that such an approach is morally problematic in that it diminishes the integrity of Nonhuman Animals whose suffering becomes a selling point, and it diminishes the immense human rights violations taking place against Palestinians living in Gaza. Indeed, the violence against humans taking place in Gaza is made invisible.

Nonhuman Animal rights campaigners should not be in the same business as the KKK. There is no justifiable reason to target vulnerable groups for their seemingly more horrific use of Nonhuman Animals, especially when the West engages in a number of equally horrific acts of violence (including the failure to protect Palestinians). This is not done by accident: Nonhuman Animal rights organizations know that by targeting the activities of wealthy whites in the West, they are not likely to garner as much support as they might by targeting poor brown people in a war-torn region. It is easy to demonize them, because the rest of the world is already doing the same.

Compartmentalizing violence against other animals is morally problematic for a number of reasons. The tendency to vilify the practices of vulnerable human groups while ignoring the practices of those in power is one of those reasons. To avoid fanning discrimination, it is best that we promote a holistic vegan position. Cows in slaughterhouses are no more deserving of protection than any other species oppressed by humans, and slaughterhouses in Gaza are not measurably worse than many in the United States. Creating a hierarchy of concern only replicates systems of inequality and systems of privilege. Until we situate our vegan message within an intersectional framework of social justice, we will remain a marginalized movement that few take seriously.

Thank you to Sarah Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society for bringing this campaign to my attention.