Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Halal Slaughter: Questions And Controversies

While out on the town drinking a few nights back I met up with [Lunches With Sharks -you'll meet him later] and a group of his friends I was introduced by LWS  as 'The Hunter'.  I'm accustomed to getting a broadly interested and positive response to being introduced like this. For the most part North london's 40-something dads are in favor of hunting for the pot, and reluctantly approving of pest control. For starters we chatted about hunting in the UK, the number of Deer there are these days, Fox predation, the Badger controversy, all the usual stuff. But where's the fun in that?  Without exposure to new and sometimes surprising ideas there is no learning, no expansion of my worldview. I like the slightly troubling thoughts that take our knowledge in new and sometimes surprising directions, and I like to test them out on other people, hopefully clever people. With that in mind whilst out on the town I've told this story a few times, and the faces people pulled tell me this one is perhaps, not for the hard-of-thinking.

If you've read a bit of this blog you'll already know that my preferred outcome for my dinner is that the animal was just mooching along, minding its own business, when out of nowhere an arrow or bullet severed a major artery and the animal was already dead when the bang or twang reached its ears. For me there is no better way for the animal to meet its end. The way for most food animals in the western world is, er, slightly different. It's entirely acceptable to have the animal severely traumatised, then stunned, before being skinned alive-ish. There is little time for compassion in industrialised animal husbandry. There is another method, one that people have heard of, disapprove of, yet seem to know little about. The intersection between wilful ignorance and distain has proved to be an interesting hunting ground in the past, so I thought I'd shine a flashlight into the chasm of my own ignorance and learn a little more about how other cultures relate to their food. Starting with Islam.

When you ask the average English or American person about the practice of Halal slaughter, they start pulling faces, and words like 'barbaric', and 'sickening' are used. The speaker is seldom able to describe exactly what they are objecting to, just the feelings the very word 'Halal' evokes. Occasionally you meet someone who'll tell you "they just slit the animals throats"this statement is accompanied by a look of distaste. Hmmm anyone for wilful ignorance with a side order of distain? I dont know about you but that just about makes me drool with curiosity. We have found the edge of the map. I have to know more.

Here's a video made by some chaps who are adherents to the Muslim faith, demonstrating their slaughter practice, and giving their explanation of the effects that they believe make up the process. It's not particularly graphic, part one of the video deals with the method of submission so no blood is spilled.

What interests me about the practice we're shown is the neurological effects, and particularly the resonance between the slaughtered and the slaughter-man. The practice of keeping the animals together as much as possible makes a lot of sense. As a herding animal the goat will obviously be much more relaxed when in a herd setting - where many eyes and ears can keep a look out. Separated from the herd, the animal wants to rejoin the group as soon as possible, going into distress until its reunited.
The slaughter man we see obviously takes his responsibly to the animal seriously, he seems un-hurried and benign towards the animals, there's no beating and shouting. As he intones the words of his religious conviction he seems lost in a revery, which then seems to affect the goat, it calms right down.
Its as though once disorientated by being tipped onto its back, and having it's head pushed back, the goat takes its que from the slaughter man who is exhibiting great calmness. As he covers its eyes, and strokes it the goat really does look so relaxed that it could doze off at any moment.

"these animals are Bilingual they always know the name when its mentioned no matter what language and they always feel the heart of that slaughterer if he belives in that word or he dosent"

The first part I'm not yet convinced by, but the second part is looking at least plausible. Most people who hunt will tell you that they believe animals have a sense of our intention, go out without a gun the place teams with game, the same walk with a gun nothing about, a common theme in stories from woodland stalkers is 'I was watching the deer from a hidden place, when a dog walker yapping on the phone wearing a fluro cagoule walked into the scene and the deer ignored them'. Just as many hunters report having a sense of there being hunt-able species in the area, it would seem animals have a sense of there being predators in the area. If this is true (its at least anecdotally true) the slaughter man has obscured his intention by going into his revery.

Lets turn this on its head for a moment; if he's made loads of threatening noises, banged a stick on the ground in between whacking at the animals with it, the separated the animal from its heard before of and ministering more of the same. He would have pushed all the buttons that tell the animal to be hyper alert. Instead by pushing the other set of buttons: he's basically hypnotised the goat.

How would you like your dinner to die? Is this what you were expecting? What other traditions do you think I should be investigating? I welcome your thoughts and comments: have at it.

More of the usual nonsense soon enough, thanks for reading