Recently, there has been an influx of tabloid stories on the sale of halal meat in some of our ‘most popular’ fast food restaurants, including Subway and Pizza Express. The scandal is, as is typical, a targeted media attack and furthering of the ostracism of the Islamic faith and culture. It has been raved about in the tabloids to increase newspaper sales. It is sensationalism in its worst manifestation, and is not a victimless crime. Newspapers are first and foremost interested in sales, hence the great lengths they will go to in finding a story—the more scandalous the better—in order to grab your attention. In turn you grab their newspaper from the shelf, or click on a link to their website. There is little newspapers will not do in order to get the best scoop, especially the tabloids.
The ostensible central complaint of the scandal is that people have been uninformed or as the tabloids would have it, lied to, about the origin of their meat and the method of the animals’ slaughter. This extends to the targeting of religion and its customs—explicitly Islam, ever the popular target. There has been no attention given to the provenance of kosher meat, for example, or of the method of traditional animal slaughter. There has clearly been a specific targeting of Islam, and not for the first, or last, time. The tabloids have portrayed it as detrimental to British culture, that it is quashing traditional values and overtaking British culture: something that must be protected at all costs.
The secondary argument that has been used to corroborate the first is that the halal method of slaughter causes unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. Suddenly everyone is in favour of animal rights. But this is moral hypocrisy; if those that are anti-halal slaughter want to minimise animal suffering, then why eat meat at all and support the slaughter of animals for food? To not be a hypocrite would require you to follow through with your moral disgust and become a vegetarian, with the logical extension of veganism.
The Mirror headline reads: Halal meat controversy is about the unnecessary cruelty to animals and NOT Islamophobia
What I have taken away from the halal scandal was, at first, an increase in my attention to halal slaughter, which I believe to be bad as it involves greater suffering than alternative methods. My recognition of this means I should by extension abhor the killing of animals for food entirely. In British society, as in most modern societies, we have access to food and nutrients that preclude a need for meat. If we were dependent on consuming meat for our survival then it would be justifiable to some extent, but we are not.
Having read some of well-known moral philosopher Peter Singer’s argument for vegetarianism, I’ve found that it is morally indefensible to eat meat. I can’t, however, see myself becoming a vegetarian. This led me to seek counterarguments simply to legitimise my eating of meat, surely a contemptible act. Deep down, however, even if I find a way of superficially deceiving myself, I will know that it is immoral. I enjoy the taste, smell and texture of eating meat. But can I justify having to indirectly cause the death of an animal for this fleeting sense of pleasure? The majority of animals we eat are sentient and feel pain and pleasure alike. Keeping them in conditions that allow us to harvest them for their meat cause them pain and suffering, and prevent their happiness and contentedness. Killing them also precludes a continuation of their life, which holds the potential for the experience of happiness. By killing animals we are causing them suffering, and depriving them of potential happiness.
So, by continuing to meat eat I am behaving immorally. The next question is: why should I behave morally, and does it matter? In the meantime, I am a hypocrite. Far be it from me, or any one person, to tell anyone else how they should and shouldn’t live their lives. However, what should be an equal ethical consideration is the toleration of other cultures, religions, and ways of living. But how far can religious tolerance allow suffering? We’re all obligated to be ethical, so religion shouldn’t get to pass over this obligation. While we shouldn’t be Islamophobic and suppress religious freedom, we should also ensure that we act ethically to the best of our abilities.
Sam Friend is a student at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying History and Politics. He is passionate about reading, writing, and music. Read his personal blog Relevant and Irreverent and follow him on Twitter here.