Most countries in the world have a dominant religion, whose values, rituals and beliefs have shaped the society and given a sense of right and wrong, belonging and kinship. In the western world it tends to be Christianity, where as in the far east there’s more of a mixture of say Buddhism, Muslim, Hinduism and smaller regional beliefs such as Shinto. In the near and middle east the dominant religion has been Muslim for quite some time. The one exception to this perhaps is China, where Chairman Mao squeezed the life out of most faiths and beliefs during his revolution. And while I respect anyone’s right to follow any religion they want to and would never ally myself to anything Mao said or did, I must admit that I also carry a slight mistrust of any strong religion, essentially because of the countless deaths and persecutions committed over the centuries in the name of interfaith, ethnic or other sectarian rivalries.
Having lived in a Muslim country for some years, I have witnessed the rituals and festivals of that faith such as the holy month of Ramadan, followed by the Seker Bayram – Sugar Festival. It’s a period of feasting, present giving and family, a time of fun and togetherness that I am occasionally invited to and always enjoy; not too unlike the Christmas holiday period in most points west of here. However, there is one Bayram, that follows on about 2 months later, which if I can I will ether plan any trips abroad for then, or at the very least stay at home all day on the first day. This is called the Kurban Bayram – the Feast of the Sacrifice, where animals are sacrificed, before the meat is given to the needy or shared out amongst ones family. An explanation of why this takes place can be found here.
I have been a vegetarian for many years – and yet I do not regard myself as fanatical. I respect everyone’s right to either eat or not eat meat as long as the animal they devour has not suffered unduly. Indeed, I am not a complete vegetarian, and should technically label myself a Pescatorian, as I do occasionally eat fish. But I always apply the same rule about those creatures not suffering unnecessary pain. If an animal must die the act of slaughtering it should be quick, clean and as painless as possible.
As prescribed by religious precept, most of the countless millions of animals sacrificed during the Kurban Bayram will be conscious at the beginning of the process. So the act of stunning the animal first is unlikely to have taken place. This does not mean that the animal will suffer unduly if the job is done quickly and professionally. But what I do find objectionable is when it is done by people, who have no concept of what is really needed to dispatch an animal quickly, perhaps because they have never done anything like it before or never received adequate instruction: it can take a long time to kill an animal and end it’s pain, especially if it is done incorrectly. However, the sheer scale of the slaughter taking place on this day, always means that many inexperienced men end up just ‘having a go’, with often, unnecessary stress and painful consequences for the poor animals.
As I said, because of my bad memories of this period, I try to be somewhere else, but I do remember the permeating smell of blood and that occasion in Istanbul when I could not get my car into its garage because a discarded cows head had been wedged under the chassis. However, my worst memory is much more recent. I once watched a fat man, drunk on raki, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and wearing a filthy and bloody shirt, running after a terrified cow, whose throat was bleeding profusely, and stabbing it in the shoulder, while all along the crowd, which included several small children, were laughing and cheering him on. Where exactly was the religion in that terrible performance?
One thing that also leaves me feeling quite sick as an animal lover, is the TV coverage. Most stations show a selection of scenes filmed earlier in the day during their Evening News programs. Often introduced by anchor women, who are often grinning as if about to share a joke. These scenes essentially show similar mishaps to the horror I related above, of traffic stopped by wild eyed bleeding goats and injured sheep chased by cars full of knife wielding amateurs, or some poor cow trying to escape through a river and on one occasion a camel with a large spear dangling from its breast running down the hard shoulder of a motorway. This year most channels also showed us how part of the European banks of the Bosphorus, through Istanbul ran out red for tens of meters from the shore because of the sheer quantity of blood coming from storm drains.
Sometimes these scenes are accompanied by music and the laughter of the person filming or those around. Then there is usually a few minutes showing many of the most inept slaughter-men arriving at some hospital casualty ward or other, mostly with cuts from the knives they used incorrectly or suffering from crush or kick injuries from the animals they were incompetently trying to kill. However, the worst thing I ever saw, was when one particular channel decided to relay their round-up of injured people and terrified or wounded animals, to a soundtrack of wacky music and canned laughter, the kind used to boost the sagging popularity of lame comedy shows.
So now I just stay in and hideaway – I rarely see anyone and keep well away from every park, car park or other piece of wasteland, just in case it has been legally, or illegally designated as an abattoir for the day.