Editor’s Note: Originally published September 6, 2010 by The Animal Council Updates as a single topic, timely piece.
LABOR DAY, 2010: SPECIAL REPORT
Labor Day 2010 is the first in a long while no U.S. flag is flying here. There is no place to display one properly after months of construction work. Today the “tile guys” are outside working, because they have had so little work this year, they need to work every day they can. Their Labor Day picnic will be a quick lunch in the shade on our lawn, yet as meaningful as the traditional celebrations around the country today with glad-handing politicians and union folk. While we pause to acknowledge the role and status of labor, we step back from the unmistakable rhetoric and actions of anger, ignorance and intolerance now creeping into American public life.
As an interest group, we know our own frustration confronting political opponents who know little or nothing about animals or us, yet disrespect us as a group and sometimes individually, with regard for nothing or no one other than their views of what people should not do with animals. Their ugly words and actions hurt, and the indifference of others hurts us, too. So, shouldn’t we know or be able to learn not to mimic this negative behavior ourselves?
Here’s the problem. As more of our own people participate in online activism, searching for interesting animal information, hit the “Forward” button without reflection on whether the item is truly relevant, appropriate or capable of explanation, readers pound their own “Forward” buttons or, worse add hasty comments to the flow. We all try to sort the useful information and discard the rest, whether irrelevant, incorrect, redundant or tasteless — this goes with the online world. But, we now find increasing numbers of posts mentioning Islam — pertaining to animals in Islamic countries or even beyond to other issues, with no consideration as to whether or how these are relevant to our common interest in preserving animal ownership and interests or whether this serves our understanding of these issues and ability to work effectively among ourselves. In our opinion, this practice undermines these concerns and must stop or be stopped. Here’s why.
When Madeleine Albright became US Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, she wrote on her to do list, “Lean more about Islam”. She was already well-educated with a long career in public service. While we won’t need the cultural literacy in an unfamiliar religion, followed by now over a billion and a half people, to conduct diplomacy credibly, we should know enough to understand that random news reports about fatwas of Shiite clerics and Wahhabi edicts regarding animals are not even about animals. These are different from say, the Jordan government’s efforts to regulate pet store sales of puppies imported from eastern Europe — a familiar, relevant topic here, where the predictable consequence was “puppy mills” in the northern desert.
Listen to any news today and hear Americans who should know better spew slanderous, uninformed rants about Islam that demean our own country’s values. We cannot let this insidiously seep into our own dialogues on animal issues. Those who are serious about commenting on the treatment and regulation of animals in contemporary Islamic societies, should be able to distinguish the various sectarian contexts from legitimate government regulation and explain whether and how a specific situation truly involves animals or would have any relevance to modernity or western culture.
This past May, the gorgeous, articulate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali born woman known world-wide for defending the rights of women in Dutch Muslim society, was here in San Francisco (with her American bodyguards), decrying the lack of critical thinking and criticism within Islam and urging criticism from the West in the same way the behavior of abusive Catholic clergy is criticized without condemning Catholicism or even Christianity. Those who do not know the difference between abusive excesses and an underlying religion — whatever religion — do us all harm when they hit “Forward” and “Send”. Too many of our own people are succumbing to this temptation for private reproaches. Rather, we ask everyone to recognize and resist this urge, especially those representing an organization or list owners who can put a stop to it. We know the pain of ignorant attacks; let us not be the perpetrators.
To follow Madeleine Albright’s to-do item, we suggest a totally painless, non-sectarian historical book, “Destiny Disrupted, A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes” by San Francisco author and Afghan-American, Tamim Ansary.* Tamim was an English major at Reed College and has had a career as a textbook editor, inadvertently becoming a spokesperson for Afghanistan and related issues 9 years ago.