A Denial of Humanity: The Ban on Unstunned Ritual Slaughter in the Netherlands
The ban on unparalysed slaughter proposed by the “Party of the Animals” means a de facto ban on ritual slaughter and has caused outrage by the Jewish and Muslim minorities in the Netherlands. The controversy does not only pose questions with the shifting balance in Europe between the rights of religious minorities versus the importance of animal wellbeing based on the absolute power of the majority, it also showcases how European nations are shifting away from a pluralist perspective of humanity incorporating the discussion and co-existence of different views and move towards a dictatorship of an increasingly rigid and hollow cultural homogeneity. Argues Ruben Elsinga
In the Netherlands the “Party for the Animals” (literal translation) which holds between 1 and 2 % of seats in the Dutch parliament and focuses its political program around animal wellbeing, has led their first law through parliament. The law forbids unstunned ritual slaughter, a form of slaughter prescribed by Jewish and Muslim religious law. Although this is disputed by research as well as by the Jewish and Muslim organizations unstunned slaughter is argued to cause animals unnecessary pain, if only for a few seconds before they die.
The ban has caused fierce debate in the Netherlands over the balance to be found between “the rights of animals”, hence animal wellbeing, and the rights of religious communities to practice their religious customs. A majority in parliament has now sided with the animals and downplays the significance of the new law for religious minorities to practice their religious rituals. Jewish and Islamic lobby organizations are outraged by the breach of their basic rights and the fact that the law does not place the measures in the appropriate context.
This political battle is set in motion though by a larger ideological shift in the Netherlands. It is a shift from a pluralist perspective of society towards a rigid universalist paradigm. A shift that could arguably be found as well in other countries in north-western Europe if not also in the United States. Increasing nationalism bridges growing egotistical individualism with an universalist paradigm of cultural homogeneity and the remnants of a hollowed out system of universal rights. This shifts manifests itself in practice through people cost what cost trying to escape from confrontation with themselves and the intricate contradictions of life by finding refuge in a hollow morality of self-righteousness.
Particularly the perspective of the Party of the Freedom (PVV) led by controversial Islam basher Geert Wilders is interesting in the way it exemplifies this new trend of hollow self-righteous moral hegemony. Geert Wilders’ PVV combines an explicit embrace of animal wellbeing and a profession of the Dutch Christian-Jewish heritage. The Party of the Animals is not the only party pushing for animal rights in recent years in the Netherlands. Testament to the importance the Dutch attribute to their pets is the push for the assignment of 500 animal cops in the Netherlands by Wilders’ party, whereas almost all other government departments face severe cuts. Moreover PVV parliamentarians voted for the bill banning unstunned ritual slaughter with only one party member voting against.
It is a hollowed out Christian-Jewish ideology that Wilders professes. As humanism builds on a Christian heritage devoid of its internal conspicuousness, so does Wilders’ ideology further empty this humanism out of all its spiritual meaning and power. An empty skull of universalist rights, or universal self-righteousness remains: Geert Wilders’ followers hardly attend church nor synagogue, but still base their political stance on an explicit nationalized perspective of Jewish-Christian heritage. Part of the hollowness of the PVV is also the shunning of internal contradictions, let alone internal disconcert.
Although Jewish lobby organizations strongly oppose the new law banning ritual slaughter, Israel and Israeli organizations are fervent supporters of Geert Wilders and his party, indicating that the bond between Israel and Wilders’ party is purely opportunistic. The almost unanimous vote against ritual slaughter is in line with this opportunism of the PVV and the lack of willingness to overcome or address internal contradictions in the party. The internal dictatorship of the party’s political line of partyleader Geert Wilders became apparent during the last elections and indicates there is a complete lack off internal discussion in his party.
Wilders political stance exemplifies a trend running across the Dutch ideological landscape though. His popularity and the fact that his party is an associate member of the ruling coalition are cases in point that the PVV is hardly an isolated case. A trend of popular obedience to a humanism that has been hollowed out from its deeper spiritual meaning runs across all parts of Dutch society. In the spiritual vacuum that is left it is disconcerted egotism that reigns. Egotism exemplified by one’s relation to one’s pet; hence social behavior is reduced to the hollow barks of a dog who does not speak and replaces the difficult but rewarding interaction of real people with real pains, frustrations and plights.
It is the mere idea that one’s ‘humanification’ of animals has come to morally trump one’s relationship to other human beings, that is so frightful. A relationship of egotism projected outward takes the place of civilized co-existence. Instead of finding a solution in the acceptance of human fallibility followed by the continued attempt to elevate oneself in civilised interaction above one’s animate nature, the Dutch population escapes in a measure that only satisfies those who dare not question and ban the question from social and political life altogether.
For the Party of the Animals it is not civilization that is the alternative to cruelty to and of animals, but rather the denial of pain and suffering as a reality of the animal as well as of human kind. The necessary actions of cruelty to get a stake on one’s plate are denied, and a chimeral solution is presented as the only alternative. It is the suffering of a couple of seconds of an animal bred to be killed that is now rooted out to satisfy the masses locked up in denial of their own self-denial. A lack of suffering becomes a universal right, heavily weighing on the false assumption that it is only remotely possible to root out suffering or pain in life, or for that matter the couple of seconds of suffering an animal has to endure on its way to someone’s plate. Instead of finding a solution in human civilization, humanity is denied.
This kind of egotistical self-denial is no overstepping the boundaries of private life and find their way to the public realm of parliament. And that is how egotistical self-denial is projected out into the realm of ideology and political action. This is particularly the case for the Party of the Animals’ law now being passed, but equally for the Party of the Freedom of Geert Wilders and the other parties in the Dutch parliament who (with exemption of the Christian parties) almost unanimously voted in favor of the ban on ritual slaughter.
Not the referral to the Holocaust in which ritual slaughter was banned early on by the nazi’s should be leading in the outrage of the religious, particularly the Jewish community by this law. Rather should it be the overall recognition that today’s shift in the Dutch political landscape underlying this ban, is one away from the recognition of life as it is, that is of a life full of pain and suffering but also full of beauty that overcomes human fallibility through civilization. Accordingly the outrage should be focused on an angst for laws that deny this vital part of humanity, and try and root humanity and human fallibility, suffering and pain out by law and by law only.