From ‘Sheep for ritual: Be prepared for alternative arrangements, says PM’, 27 Oct 2012, article by Dylan Loh, Today online.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that Singapore should prepare for the possibility that Australia may, like New Zealand, ban live animal exports completely, as Australian animal welfare groups are pressing strongly for this. Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, he said both he and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim were initially worried that the Korban ritual in Singapore might be affected by Australia’s stringent new regulations on live sheep exports.
Fortunately, 16 mosques passed the Australian audits and were able to import 2,500 sheep, which arrived on Thursday morning and were sent to the mosques for yesterday’s Hari Raya Haji ritual. Those involved in the ritual have been trained to treat livestock in line with international animal welfare standards. There are another two days of audit to get approval for the sheep slaughter practices for next year’s Korban.
Mr Lee, who recently met Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Canberra, had thanked her for her government’s help on the matter, and she told him that her government wants to continue exporting live animals. While both countries are working out a long-term solution on the supply of sheep for the ritual, Mr Lee also noted yesterday that Singapore should be prepared for alternative arrangements in future.
I’m going to come right out and say that though I’ve never witnessed a Korban ritual, the thought of an animal being held down while fully conscious, having its throat sliced across and head yanked from its trachea, blood splattering all over the place in honour of a higher power bothers me, to put it mildly. Supporters of this squeamish rite may argue that’s the ‘traditional’ way of getting meat on our plates anyway, and accuse anyone crying foul over its cruelty and ‘barbarism’ as being a hypocrite. According to a snap poll on Huffington Post, these were the results of people asked if they thought Korban was ‘inhumane’ and ‘antiquated’.
It’s understandable that the Australian government is reluctant to sell us their sheep, having to face formidable pressure from animal rights activist groups like ‘Stop Live Exports.org’. The truth is we’ll never know what it’s like to squeeze with other animals on a long flight, paraded in front of worshippers, dragged and strung into a corner against your wishes and wrestled to the ground whilst totally aware of the bloody end to come. We only see the grim, sometimes resigned, faces of animals in Korban images, we don’t hear their gruesome cries of agony (If you’re REALLY interested, just Youtube ‘korban’). I rooted for the little guy who escaped from the clutches of mosque folk in a previous Korban in 2010. It got killed anyway. I couldn’t view an episode of Lamb Chops Play Along without turning away.
Yet, we still have some devotees accusing Yaacob of being a ‘useless Minister of Muslim Affairs’ for not being able to secure enough sacrificial animals or being ‘fleeced’ by Godless Western powers. People are instinctively hopping mad at sheep-curbing regulations without asking WHY these regulations exist. I’m not sure if MUIS would tender for CAMELS if goats, sheep and cattle are all struck by mad (insert animal here) disease.
Maybe korban culture is something we’re just AFRAID of questioning or opening for debate, given how potentially sensitive and emotionally charged it could be. There MUST be sheep as there must be blood. No two ways about it. The local animal rights groups are conspicuous by their silence, not even commenting on the Australian resistance to sheep exports. You could treat sheep with first-class hospitality like Kai Kai and Jia Jia, make sure they’re free of disease and not subject to cramped conditions, that is UNTIL you begin to sharpen the blade and prepare the beast for the kill. It’s like cannibals fanning you with palm leaves, feeding you grapes and massaging your thighs before suddenly hanging you upside down and cracking your head open with a bone axe.
The need to ‘respect’ others’ beliefs forces upon us the dilemma of an ethical double standard in the way we rally against ill-treatment of other animals. We race against time to save wild boars, prevent dolphins from being exploited as RWS playthings, put a bounty on cat killers, consider culling pesky crows cruel, and even managed to get SHARK’S FIN banned at wedding dinners and NTUC. Yet we remain uncomfortably silent about thousands of sheep made to travel thousands of miles in packed containers to be sent to a horrifying, ritualistic demise all over the world. If a symbolic deed obligates us to ‘respect’ it because generations of believers swear by it, does that make it immune from scrutiny or criticism?
Let’s look at Vesak Day for example. Recently NPARKs issued an advisory against releasing caged animals into the wild, which many devotees would also consider a significant ‘ritual’ in Buddhism. The President of the Buddhist Fellowship even encouraged believers to ‘reduce meat intake’ all year round rather than release animals which wouldn’t survive outside. I’m not aware of anybody bashing NPARKs for their intervention, and calling them ‘USELESS’ for curtailing a religious practice. I suppose some Buddhists will still release their pet tortoises into the sea, though I’d imagine these doomed animals would have a couple of things Korban lambs would ‘die’ for 1)A fighting chance and 2)A taste of freedom.
We don’t stone adulterers to death, burn widows at the stake, disembowel animals to tell the future from their intestines, or get to eat shark’s fin soup at a friend’s wedding anymore, though these were once widely viewed as ‘tradition’, so maybe we shouldn’t be so ‘sheepish’ about taking a fresh perspective of Korban rituals too.