27 May 2009

Bull fighting, no gracias

Choose life
Sunday 24 May 2009
Derek Wall
Morning Star.

I am very much on the election trail at the moment as a European election candidate.

I have been out and about on the party bus in Berkshire where I live, appeared at a couple of hustings, most notable for the fact that UKIP has not wanted to debate the fact that its former MEP Ashley Mote was imprisoned for fraud and joined a fascist group in the European Parliament with Mussolini's granddaughter.

I have also been answering an awful lot of emails. In fact, I have had well over a 100 emails as part of a League Against Cruel Sports campaign to end EU support for bullfighting.

I am well aware that readers of the Morning Star are not too impressed by party political pleadings. I had assumed this would not be a party political matter.

I naively thought that all candidates of all parties in the election would oppose cruelty to animals. After all, it's ethically wrong and hardly a vote winner.

In fact, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan seems to be quite keen on a bit of bullfighting. In a newspaper article entitled In praise of bullfighting a couple of years ago, he defended this "sport."

Hannan argued that it is a fair contest between matador and bull, a lucha or struggle between man - women killers are rare - and beast.

He argued that Europhiles want to abolish bullfighting because it is "traditional" and they have no respect for real cultural diversity.

Hannan conjured up Hemingway, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde to suggest that, "when the sword plunges, the crowd is left feeling purged - cleaner and nobler than when it entered the arena."

It's not difficult to debunk Hannan's arguments, which are essentially based on the fact that cruelty for pleasure is acceptable.

While I am not sure that all on the political right would share his enthusiasm for bullfighting, his take certainly has support within the political right. The left have not always been champions of animal welfare either.

Trotsky was a keen hunter, although I suspect he was more concerned with lunch than the thrill of the chase. Engels was a member of his local fox hunt in Cheshire, although he told Marx that this was to keep his cavalry skills up in case he was required to fight in a British revolution.

One of the reasons why I am a member of the Green Party is that the green movement has always promoted the welfare of all life rather than just humans.

I strongly believe those on the left should support animal welfare. The exploitation of animals for pleasure and profit seems to me to go together with the exploitation of other human beings for self-interest. Surely compassion for other species is bound up with compassion for other human beings.

One reason why both swine flu and the potentially far more dangerous avian bird flu have arisen is factory farming, where chickens and pigs are dosed with antibiotics because they are crowded so closely together in the name of profit. Antibiotics and antivirals breed resistant bugs that threaten humanity.

Equally, if we look at vivisection, pharmaceutical companies are motivated not by love of humanity but love of their margins. Animals are slaughtered in tests to produce new drugs to mimic existing patented products.

Scratch the surface most apparently complex ethical debates around animal welfare and human benefit and you soon find a profit motive that serves neither humanity or other creatures.

Hannan overlooked the fact that increasing numbers of Spanish voters find bullfighting appalling.

According to a Gallup poll in 2006, identified by Green MEP Caroline Lucas in an excellent article on her vigorous work to end this cruelty, 70 per cent of Spanish citizens either find the activity cruel or have no interest in it. Yet the Spanish government still subsidises bullfighting, as does the EU.

While Hannan defends the sport as an even match between matador and bull, the process is pretty sick.

Lucas writes: "The 'show' begins when the bull enters the arena and is provoked into charging several times, before being approached by picadores, men on blindfolded horses, who drive lances into its back and neck muscles.

"The matador appears and, after a few forced charges, tries to kill the bull with his sword. If he misses, he stabs the submissive animal on the back of the neck until it is paralysed. The idea is to cut the animal's spinal cord, but, if the matador botches the job, the bull may be fully conscious while its ears or tail are removed as trophies."

In Cuba, despite Hemingway's love of the sport bullfighting was banned long ago. Bullfighting has also been "traditional" in Venezuela, although it has now been banned by the mayor of the capital Caracas.

Hugo Chavez's United Socialist Party has also lined up on the side of animal liberation and is working to ban bullfighting in the whole country. There is a slogan that goes "Human freedom, animal rights! One struggle, one fight!"

Which pretty much sums up my attitude.


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