Animals have rights too!

Written by Kim Stallwood  •  Features  •  November 2010 PDF Print E-mail

1-1Early this year SouthAsia magazine performed an unprecedented service by publishing Animal Rights-2010. This comprised a series of animal-related articles throughout the year with a Special Section appearing in the October 2010 issue of the magazine.

Animal Rights or Animal Liberation should not be viewed as a foreign moral code being imported into Pakistan. As a matter of fact, its seed was sowed in the land of Harappa and Taxila where Buddhism once flourished, and which now form part of Pakistan. Buddhism emphasizes doing no harm to animals. Islam, the religion followed by most Pakistanis, also supports the ethical treatment of animals as can be learned from Norm Phelps’ article, “Sacrifice in Islam,” in the September issue of the magazine.

Abu ‘L’Ala Ahmad ibn ‘Abdallah al-Ma’arri (973-1057), the Muslim mystic from Syria, was reputed to defend animals and disdain their poor treatment. (’arri.htm).


In the latter part of the last century, the late Imam Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, a graduate from the prestigious Punjab University in Pakistan and former Imam of the Woking Mosque near London, revitalized animal rights awareness in the Islamic world with his writings and speeches. ( and (

From a global and secular perspective, thinkers, artists and philosophers, from Pythagoras (6th century B.C.) and DaVinci (16th Century) to the more recent thinkers and playwrights like Emerson, Kafka and Shaw, very passionately expressed their views for animals. The contemporary animal movement in form of animal welfare took off in the late 1800s and early 1900s as related social movement to Women’s Suffrage.

Two notable episodes in the history of the animal welfare movement are the story of the Old Brown Dog and a public meeting involving MK Gandhi.

Two of the first women ever to study medicine did so to equip themselves to be more effective campaigners against animal research. At London University they witnessed the same dog be experimented upon twice in contravention of the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. This became a major story in a popular newspaper which was then subject to a libel lawsuit. The newspaper lost but it used the proceeds from a defense fund to erect a statue in a London park commemorating what became known as the old brown dog. The statue was later removed when riots took place between medical students, who objected to it, and local park residents and suffragettes and anti-vivisectionists. A new Old Brown Dog statue was installed in a London park near the original in the 1980s.

MK Gandhi was a guest speaker at a public meeting of the London Vegetarian Society in 1931. He explained how his commitment to vegetarianism was reaffirmed because of a book by Henry S. Salt he discovered in a vegetarian restaurant in London.  Salt, who founded the Humanitarian League in 1891 and wrote the groundbreaking treatise “Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress,” shared the platform with Gandhi. Thus, it’s possible to draw a link between the traditions of nonviolence and vegetarianism.1-2

It was not until the 1970s and 1980s with the publication of Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation” and the emergence of animal activism launched by such groups as PETA and many others that the philosophy of animal rights, which opposed any form of animal exploitation, became prominent in public awareness.

So, what do animal rights mean? And why does it increasingly matter? There are three ways to think about animal rights: ethically, politically and personally. The moral case for animal rights rests on what I call the three traditions of animal ethics: utilitarianism, natural rights philosophy, and ecofeminism.  Utilitarianism asks that decisions are made on the satisfaction of preferences based upon the equal consideration of interests of those concerned. Singer takes this approach to animal ethics in “Animal Liberation” published in 1975. Tom Regan in his book “The Case for Animal Rights” maintains that animals, like humans, are “subjects of a life” and therefore, entitled to natural rights. Ecofeminism, as expressed by Carol J. Adams in “The Sexual Politics of Meat”  and Marti Kheel in “Nature Ethics”  proposes a concern for animals (individuals and populations) based upon empathy and care, which is placed within the larger social and political context of nature.

Even though the three traditions in animal ethics take different approaches, they all agree that animals be included in the sphere of our moral concern. They take the position that animals are sentient beings who live a life as important to them as ours is to us. This is why when we move forward from questions of morality to applied ethics, the practical application of a moral system to social and political issues, animal rights takes the political position that animals are as entitled to civil rights as we are. Here, it is not unusual for someone to challenge the notion of animal rights by countering that it is ludicrous to claim dogs are entitled to vote. I would agree with them, of course, as this is not what animal rights means. Civil rights for animals is about them living their lives free from us experimenting with their bodies, killing them for food, torturing them for entertainment, racing them for amusement and so on. Existing legislation largely addresses the conditions in which we use animals. These animal welfare laws are premised on the prevention of unnecessary suffering and humane slaughter. From an animal rights perspective, however, this is unacceptable as no suffering is ever necessary and no slaughter is ever humane.
On a personal level, then, we may not be able to change the world, but we can certainly change the world that is ours. Animal rights mean living with compassion. We can boycott animal products and services whenever possible. We can try to live as a strict vegetarian (a vegan) and reject all meat and fish and eggs and dairy products, including milk and cheese. Controlling what happens in our private life is one thing but when we step outside our homes, well, we are not always in control. This is why I view being vegan as a journey and not as a destination. The important point here is that at a personal level there is much that everyone can do to withdraw their support from animal exploitation. Various articles published throughout the year in this magazine have addressed these issues. They are available to read on the magazine’s web site.
As public awareness of animal exploitation grows, the animal rights movement is being taken increasingly seriously by the policy makers, opinion formers and the media, including this magazine.

Today, even in developing counties like Pakistan, efforts of groups such as Pakistan Animal Welfare Society, Animal Save Movement Pakistan, Edhi Foundation, and Brooke Hospital for Animals are being increasingly recognized and supported by compassionate citizens of the country. Something that just a decade or two ago would have been unthinkable.

Kim Stallwood is an independent author, scholar and advisor on animal rights. He is also European Director of the Animals and Society Institute.
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