A New Year’s resolution: Dare to be kind

Many know Leonardo da Vinci as the Italian Renaissance genius who painted the Mona Lisa. Few are familiar with Leonardo’s moral views. Not only was he a generous humanitarian, but he also cared deeply about animals. One of his earliest biographers, Giorgio Vasari, assures us that Leonardo was “fond of all animals, ever treating them with infinite kindness and consideration.” As proof, Vasari recounts stories of encounters Leonardo had with bird traders in the market. On such occasions, Leonardo would often buy birds, and then release them into the sky. He could not bear to see an animal of the air confined to a small cage. Leonardo’s compassion was not restricted to birds though. It is said that he abhorred violence toward any animal. The Italian explorer Andrea Corsali, in a letter to his patron, reported that the members of a people he came across on a trip to pre-colonial South Asia “are so gentle that they do not feed on anything which has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.” Leonardo himself wrote that, rather than being the king of all animals, man is the king of all beasts, as he has made his gullet “a tomb for all animals.” From this, and other historical evidence, we may conclude that Leonardo was an ethical vegetarian. He refused to be a party to the unnecessary killing of animals, repulsed by the thought of other sentient beings having to surrender their precious and unique lives for his palate. This view was radical in Renaissance Italy, probably even more radical than it is in most societies today. Continue reading “A New Year’s resolution: Dare to be kind”

The Slave Market of Katabon

There is the kind of slavery that is confined behind closed doors: the doors of garments and leather factories, or the doors of our homes. Of course, we all know what happens behind these doors. Yet, we choose not to think about it too much, because we know it would upset us, because it would disturb the idyllic image we have of society. But sometimes, when a human slave is thrown into the public eye, we are forced to pay attention – as happened recently when Aduri was thrown into a dumpster. If that happens, we are outraged, as if we had not already known what happens in our neighbours’ houses. Part of what makes that inhumanity possible is the fact that “they” – domestic workers, garments and factory workers, etc. – are widely considered less-than-“us”. They are mere means to our ends, and their interests are somewhat less important than ours. That’s what too many of us think, or – at the very least – that’s how too many of us act. Continue reading “The Slave Market of Katabon”

The exploitation of animals: bad for us, bad for the environment, and bad for animals

On October 14, the Dhaka Tribune published an open letter, in which my co-authors and I, along with dozens of signatories, urge Muslims in Bangladesh to reconsider the practice of animal sacrifice on Eid al-Adha [1]. Six days later, the same newspaper published a response to our open letter by Muhammad Shafiullah (subsequently referred to as “the author”) who is pursuing his Ph.D. in Economics at Griffith University in Australia [2]. As both publications received a lot of attention in Bangladesh, particularly on social media, and raise fundamentally important questions about the relationship between humans and other animals, I decided to write this rebuttal. What follows are my personal thoughts which do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those who signed or co-authored the original open letter. Continue reading “The exploitation of animals: bad for us, bad for the environment, and bad for animals”

Moralisch schizophren

Am 13. Dezember berichtete die Ipf- und Jagst-Zeitung über einen besonders grausamen Fall von Tierquälerei, der sich vor einigen Wochen in Adelmannsfelden ereignete. Einem jungen Kater wurden fünf Gummibänder so um den Kopf gespannt, dass er keine Nahrung mehr zu sich nehmen konnte. Außerdem wurde ihm ein fingerbreiter Dübel in den Anus eingeführt. Glücklicherweise wurde der Kater gefunden und konnte gerettet werden. Bestürzt über die Tat setzte ein Tierfreund einen Tag nachdem über den Fall berichtet wurde eine Belohnung von 200 Euro für Hinweise aus, die zur Ergreifung der unbekannten Täter (des Täters, der Täterin) führen. Continue reading “Moralisch schizophren”

মুসলিম ভাইবোনদের প্রতি খোলা চিঠি

প্রিয় মুসলিম ভাই ও বোনেরা, মুসলিম জাতির জন্য আশির্বাদ ও বছরের আধ্যাত্মিক একটি উৎসব হিসেবে কুরবানী ঈদ আমাদের দ্বারপ্রান্তে। মক্কার পবিত্র মাটিতে লক্ষ লক্ষ ধর্মপ্রাণ মুসলমান পবিত্র হজ্জ্ব পালনের পরপরই আমাদের দেশে এই উৎসব পালিত হয়। আত্মীয় ও বন্ধুবান্ধবেরা একসাথে নামাজ আদায় করে, উপহার বিনিময় করে এবং ঈদের বিশেষ খাবার উপভোগ করে। এ বছরের এই বিশেষ দিনটি উদ্‌যাপনের প্রাক্কালে আমরা আপনাদের খোলা মন ও হৃদয় নিয়ে দিনটি পালনের কিছু দিক পুনঃবিবেচনা করার আমন্ত্রণ জানাচ্ছি। Continue reading “মুসলিম ভাইবোনদের প্রতি খোলা চিঠি”

Interview: African Philosophy, and non-human animals

reginald_oduorUniversity of Nairobi’s Reginald M. J. Oduor talks to Anteneh Roba and Rainer Ebert:

Q: Could you please introduce yourself and describe your academic career?

Dr. Oduor: I am a Kenyan, born in 1963 in Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley. However, my ancestral home is Ugenya, a part of the former Nyanza Province, now part of Siaya County. As I had total visual disability from the age of one, I studied at the Thika School for the Blind up to O-level. I then undertook my A-level studies at Thika High School, a regular boys’ school, where we were only two boys with visual disabilities; yet, the two of us came out top in a class of ninety-five boys. Continue reading “Interview: African Philosophy, and non-human animals”

Witnessing evil

A few months ago, I was on a motorcycle trip from my hometown in Germany to Cape Town in South Africa. While passing through the East African country of Tanzania, I encountered a packed bus, presumably on the way to Dar es Salaam. The bus had just passed me at considerable speed when I see a group of young goats at a distance of a few hundred meters slowly crossing the highway. There is no other traffic and one can clearly see the inexperienced animals, least bothered by the approaching danger. Continue reading “Witnessing evil”

Compassionate Eid: An open letter

Dear Muslim Brothers and Sisters, we are approaching a blessed and spiritual time of the year, Qurbani Eid, which comes after millions of devout Muslims complete their pilgrimage to the holy grounds of Mecca. Families and friends will come together for prayers, exchange gifts and enjoy special food. As we prepare to take part in this year’s holiday, we would like to invite you to reexamine some aspects of how it is celebrated with an open mind and an open heart. Continue reading “Compassionate Eid: An open letter”