The evolution of human and animal rights

Jakarta Post, Al Makin, Yogyakarta | Wed, 06/22/2011 7:00 AM

Ethics and norms, by which individuals have lived with others in society and by which culture and civilization have progressed, have changed over time.

Driyarkara, an Indonesian religious leader and philosopher whose contribution to the nation’s struggle and development cannot be doubted, explained this in many of his works.

One can perhaps argue that ethics, an important human invention which in turn has prescribed how to behave with others properly, have progressed remarkably. Ancient and classical ethics, compared to modern ethics, sounds agonizing. Cruelty and brutality when attacking enemies, which are unbearable by modern standards, are painted on the canvases of ancient battles and wars.

The way in which men treated other men and other creatures has changed. In some ancient cultures, there are stories that kings maliciously beheaded their people. Those who opposed rulers were deemed criminals. Rebel leaders, considered sinners who acted not only against their rulers but also God, were crucified or hanged.

Thanks to modern democracy, which has guided us to be more sensitive to forms of oppression and injustice, show our standard of ethics has improved. Regimes cannot simply put those who demand “openness” and “transparency” simply to death, as is happening in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Rulers, who are ordinary people (just like us, prone to mistakes) chosen by others, are not descended from gods or goddesses.

As people around the world have become a single community, any misbehavior committed by any regime will concern all members of the global community. The Middle Eastern political outcry, which has spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria, is an issue not only for those who live in the region, but also those who live on other continents. We all realize that any political and economical turmoil in a certain region will affect the rest of the world.

People’s basic rights can never be abused. Nor can animals’ rights be neglected.

In many traditional societies, slaughtering animals for consumption can be cruel. But ethical standards are now improving. Before the world went online, torturing animals before their death could have been left unnoticed. But now, a record of slaughtering cows in the local slaughterhouses of Indonesia, and the way in which these animals were treated, has reached the global audience.

Despite continuing practices in many countries, the death penalty by way of hanging, shooting, injection and electrical shock, have now come under review. Protests by human rights activists against capital punishment are mounting.

Man is a carnivore. Killing other animals for food is unavoidable. But, current knowledge and technology show us how to kill animals with less torture.

During Idul Adha (the Islamic Day of Sacrifice), we witness people slaughtering chickens, goats and cows.

To slay a chicken, only two people are needed. One should hold two feet and wings, whereas the other can cut the throat. To kill a goat or cow, more people are involved. To calm down the might of the beasts, at least four people should hold the four feet tightly, whereas a man who is religiously authorized can cut the throat. Before their death, with blood bursting from the throat, these animals flounder.

For those who are not familiar with this traditional technique, it looks gruesome. On the other hand, modern procedures with shots, electricity and other methods can kill animals effectively and involves less torture.

Human life is sacred, Pope Benedict XVI said so. So is that of animals. Their lives and deaths should be respected.

However, evolution in human culture does not always run linearly. Some areas move forward. Others are backward. Notwithstanding the advancement of our knowledge about ethics and norms, we are still encountering abuses of human and animal lives.

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta.