Banning cats and dogs

The decision to implement a ban on the sale of cats and dogs in Saudi Arabia is actually at odds wit

The Saudi authorities need a refresher course on Islamic law and history. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has banned the sale of cats and dogs and prohibited people from taking their animals with them in public.

The ban seems to be prompted by their concern that Saudi youths are acting under the influence of western culture. But they have their history mixed up: the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslim scholars established rules for animal welfare and required people to show respect and compassion for animals long before the west even emerged from its dark ages.

The earliest generations of Muslims established pious endowments to feed cats, dogs, donkeys, and horses. They funded water troughs for work animals; the remains of these troughs can still be seen today in Cairo, for example. The prophet was kind and compassionate to all animals, no matter how small, and angered when companions took away the babies of a bird, causing the mother bird to become agitated. He ordered them to return the babies to the nest. Dogs even entered mosques in the time of the prophet.

The Commission claims that dogs cannot be kept in homes, but this is a misreading of the sayings of the Prophet. Several of these sayings required that dog ownership be for a lawful purpose. In the early period, this might have meant for agricultural purposes or hunting. Today, many different purposes could be lawful.

Animals provide companionship in ways that have been documented scientifically. The elderly live longer, children learn responsibility, and families come together. Dog owners are healthier. A family walking their dog together in the evening provides exercise and quality family time. But the saying means that owning a fancy pure bred dog merely as a status symbol is not a lawful purpose, and for good reason. It is cruel to the animal to treat the responsibility of pet ownership like buying a new car or piece of jewelry.

Personally, I don’t care for breeders and pet shops, because animal shelters are already full with beautiful animals, many full breeds, needing good homes. And many of those shelter animals are the cats and dogs that people bought on a whim from a pet shop and then later realized that they didn’t want the responsibility. But banning pet shop sales harms only the animals who are brought into this world and need good homes.

What does Islamic law and history suggest that we do regarding pet ownership today? Educate people on animal welfare to learn the basics of responsible pet ownership before adopting an animal from a pet shop or shelter. Require people to spay or neuter their pet to prevent the senseless deaths of all the unwanted pets in shelters around the world. Establish licensing laws so that people have to maintain required vaccinations for a healthy pet population. Offer dog training courses in the communities so people have well-behaved dogs.

To be true to Islamic law and history, the Commission should tax sales of animals at pet shops and then give those funds to animal shelters to care for animals in need, such as the many injured and helpless street cats and dogs who require medical attention and rehabilitation.

The world desperately needs leaders in animal welfare and the west has shown many failings in this area throughout history. But instead of spending their time and energy on laws that do nothing for the animals and are actually un-Islamic, the Saudi authorities should build upon their Islamic past and lead the world in championing the cause of animal welfare.

Kristen Stilt is Associate Professor of Law and History at Northwestern University and vice president of the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times