10,000 for Western Imperialism

Westerners may have physically left their old colonies in Africa and Asia, but they retained them not only as markets but as locales on the ideological map over which they continue to rule morally and intellectually. – Edward Said

On September 3, In Defense of Animals launched an online petition with the aim of gathering 10,000 signatures from people pledging to support a total boycott of the entire country of Korea and all its products until Korea's Animal Protection Law is amended to strengthen the ban on the sale and consumption of dogs and cats. Currently the petition has over 9,000 signatures and is likely to surpass its goal by its seventh day.

In his book Yellow, Frank Wu recommends Asian Americans who are asked "Do Asians eat dogs?" to respond with the question, "What is the point of asking whether I eat dogs?" Building on Wu's recommendation, we might ask, "What is the point of campaigning against dog-eating in Korea?" I'm convinced the answer is that campaigns targeting dog-eating as a cultural practice, including I.D.A.'s anti-Korea campaign, are based on a subtext of Western supremacy, Orientalism and imperialism, as well as speciesism. Wu says:

Dog-eating becomes an excuse to make Asians the butt of jokes. Dog-eating is leveraged to disrespect complete cultures as primitive. Reducing the inhabitants of the Asian continent to dog eaters, defining them by a minor aspect of their multifaceted ways of life, becomes absurd. That characterization forms the basis for believing that Asians are inferior. The dogs are cute; the people are despicable. It is a circular trap. Only by assuming that American culture is superior can its vantage point be used to judge Asian culture in this regard. Insiders assume that their culture is superior. They find, based on their assumption, that it is so.

This is evident by I.D.A.'s campaign, which is more about leveraging disrespect for Korea and Koreans than it is about encouraging respect for dogs. As absurd as it is, I.D.A. and its campaign supporters are boycotting the entire country and its goods because they define the entire nation and its people by dog-eating alone. The subtext is indeed that Western culture is superior and is the appropriate moral ruler.

This is proven by the response from the campaign's own supporters. The overwhelming majority of personalized comments left by those who have signed the I.D.A. petition express a Western supremacist/Orientalist view supportive of the imperialist policy and practice of extending Western power, influence, and control through colonization, use of military force, and other means.

In his book, Wu suggests some guidelines for discussing dog-eating in a way that respects Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. He says:

If you can criticize my cultural practices, I should be able to criticize your cultural practices. The criticism must be reciprocal and between equals. If either of us calls on standards that are not generated within the culture we critique, we must do our utmost to make such standards as neutral as possible rather than just the enlargement of our preferences. It may be impossible to produce principles in a vacuum without the influence of our own backgrounds so as to bracket and set aside everything that is culturally specific, but at least we can become conscious of the constraints of either an Eastern or a Western worldview and compensate appropriately. Lest you be a hypocrite, you should be able to live up to the standards you would set.

I.D.A.'s anti-Korea campaign and similar campaigns by other organizations are not based on criticism that is "reciprocal and between equals." The campaigns target Asian and Pacific Islander people while specifically avoiding drawing attention to the Western traditions of eating other animals. The protectionist campaigns against dog-eating are not similarly calling for boycotts of nations that eat pigs, cows, chickens, or other animals classified in the West not as pets, but as "food." That these campaigns are based on hypocrisy is the unfortunate side effect of the Western supremacy/Orientalism that informs them.

This is unfortunate, because presumably nonhuman animal advocates would see the merit of a discourse of equals that also questioned the dietary-based oppression of other animals in the West. Wu says:

The meta-discourse about dog-eating – talking about how we can talk – turns out to be imperative. Setting the terms for the discussion becomes the discussion itself. The terms of discussion are transformed. The improved case against eating dogs that ought to commend respect, possibly the only case that merits notice, is the ascetic case for a vegetarian lifestyle. The prohibition against eating dogs becomes only a particular example in that line of reasoning. Many animal rights groups recognize as much.

It is this point, but not before, that the concession can be made that killing dogs to eat them is not a commendable activity. The dogs who are eaten are beaten to death to tenderize their flesh. They are intelligent enough to know about their impending execution; they are trusting enough to allow it and, most of all, they are feeling enough to experience pain.

Pursuant to the revised argument, the objection to eating dogs must be expanded to include other animals – for example, pigs. It should be extended to similar cases to prevent being suspect as a selective sensitivity.

It would be nice if it were true that most nonhuman animal advocates have recognized the need for a respectful, vegetarian-based discussion. However, the I.D.A. campaign is definitely an example of selective sensitivity, and fails to recognize the merits of a vegetarian argument that is equally critical in its condemnation of the Western cultural practices of eating other animals. By specifically selecting out dog-eating as a target, I.D.A.'s campaign implicitly endorses the Western cultural practices of consuming certain groups of animals. That is, I.D.A. is not opposing dog-eating on vegetarian grounds, but rather strictly campaigning to target Korea and Koreans as a whole, not just dog-eating, for not meeting an obviously arbitrary standard based entirely on Western cultural practices.

In effect, campaigns like this one are not only based on Western supremacist-Orientalist-imperialism, but are based on speciesism as well. The campaign is based in large part on the belief that dogs can and should be exploited by humans – only as pets, just not as "food." And again, the campaign fails by avoiding the very issue that would give it any hint of credibility: vegetarianism.

Petitions against countries we occupy militarily are classy.

It is apropos that this post fell on the 64th anniversary of the United States’ Occupation of the Korean Peninsula, which continues to this day. Accordingly, this is the only petition regarding Korea that I can get behind with its calls for "(1) Immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the Korean Peninsula; (2) End of U.S. obstruction and interference to inter-Korean unification and cooperation; (3) Normalization of U.S. relations with North Korea by signing a peace treaty and non-aggression pact ending all threats of pre-emptive military attacks and war."

Looking at this IDA fundraising page provides a clue about why a US-based organization would undertake this campaign. Why challenge the animal-eating of the people in your own backyard when you can instead get them to give you money by playing on and perpetuating their racism?

Re: 10,000 for Western Imperialism

Yeah lets screw over all of those human beings in that country in favor of the animals! Lets impoverish those bastards and steal away their chances to make an income, and strengthen their country... Obviously I am being sarcastic here.

Hurting humans for their choices to eat meat is wrong, and boycotting an entire country is just silly. What is the difference between eating a cat, a dog, a cow, or a frog. More power to those who want to live a meat free life, but there must be more productive and sensible ways of doing this than "support[ing] a total boycott of the entire country of Korea"

Re: 10,000 for Western Imperialism

I'm not defending IDA here... merely questioning targeting of IDA in the context of Orientalism ( as you call it, which is offensive in itself ). Are you saying that there is something unique in this campaign which is western imperialism? If that is what you are saying,then in practice it seems you would be against any US group protesting NON-US based animal abuse or use situations. So as an extension of this thinking US groups should not protest or have any international campaigns or awarenesss against Spanish Bullfighting, Canadian Seal Hunts, Chinese bear farms etc...because we don't participate in them and traditionally they are not ours. It seems as if you are saying...Hey US people lets only focus on our problems.

When you say "The protectionist campaigns against dog-eating are not similarly calling for boycotts of nations that eat pigs, cows, chickens, or other animals classified in the West not as pets, but as "food."...maybe...but there have been boycotts or suggestions of boycotts against Canada for the seal hunts, Spain for the Bullfighting etc.

Personally, I'm not offended by a campaign bringing awareness to any use/abuse. In as much, if there was a campaign saying "Boycott Spain for their continued acceptance of the bloodsport of Bullfighting" I wouldnt necessarily think "Oh theres an org spreading its western imperialism trying to get a European country to see our way is good and theirs bad"

Re: 10,000 for Western Imperialism

I am new to this page, so a lot of food for thought for me here, all vegan of course. I'm sure my signature is on said petition, but like many who signed I also condemn the exploitation and slaughter of other species for food. And, like mine, many of the comments were against the torture of the dogs. My concern is the trend towards excusing a cruelty because we are afraid of being labelled imperialist or racist, when those who protest that cruelty are the very people we should be embracing. Sure, there are a few who deserve that label, but they are either misguided by emotion or are bigots taking advantage of the opportunity. I would like to ask, if we take this argument to its logical conclusion, should we no longer protest the torture of dogs and cats in Asian countries (countries that also kill pigs, sheep, cows, chickens etc.), or the ritual torture and killing of animals in African countries, the bullfights in Spain, bear baiting in Pakistan, and so on? I expect to hear Korean and Chinese shopkeepers here in New Zealand telling me I have no right to protest (outside their stores full of fur) because I eat pigs, cows etc. (I don't, but...), however I don't expect fellow vegan animal rights activists to be telling me the same thing for signing a petition against the torture of dogs (and cats) in Korea.

Nonhuman Animal Adovcacy as Racism in a 'Post-Racial' World

Nothing in the original post represents any "trend towards excusing a cruelty." That said, there definitely is a trend among White/Western nonhuman animal advocates perpetuating racism and imperialism and operating from a colonialist mentality. The I.D.A. petition is a clear example of this sort of racism, for all the reasons listed in the original post above.

As I point out in the post, other options exist for challenging the oppression of nonhuman animals while refusing to play into racism and imperialism. So it is important to understand how an endorsement of the I.D.A. petition is in reality an endorsement of the racism and imperialism it represents.

There are certainly serious problem with White/Westerner nonhuman animal activists targeting Asian and African countries, as well as shopkeepers of African or Asian decent. This is because White/Westerner people in general have an ongoing legacy of dominating and oppressing nonwestern/people of color. Brigitte Bardot's well-publicized racism under the guise of concern for other animals is only the most obvious example of a problem that is all too common.

Even the best meaning White/Western nonhuman animal activists can easily perpetuate this legacy of racism and imperialism under "post-racial" racism. That is, the racism is hidden behind a cover of nonracial concern for the welfare of other animals. Oftentimes White/Western nonhuman animal activists don't even realize they are being racist. Yet if we read the majority of comments on the I.D.A. petition, we can see that you don't have to look very far to see the racist undertones.

We don't see these same sort of campaigns directed at White/Western nations. For instance, I.D.A. isn't calling for the complete boycott of New Zealand, although that country is systematically working to eliminate the brushtail possums. To this end, eighty percent of the deadly poison Compound 1080 produced worldwide goes to New Zealand. And all this is being done to protect the country's $8 billion beef and dairy industry. Furthermore, the entire extermination program is being promoted under a banner of nationalism.

The point of the original post (please reread it!) is that we can oppose the oppression of other animals without perpetuating racism and imperialism. However, when we treat nonhuman animal advocacy as a "post-racial" issue we inevitably end up perpetuating racism and imperialism while operating from a colonialist mindset. This is why White/Westerner nonhuman animal advocates need to constantly and consistently be consciously and actively antiracist if we want to avoid operating from and perpetuating systems of racist oppression, especially when doing cross-racial campaigns that involve nonwesterners/people of color.

Re: Nonhuman Animal Adovcacy as Racism in a 'Post-Racial' World

There's an excellent essay written by Glen Elder, Jennifer Wolch, and Jody Emel called "Le Practique Sauvage: Race, Place, and the Human Animal Divide." It describes very well how racism behaves in "animal advocacy" initiatives. Their analysis is more coherent and useful than their conclusion, though. They call for a "le practique sauvage" but it's not really clear for practical purposes except to say that we need to engage animal activism without disseminating racism and imperialism. But it's still a good read.