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.