Halal


Rawalpindi, Pakistan: A butcher holds a knife after slaughtering a cow
Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP


After reading the caption to this image I couldn't help but think about the recent violence in Mumbai. The first I heard of the attacks was when I read a message from a friend letting me know he and his wife were at home and safe. Safe from what I wondered, and checked out the news to find out what was going on...

It seems as if the perpetrators were all of Pakistani nationality. This is not to say that this Pakistani butcher had anything to do with or condones these horrific events. On the contrary, I imagine he is more concerned with day to day living than senseless murder carried out in the name of some grand ideological struggle.

However, this is how my mind read this image:

This butcher probably killed a cow in line with the religious edicts of Islam (where the blood is drained from the body in a ritual slaughter involving the swift severing of the jugular) while in India cows are sacred animals not to be harmed. Considering the tensions between India and Pakistan are due in the main to the ethnic division along religious lines that was the basis for the creation of the two states - thanks to some post world war II political interferance by the British government - this image seems to allude to more than the everyday act of killing an animal for food. The focus on the butchers knife, the casual pose alluding to an act just performed, the cropping that excludes the face and transforms this butcher into an archetype and indeed the lack of anything in the image that identify this person as a butcher specifically all add to the ambiguity of this image. It is only the caption that grounds this photograph in the everyday. Without these words, it is a photograph that invites questions and gave me pause.




3 comments:

Stan B. said...

Visually arresting (and beautiful) photo that gives even confirmed meat eaters like myself pause to think.

joneilortiz said...

Unless, of course, to butcher *is* to 'senselessly murder'. That this image is even able "to allude to more than the everyday act of killing an animal for food" shows just how easily questions of violence against animals can be rerouted to issues concerning, ironically, violence against humans. In this rather cliched image, the animal is once again made into a 'metaphor' or 'conduit' for representing the preciousness of *human* life.

Tom White said...

There is a difference between killing for food and killing for political or idealogical gain. A big difference.

Personally speaking, I have the greatest respect for the animals I eat and have no qualms about killing for food, though the treatment of animals prior to this is a different matter.

However, the interesting thing for me here is how the caption altered my my own interpretation of the photograph. Having photographed people butchering and preparing animals for food myself, I found it curious how there are no specific indicators of this in the image - the blood and the knife and the anonymous torso in the setting of a street could allude to other acts of violence aside from that which is involved in the slaughter of a cow for food. Having learned that this is a butcher somehow made the image more mundane, yet given the region and recent events, managed to trigger some other connections in my mind. I just think it is fascinating how the mind can make these connections sometimes...