Which part of ‘Animal Rights’ is so goddamn difficult to understand?

Or else, we simply resign ourselves to the fact that… well, we really are all living in an ‘Orwellian dystopia’, after all

What can I say? It’s just another of those Maltese political oxymorons, that could easily have been lifted directly from George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. 

Believe it or not: the following are all recent quotes from Malta’s newly-appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights’, Dr Alicia Bugeja Said. 

1) “Tomorrow, the hunting season for turtle-dove will open, as planned. I am satisfied with the work that has been done to safeguard the traditions that make us Maltese. I wish all hunters a good and responsible season”. 

2) “People have the right to observe captive, exotic animals in their own country” [Note: this is not an exact quote, but a paraphrase of a much longer argument on this week’s ‘Xtra’. I do recommend that you watch the clip.]

3) “Zoos serve a number of functions, including crucial research in preserving animal genetics […] The zoo legislation will see amendments which would see the zoo operators having to carry out research on conservation.”

And OK, I’ll stop there: because the resemblance should already be obvious, by now. Let’s face it: none of the above is altogether very different from, let’s say… ‘The Ministry of TRUTH’ (which was actually responsible for Big Brother’s government propaganda machine); or ‘The Ministry of PEACE’ (which was responsible for… erm… ‘WAR’); and of course, everyone’s all-time favourite: ‘The Ministry of LOVE’… you know, where dissidents like Winston Smith were subjected to the most horrific forms of torture imaginable (but ‘lovingly’, of course…)

Our particular version, however, is called the ‘Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Animal Rights’; and it seems that – on all three of those counts– it takes just the same sort of perverse approach as Big Brother, when it comes to twisting its own declared aims into their exact, diametric opposites. 

So let’s take them one by one, shall we? 

Actually wait, no… on second thoughts, I’ve decided to save ‘agriculture’ for another time. Partly because it would require several editions of this newspaper – or ‘gigabytes of your computer’s RAM’, depending how you’re actually reading this – to even fit it all in… and partly also because, to be fair, this is not exactly an issue you can pin directly on any old ‘junior minister’, either.

No, I’d say the responsibility runs just a little higher up the government hierarchy, than that. Even though there is, admittedly, still quite a lot Dr Bugeja Said could be saying about the issue, right now. 

We are, after all, living at a time when unprecedented amounts of agricultural land are being ‘gobbled up’ – acre, by precious acre… and right on the eve of a global food crisis, too! – to satisfy the insatiable greed of just a handful of developers; and not to mention, when farmers are being openly muscled off their land… often as not, to accommodate the government’s own latest infrastructural project (which, funnily enough, also calls to mind a certain other 20th century literary classic: John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’...)

But that’s about as far as I’ll go with agriculture, for today. And for much the same reason, I’m tempted to close an eye at the ‘fisheries’ part, too (although it does become slightly more difficult, when you also consider that – quote, unquote – “Major players in the fisheries industry made campaign contributions to the junior minister responsible for the sector, Alicia Bugeja Said…”. ‘Nuff said.)

For now, however: it’s the ‘Animal Rights’ part that interests me a whole lot more.  Even for the simple reason that – at the risk of sounding a little ‘unkind’ – it is the only part of that entire parliamentary secretariat’s portfolio, that actually does have any kind of real ‘meaning’, in of and of itself.

Which is not to say, of course, that the other two – agriculture and fisheries – are ‘meaningless’, or anything… it’s just that: well, we all know that Alicia Bugeja Said in not individually responsible for either of those sectors, in any practical sense. For one thing, there’s the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries a whole rung above her, in that same ‘government hierarchy’ I mentioned earlier… and for another: while it might be (part of) her job to implement government’s policies… she doesn’t actually formulate those policies herself; and in any case, she is simply (no offence) way, way too far down the government chain of command, to actually make all that much of a difference anyway.

But when it comes to ‘Animal Rights’? In Malta? Sorry, but that’s a whole different (wildlife) park…

On this level, it’s a bit like that same Orwellian ‘inversion’: only the clean other way round. If Alicia Bugeja Said languishes towards the very bottom of the government food-chain, so to speak, when it comes to all the rest of her portfolio: on Animal Rights, she suddenly shoots all the way up to the very top. 

She becomes, in fact, the issue’s ‘apex predator’… that is to say, the only government representative, at any level, who is not only ‘responsible’ for, but also officially supposed to speak out on behalf of (and ‘give a voice to’, and all the rest of that crap)… – 

… ANIMALS, DAMN IT!  Animals! NOT bloody humans! (I mean, come on… it really isn’t THAT difficult to understand, is it?)

But anyway: I apologise for that sudden outburst, of course, but – DAMN IT! – that’s precisely what I meant by the fact that Animal Rights assume a certain added significance, in this particular context. It is one thing, I suppose for your Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Fisheries to openly defend the sectoral policies (however ‘indefensible’ they may be) of a government they just so happen to form part of themselves…. 

But for your ‘Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights’, to so openly subvert the entire purpose and function of her entire office, to uphold the ‘rights’… not just of ‘humans in general’ (which would already be bad enough); but no: of those specific categories of humans who just happen to be in the business of ‘exploiting’, ‘killing’ or otherwise ‘harmin’ animals’, for their own personal gain. (Seriously, though: is it even possible, that I’m the only one seeing a teenie-weenie little contradiction, there?)

So to return to those quotes, above: isn’t that exactly what we’re being told, in all of them? I.e., that the rights of humans – including certain ‘rights’ that, quite frankly, don’t even exist at all – have to automatically take precedence over the rights of animals, each and every single time? 

Yes, even at a time when – at the risk of over-elaborating the bleedingly obvious – those ‘humans’, in particular, don’t actually need any ‘Animal Rights’ legislation to protect them, you know. Actually, they all seem to do pretty well for themselves right now, thank you very much. (In fact, some of them are doing so exceptionally well, that they’re even funding both Labour, and Nationalist, electoral campaigns…) 

But anyway: there you have it, I suppose. We now have a Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights who (among other things) ‘welcomes’ – may, ‘applauds’! – the declaration of a hunting season for… turtle-dove, no less: a bird which just happens to be classified as ‘vulnerable’, by the IUCN…

… which is only one step away from ‘endangered’; and therefore, only two small steps away from… EXTINCTION.

And what takes automatic precedence, in government’s list of priorities? (Because for reasons already explained: on this issue, alone, Dr Bugeja Said is the ‘Number One Government Spokesperson’, par excellence). Why, that the hunters’ right to enjoy their precious ‘delizzju’, is far more urgent than the need to actively protect the conservation status of what is, effectively, a ‘threatened species’…

And when it specifically comes to the issue of ‘New Regulations for the Keeping of Wild Animals in Malta’ [note: I wrote about this last Sunday, so I’ll try to keep repetition to a minimum]… she practically spelt it out to us herself, in no uncertain terms: “People have the right to observe captive, exotic animals in their own country”, remember?

Erm: sorry to inject yet another small contradiction here, but… No, actually. They don’t.  

In fact, I’m sort of curious to know where this bizarre notion even sprang from, in the first place. Certainly, it wasn’t from any of the European or United Nations Conventions or Charters; or even from any of the other declarations of (human or civil) rights that we may have ratified, over the years...

But whatever the case: make no mistake. There is absolutely no such thing as a ‘right’ to observe wild animals (‘exotic’, or otherwise) in captivity, in the comfort and convenience of your very own ‘natural habitat’…

… not at the best of times: but least of all, when so many of those ‘zoo animals’ are also known to be kept in such woefully substandard (and, above all, ILLEGAL) conditions…

… and certainly not when some of these so-called ‘zoo-keepers’ we’re talking about, have so recently – and so ferociously, too! – pretty much ‘throttled’ all their critics into silence (just like one of their own caged leopards might one day do to themselves; if they happened to be ‘gazelles’ instead of ‘humans’ …)

No indeed. Under those circumstances, there are only two possibilities that we are left to contemplate. Either we simply change the name of the Parliamentary Secretariat itself to… I don’t know: ‘Society for the Protection and Care of Animal-Exploiters’, perhaps? (On the plus side: the acronym would at least remain the same)...

Or else, we simply resign ourselves to the fact that… well, we really are all living in an ‘Orwellian dystopia’, after all