The pig, unfortunately for us Malaysians, is an animal that represents a very real divisive politico-religious-social issue, because to Muslims it’s religiously an unclean animal and thus haram [forbidden, not kosher], while to non-Muslims especially the southern Chinese, the stock most Chinese Malaysians are from, it’s the source of a delicious and popular meat.
To non-Muslim Chinese Malaysians, the pig continues to be a significant part of so many aspects of their culture. For those who can afford them, roast pigs are used in cultural, religious and social ceremonies such as offerings to deities, pre-wedding exchange of gifts with new in-laws, funeral offerings, Cheng Beng festivals, pièce de résistance at birthday dinners, etc.
Then there is the uniquely world famous Malaysian bah-kut-teh, a popular pork herb-soup dish that started its fame in Klang before sweeping through the country. Now, foreigners ask for it even in Asian grocery shops overseas.
A secret about bah-kut-teh - KTemoc would swear to it as a sure cure for hamgovers. It became so popular that some years ago, an attempt was made to make the dish (not its pork component, just the herb soup) available to people who don't or can't take pork - the chick-kut-teh was then introduced but it didn't quite catch on.
Another dish, kuan loh mee (wheat noodles associated with wan tan) wouldn't be quite the same without char siew (barbeque pork) or siew yok (roast pork). The list goes on.
All the above Chinese delicacies are of course forbidden to Muslims, who viewed the meat as unclean stuff, and for some of them, also utterly repugnant.
However, one of the oft-heard complaints from non-Muslim has been the unequal treatment by Muslim-dominated city councils and municipalities. At some public centres where food are served, the authorities would ban food stalls dealing with pork, such as wan tan noodles.
This complaint is genuine not so much because pork-related food stalls had been banned per se, but more because, as non-Muslims would point out with much chagrin, beef-related food has not been banned even though the meat is haram (forbidden) to Hindus and some sects of Kuan Yin (Buddists) & specific Chinese deities (Taoist).
They have been and still are infuriated by the double standards, where pork would be banned while beef was not, show-casing the insensitive and hurtful bias of Malaysia's authorities towards non-Muslim citizens. For example, I come from a family where beef is haram to some members. My mum and sis just can't eat or even smell beef - they would throw up, and I believe both would rather die of hunger than ever touch beef.
A (very staunch) Hindu friend and I had beef served to us while we were at a centre run by government authorities. I wasn't even asked whether I could take beef but it's fortuitous that I don't subscribe to my mum's religious belief, and eat anything under the sun! My Hindu friend went ballistic not so much because the centre had served beef to him but because when he told the manager he's a Hindu and couldn't eat beef, the manager responded insensitively, "I don't see what's wrong with eating beef?"
Imagine what if the table has been turned around ...?
Well, guess what my Hindu friend told the Muslim manager? Guess why the manager was so mad with my pal? He (the manager) seemed to have forgotten his earlier "I don't see what's wrong with eating ..." philosophy.
Of course most fair-minded non-Muslim Malaysians understand that it’d be only natural for Muslims to want the domestic variety of this animal and its farming rid of from Malaysia. Lately the complaints of pigs' excrement polluting rivers and other water sources have re-emerged. We recall that recently the Malacca government had threatened to close all pig farms in that state.
There is no doubt that pig farming had contributed to pollution though it's not the only cause - in fact there are worse. Unfortunately because of the religious-emotional implications the solution seems to be to ban pig rearing rather than enforced strict health and hygiene controls over pig farming activities.
Even Dr Jacob George, president of the Consumer Association of Subang and Shah Alam (Cassa) has called for pig farms to be shut down completely. He said that a comprehensive study would show that the pig farms in the country had been badly managed, resulting in the pollution of water catchment areas over the past four decades.
If my English is not too dodgy, and do excuse me if it is, Dr George’s use of the verb ‘… would show …’ in his assertion, as reported by Malaysiakini, means that such a study had not yet been carried out. In other words, he has only made a guess-timate to his asserted outcome of such a study.
While I do share his concerns and indeed respect his expert assessment (even the guess-timate as it might have been), I am extremely disappointed by his approach to the proposed solution. Why hasn't he demanded instead that the piggeries be made to comply with environmental rules that western countries have successfully enforced on their pig farms?
I have been tempted to liken his solution to President Bush's argument to attack Iraq for the incident of 9/11 because Saudis and Egyptians perpetrators were responsible for attacking America - OK, maybe it's not deserving of that analogy but I am still disappointed by his lack of alternative solutions, many of which could easily be adopted from the West.!
Then Dr George's reason become clearer as I read on. Malaysiakini quoted him saying that the radical idea, namely banning pig rearing, almost like what was proposed by blogger Aisehman a couple of years ago, “must be pushed through to safeguard the interest of Malaysia’s multiracial population, resources and environment”.
If he didn’t use the term ‘multiracial’ his proposal would have been seen to be more scientific-based, but obviously Dr George has factored in the socio-politico-religious factor. If I may reiterate, the pig is both an abhorrent and popular creature, depending on which Malaysian sees it! I find it difficult to support his proposal to ban pig rearing because he has omitted examining all possible remedies.
The pig is reared successfully in many western countries, outstanding examples being Denmark and Australia, where piggeries are very well kept and maintained to the highest health and hygiene standards. Denmark has been doing so with the highest standard of hygiene for eons, making pig related products a multi-billion dollar export item. Many may not realise that the pig and its pork were once Malaysia’s multi-billion ringgit export item too.
As mentioned, because of the religious-emotional factor, these facts seem lost on some of our ban-the-pig advocates.
Meanwhile the far greater and prevailing danger of avian flu hasn’t merited the same degree of abhorrence or even fear to motivate demand for the total banning of fowls, including ridding Malaysia of chicken farms completely and indeed unhealthy hobbies like birds rearing or pet keeping, which under conditions of the current pandemic threats, should be considered as unnecessary and dangerous and an unmitigated health hazard.
Instead, in the face of such pandemic threats I hear but only deafening silence and a total absence of proposal to eliminate anything fowl-ish in Malaysia. The energy has been channelled towards eliminating pigs.
But alas, when emotions step in, logic and consistency of arguments must exit! It's a pity that a pair of pigs, and indeed birds, chickens, cows, rats, etc, were allowed on board Noah's (pbuh) Ark.