Like the toreadors themselves, these people are fearless, if not lacking a little sensitivity. However, a stand against cruelty of any kind is completely consistent with being part of any just and progressive society. This short article is intended to challenge some of the arguments made by the pro bullfighting traditionalists.
Will I be able to put a stop to bullfighting in Spain? Probably never, but the standard reply to the question, “Why don’t you like bullfighting?” will be less likely to result in prolonged and unremitting pain for the enquirer, but a rather more measured, “Read my blog, and then get a life!!!”
Firstly, we should never be afraid to speak out or be critical of things which are totally unacceptable. Bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing. For me, this includes the senseless mutilation and ritualized slaughter of bulls, purely for cruel blood-lust based entertainment. I believe there is no place for this as part of any modern civilized society and that it should be stopped.
Many Spaniards are against bullfighting ‘Corrida de Toros’ and parts of Spain have actually banned bullfighting. For example, a ban was put in place after a vote in the parliament of Catalonia which is due to come into force in 2012. Barcelona may not be as bad as my attempts at poetry would suggest! The vote may have been more to do with local nationalism than any great sense of moral outrage, but I applaud it all the same. The Canary Islands banned it in 1991, although perversely they still allow cock fighting.
There are many, many positive aspects of Spain and the culture, but I feel that bullfighting should be consigned to the history books, where young people in future generations will read about it and wonder how such cruelty could have been allowed to go unchallenged for so long.
It is tradition, it is heritage goes the familiar argument, but for me these hold no water. If this was the case, why do we no longer allow slavery or public executions? They were a big part of Roman culture, but whilst we have put aside many of the terrible acts that took place in the Colosseum, we tend to think of ancient Rome in more a positive light. We recall that the Romans invented concrete, we admire their architecture, engineering feats such as the aqueducts, central heating and even sewers. Education, structural engineering and technology were their real legacy, not the mutilation and torture of animals and humans alike.
Spain would not be Spain without bulls and bullfighting, is something that the protagonists frequently trot out as justification, but this is to turn a blind eye to the magnificent achievements of Spanish athletes or the huge contribution made by the Moors both culturally and in the field of medicine. Many surgical instruments used in modern procedures today differ very little from those brought to Spain by the Moors when they arrived in Castile-Leon in the year 711.
How can you criticize bullfighting if you have never attended a bullfight? I hear this quite often, and it consistently irritates me, as it implies passive acceptance on the part of the questioner. I often reply that in order to know something is wrong I do not first have to take part in it.
For example, you don’t need to steal from somebody in order to know that theft is wrong. In the same way I do not need to see a sentient and magnificent animal maimed, tortured and then killed (no matter how entertaining the method) in order to know that this is wrong. Before attending bullfights using this rather lame excuse, think about your humanity, your ability to empathize, your compassion and love of life. Without these qualities, can we really call ourselves civilized?
Frank Evans (a matador from England and not to be confused with the great late Jazz guitarist from Bristol) claims that there is a good deal of hypocrisy surrounding the calls to ban bullfighting. He points to the millions of animals killed in ritualized slaughter on religious grounds. Whilst I deplore the bleeding to death of animals to produce Halhal meat, I do differentiate between killing for food and killing for entertainment.
I have been told that it is bad form to cheer when a bullfighter gets injured or manages to impale himself on the horns. I for one, would take no pleasure in seeing this, but I believe the undoubted bravery of the matador is misplaced and that he does at least have some choice at to whether or not to stand in the path of an express train wearing pink leggings.
The bulls are purpose bred to be aggressive and the end of bullfighting would result in the destruction of the breeding stock. Again this is an absurd argument, as it implies that breeding to inflict suffering is OK. One could liken it to breeding children so that they can be later abused.
When I was a child I visited Spain from time to time with my grandparents. Just as today, the souvenir shops were full of bullfighting regalia. I remember being quite shocked at the children’s toys which featured clockwork bulls with barbed spears embedded in them. I remember asking my grandparents about this. Clearly it was something they felt uncomfortable talking about.
Years later I started to question how it was that toys like this could be regarded as suitable for children. I believe that we are all born with a sense of right and wrong, but parental guidance can play a big role with impressionable children, and it is this concept that is the cornerstone of Catholicism. Children are christened and later confirmed as Christians within the church. From an early age they learn not to question the existence of God and to have faith. However, in some cases they are also taught that animals do not have souls. Therefore there can be nothing wrong with bullfighting. After all, the bull is a fearsome and aggressive creature and quite possibly deserving of its fate.
Of course, who would not become a little aggressive after having being persistently skewered by barbed spears, or tormented by horsemen with swords and knives. However, I digress from what I see as the real issue here. We learn our compassion, we learn how to care and this is the role of parents and also for those of faith within the church. If the church or parents tell children that animals do not matter and that they do not have souls, so therefore will not be present in the after life, this can be taken at face value.
This twisted way of thinking, is further embedded in a child’s psyche by being taken to bullfights from an early age. You will see children cheering the matador on ringside, or watching the spectacle at home on high definition TV. Somehow, the costume, the drama and the sounds of the bullfight all play their part to add to the veneer of respectability through tradition. With many small towns each holding their own bull running events children grow up in a culture that accepts animal cruelty as the norm and find it difficult to understand why anyone would say otherwise.
So my challenge to the church is this. In which chapter of the Bible did Jesus say that it was OK to brutalize children by encouraging them to take part in the torment and torture of animals for entertainment?
Where does the Bible specifically say that animals do not have souls and should be treated worse than garbage? Children are our future, if we desensitize them to cruelty and aggression, what kind of world are we helping them to create? A world where mindless violence is acceptable, provided it’s entertaining?
A main tenant of Christianity is that ‘God is Love’ and whilst I do not accept the traditional view of God, I find it hard to believe that if he did exist, that he would be pleased with the news that nearly 250,000 bulls a year are dispatched in Spain for this twisted form of entertainment.
So come on, if you really love Spain or are a person of genuine faith, then you can’t support those that want to keep Spain shackled to the dark ages. Let’s go forward and celebrate the best of Spain. ¡Viva España!
Of course this is my own personal perspective. If you have differing views or want to add your voice to the debate, please feel free to contribute here. Keep it on topic and try to be nice.