Monday, August 16, 2010

Spanish Bullfighting - Culture or Torture?

Anti bullfighting demonstrators in Madrid, 2009

Alan Clendenning published an interesting article on the contentious issue of bull-fighting in Spain (Read the article here at Spain's leading opposition party have proposed to preserve the art of bullfighting as an important part of their nation's cultural heritage.

This follows a ban of bullfighting in the Spanish community of Catalonia when its regional parliament voted in favour of amending animal protection legislation to include the protection of bulls.

What is considered a historic victory for animal rights activists is understood as cultural treason by bullfighting supporters. Both sides raise valid arguments, but where do we draw the line between torture and tradition?

It is worth noting that unlike similar animal rights issues (Whaling in Japan, for instance) there is strong opposition to bullfighting from within Spanish culture. In March of this year thousands of anti-bullfighting demonstrators marched on Madrid condemning the practice as a form of torture.  It is reported that over 70 percent of the population in Madrid reject these acts of barbarism, describing it as a 'national shame', and the ban in Catalonia was supported by a petition signed by over 180, 000 voters.

Bullfighting is an important part of Spanish culture. Its origins date back to 711AD, and has since become the iconic entertainment of Spain, and a must-see tourist attraction. Approximately 24, 000 bulls are killed each year in front of an audience of 30 million. Outlawing this tradition is going to cost Spain thousands of jobs, millions of dollars, and of course, the ultimate sacrifice of its cultural heritage.

However, tradition is often sacrificed to serve the greater good. If the Romans were still slaughtering people in the Gladiator arena, would that be accepted as simply, 'a valuable part of their cultural heritage?' Somehow, I don't think so. If the locals of Mississippi, USA still burned alive innocent African Americans in a 'socially acceptable racist ritual', would we, today, turn a blind eye? I believe not. While human rights are generally more protected than animal rights, the severity of bullfighting compared with these historical examples is not the point I am trying to make. The point is - culture evolves. Historically, when people realise that something is wrong, something no longer works, or something violates the rights of a sentient being, people bring change to ensure this 'something' is resolved, repaired, or removed.

It is natural for some Spaniards to cling to their heritage. Cultural preservation is usually in a country's best interests. But, people are culture. When a high percentage of the population voice a disinterest or opposition to this ancient tradition this voice deserves to be heard, and the idea of change needs to be considered. It is, and should remain, a Spanish issue. Bullfighting is in their blood - but just how much more blood needs to be spilled?

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