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Animal rights activism growing in Middle East

Allan Jacob / 29 July 2010

DUBAI — Last week’s protest outside the Dubai Zoo did not go too well for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but the group is braving on despite the setback.

There’s plenty of room for activism in the Middle East, the group says, because awareness is a precurser to changes in society. It plans to hire more campaigners in the region and a series of protests are on the cards in the Middle East and Australia to end the import of live animals.

Ashley Fruno, senior campaigner for the Asia-Pacific, sounds unruffled by the reception from the region when PETA protesters were packed off from the protest site in Dubai. She’s overwhelmed by reactions from the trip. ‘‘Since our demonstration, we have received dozens of emails from people all over the UAE,’’ she says.

The group has been campaigning on a small level in the Middle East for almost a decade, and activism has grown, it says. ‘‘The discussions on vegetarianism and animal transport are bigger than they have ever been. PETA has taken more trips to the Middle East recently because of the demand from members in the Middle East.’’

‘‘Animal rights is a newer concept in the Middle East, but it’s an important topic nonetheless. People are talking about it like never before, and we find that people are very curious about it.’’

Roping in more campaigners is a kind of natural progression in its efforts for the Middle East. ‘‘We’re looking at hiring. The reaction from this last trip has been phenomenal. This trip has already generated new highs of people in the Middle East visiting our web site.’’

Sheep imports from Australia to the region is what the group is now trying to put a halt to. ‘‘We’ve just created a new Arabic leaflet on the issue. And we’ll also start protesting in Australia regarding the live transport of animals to the Middle East. The sheep, the spent result of the wool industry, are dumped on the Middle East. This is the longest journey that live animals endure in the world, resulting in immense suffering including diseases, blindness, and death from heat exhaustion.’’

Celebrities fronting campaigns against leather, fur, meat and other animal products are PETA’s hallmark and the likes of former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson, actress Katie Holmes and even former Beatle Paul McCartney have featured in spreading the message against animal cruelty and exploitation.

The group, over the years, has a propensity to shock with colourful and sometimes wild demonstrations. Ashley herself has gone nude, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures, to garner public attention to the plight of animals. She likes to lead by example and shuns meat and animal products, or wear leather or fur. Even her cosmetics and toiletries are animal-free.

Will an Arab celeb give the required boost to efforts in the region? Mum’s the word. ‘‘We can never reveal what celebrity campaigns are up our sleeves, but PETA’s main goal is simple: educate the public and inspire people to grassroots action. We can’t get people to stop buying, for example, fur coats, if they aren’t aware of the problem. Getting the news out in the media, therefore, is vital.’’

Opposition is also growing, the campaigner admits, and wealthy industries and corporations would like to have them out of their way. ‘‘We cannot afford costly ad campaigns, and thus have to rely on getting free “advertising” through media coverage. We have learned from experience that the media thrives on celebrity doings and the chance of them reporting on animal rights issues skyrockets when a celebrity is involved.’’

It’s a push towards vegetarianism, says the group, but will it work in the Middle East, which is big on meat? ‘‘There’s a plethora of vegetarian options in the Middle East, you just need to look! Having travelled around the Middle East for the past three weeks, every day has revealed a new food to eat. From traditional foods like tabbouleh, hummous, and falafel, to veggie burgers at Burger King and ethnic foods brought in, like Chinese, Thai, and India. The options are endless!’’ The McCartney veggie song comes to mind... “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians”. Move over Big Mac.                 allan@khaleejtimes.com   



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