The further I read into Simon Barnes’ article Is killing birds just a part of another culture? in the Times Online a few days ago, the madder I got.
The second paragraph sets the scene “It is a small part of English culture to sit under a tree on an afternoon in June, to close your eyes and to relish the sound of the church bell, the thwacks and shouts from the white-clad players on the green, the purring of turtledoves in the branches above. Turtledoves, that quintessentially English sound: shame that there aren’t nearly as many as there used to be. A significant part of Maltese culture is to blast the bejesus out of turtledoves. Ever since Malta came into the EU five years ago, Maltese people have been saying that you can’t stop us killing birds, it’s part of our culture.”
So here we are, the tender nature loving British enjoying afternoon tea on the village Green while those nasty Maltese are killing off birds as sport and then have the audasity to call it a cultural practice .. shock, horror!!
I wonder if the article would have had as much impact had Simon set the scene like this .. it is a small part of English culture to spend a damp Sunday out on the moors, shotgun in one hand, faithful labrador by your side, blasting the bejesus out of pheasant. Dead pheasant dropping from the skies, that quintessentially English vision. The Maltese on the other hand shoot Turtledoves and we, the English simply do not approve!
I always find it astonishing that people can be so verbal about other countries “cultural practices” while blatantly ignoring our own, or worse still suggesting that ours are somehow more acceptable because we are after all British.
The article goes on to say “The obvious next question is the extent to which the law will be enforced against people who seriously believe that killing birds is a basic human right.” So are you suggesting Simon that the British also have no right to shoot birds? I didn’t read that in your article anywhere and doubt the hunting groups would sit quietly by if you did say it.
There is a description of some of the damage hunters have caused to conservation areas. I live on a farm and can report that English night time hunters will quite happily cut a huge hole in your stock fence, rather than walk 200 yards to the gate, leaving you to round up your stock from the local high street in the morning and spend the afternoon fixing the fences. They leave hazardous materials lying around, their dogs attack the stock and they too will sometimes vandalise or steal cars and machinery.
That is no defence to the Maltese hunters that do this but to rant about them while we are doing the same thing seems a little hypocritical in my book. For example the Indians are probably not all that keen on our practice of eating cows.
Simon said: “This aggressive, violent culture of the Maltese countryfolk keeps the Maltese people away from their own countryside.” The phrase et tu Brute springs rapidly to mind. Could they not say the English have an aggresive, violent culture because we like to hunt birds? Are the English countryfolk not keeping the English people away from their own countryside?
He then goes on to compare such cultural practices as the Chinese using rhino horn for traditional medicines. Would it not have been fairer to compare the Chinese slaughter of dogs and cats for their fur and meat to our slaughtering of calves for leather goods and meat … erm doesn’t quite have the same impact does it.
In the closing paragraph Simon does accept “The profligate killing of wildlife is a bad part of any culture, including our own.” I am not suggesting for one moment that if we in the UK are doing something wrong then we should sit quietly by while others continue on but I am suggesting we should pick our arguments carefully, so as not to be blatant hypocrites.
Simon closes with the comment: “And hear this, you Maltese, it is what your island is most famous for.” That is perhaps wishful thinking on your part Simon, I believe Malta is much more renown as a popular holiday destination.
Hmmm, I wonder if the UK is now most famous for pheasant shoots?
With so many important issues facing European countries regarding farming and conservation perhaps our energies would be better spent looking at these instead of pointing the finger and ranting about cultural practice being no excuse.