Amal Naj

Amal Naj

Do animals have their own Gods?

by The Author / March 4, 2024

In the opening pages of my book Pandastic Times: The Spell from the Deep Cave, a story set against the backdrop of the recent pandemic, I take a spiritual leap:

“The Jungle People also have their god, who answers their prayers.”

It is widely accepted that the deadly virus sprang from a bat or an exotic wild animal being served as a delicacy in a wet market in China. It killed millions of people around the world and brought the whole human race to its knees. It is hard not to think of it as nature’s revenge on the human race for its widespread and indiscriminate cruelty toward animals—species with whom we share this earth but regard as worthless appendages to the earth’s creation, not deserving of any right to land and living.

Whether the revenge that engulfed the planet like a wild spell was the result of the victims’ prayers for justice or of a divine jungle force acting on its own, we’ll never know. But we can imagine either possibility. After all, when it comes to our own pain and suffering, we humans appeal to our gods and other divine forces to intervene and get rid of the causes.

The biggest cause of animal suffering is us, the humans. We are the villains. It is naive to assume that when animals are subjected to brutal cruelty—shot in cold blood for their tusks, or slaughtered for their paws or livers, or having their throats slit for their skin or meat—they don’t curse us as they fight for their lives, don’t plead for some divine intervention. In the latter case, we can get entangled in pointless discussions about whether animals can reason or have emotions to pray to a higher power.

If animals could speak, or were given a chance to learn to speak our tongue, or we learned to speak theirs, we might know. But the jungle people have been silenced forever. Once powerful enough to assert themselves when the Earth was all jungle, they have been permanently defeated by humans’ inexorable reach over this Earth. We care little for these species—our neighbors, really. We disingenuously think of them as living beings who lack the faculty of reasoning, articulating thoughts, expressing emotions, or possessing any level of consciousness. This blanket dismissal of animal species is human arrogance and ignorance in equal measure.

I wish there were someone like Red Peter, Kafka’s African ape in “A Report to an Academy,” to speak for the Jungle People, to tell us about their thoughts and emotions and how they regard us humans. In Kafka’s story, Red Peter transforms himself into a human by learning human ways and tells the “Academy” of human scholars why he’s done so: he wanted to escape from the shackles of humans and win his rights as an animal (not as a human, but as an animal, for that transition was merely to engage the scholars as an equal).

Unfortunately, there is no living Red Peter to take on the cause of the Jungle People. But in my novel Pandastic Times, the enormous moral and social calling is taken up by a mysterious figure in a deep cave, deep in the jungle, who becomes a familiar figure to the reader as the story unfolds. And it becomes apparent why this solitary sorcerer has inherited the divine force to protect the Jungle People and unleashes the spell that travels like a squall, angry and indiscriminate, engulfing the planet and taking revenge on humankind.

I make the case in the novel that unless we recognize these other species as possessing the same inalienable rights to the Earth as we humans, we are doomed to pay a price, again and again, as we have been for centuries. The Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee has presented the most brilliant defense of animal rights in his novels, notably in Elizabeth Costello. The celebrated novelist Elizabeth Costello in the eponymous novel addresses an academic gathering—not unlike the one Red Peter did in “A Report to an Academy”—and argues that great apes, who share with humans the faculty of reason, should be accorded human rights. “What rights in particular? At least those rights that we accord mentally defective specimens of the species Homo sapiens: the right to life, the right not to be subjected to pain or harm, the right to equal protection before the law.”

That was, in essence, Red Peter’s plea in his report to the Academy in Kafka’s short story. It’s not much of a stretch to surmise from his stand that he also spoke for all animal kind.

In my novel Pandastic Times, which is aimed at young readers, the devastating spell against the humans comes to an end when humans begin to share the Earth with animals as good neighbors. I am encouraged that, in real life, more and more human voices are demanding the sort of animal rights Elizabeth Costello advocates. Recently, the indigenous people in New Zealand signed an international treaty granting whales the same legal rights as humans so that these majestic animals have a healthy environment in which to live and propagate. Hopefully, more of our neighbors on this planet will be accorded similar consideration.

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