A sacrificial goat in Pakistan

Pakistan International Airlines is facing some blowback over a goat sacrifice. The carrier resumed turboprop service this week following a crash earlier in the month and, as part of that process, ground staff in Islamabad sacrificed a black goat. The traditional sacrifice is believed to help ward off accidents and that’s where the mocking comes in. Which is a shame.

No, I don’t think that sacrificing a goat makes flight operations safer. But I also really don’t mind that ground staff are choosing to follow traditions that they believe have historically added value and which have zero impact otherwise. Superstition (or religion) can be surprisingly useful at helping to convince people that it is worth paying attention to the checklists because things are going to work correctly so long as you do.

I also cannot help but wonder a bit about the bias shown in such judgments. The goat sacrifice is an offering to the gods, a plea for protection and guidance. How different is that from a Maori Haka performance celebrating the launch of a new airline route to New Zealand?

Or a Japanese Taiko drum ceremony to launch service to Tokyo?

Or a Chinese Dragon dance opening a trade show?

Wrapping up the Chinese dragon dance to "bless" the APEX Expo conference in Singapore in October 2016
Wrapping up the Chinese dragon dance to “bless” the APEX Expo conference in Singapore in October 2016

Each is based on centuries-old traditions and the presence or absence of any will almost certainly not affect a flight, route, conference, sporting event, war battle or whatever they’re performed prior to. Yet only some get mocked. Which is a shame. But, hey, racism is apparently stylish these days.

Header image: PIA AtR-42 courtesy of Pakistan International Airlines

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Not all traditions have the same moral standing. Citing traditions that harm no one and are done for modern entertainment (akin to any other entertainment or show) to suggest that Killing a Goat is lighthearted entertainment sort of misses the point of the critique.

    They’re bringing weapons onto the tarmac. And killing a goat.

    As a colleague of mine from Pakistan describes her home town of Lahore each time she goes back, “I’m headed home to the 4th century.”

    In Saudi Arabia women aren’t permitted to drive. Is that merely tradition and something we should accept? Or it is fine to criticize tradition against modern moral standards?

    1. I believe you are demonstrating exactly the point WA was trying to get across, i.e., applying one culture’s “moral standards” to another’s. I don’t see how “bringing weapons onto the tarmac” is somehow morally reprehensible (potential security issue, but you don’t make that case). I don’t see how “killing a goat” is any more wrong than a Wisconsin bow hunter killing a deer and field dressing it. And by comparing the practice to other regional practices, you are merely reinforcing the cultural bias.

    2. That you equate the killing of animals to subjugation of human rights is all sorts of messed up. Save for the goat in this scenario I’m pretty sure no one was harmed. And the “weapons” assertion is amusing, particularly given the myriad other objects that maintenance crews have at their disposal on the field on a regular basis.

      I’m sorry your colleague doesn’t like going to her native home. How wonderful that she has the choice to do so.

  2. Completely different. An animal was killed. For no purpose. This isn’t a prayer or Chinese dragon or water cannons

    The throat of an animal was slit, and it bleed to death in front of an airplane. Imagine the terror that animal felt?

    Surprised you don’t get that distinction.

    This action should be condemned. It was done by savages.

    1. So to be clear, it’s perfectly fine to slaughter and eat fish, chicken, beef, pork, goat, etc., but not okay in the context of a religious ritual, because the former presumably benefits people while the latter does not. Got it.

    2. Ritual sacrifice historically has fed either the priests or the indigent. Suggesting that it is simply waste and savage is a very sheltered take IMO.

  3. Spot on analysis! It’s refreshing to see a change in how this is being discussed.

    @Gary Leff: Screw the progress of “the 21st century” if it stands on the denigration, subjugation, and eradication of non-Western European cultures and peoples. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not OK to mistreat women, but it’s your view that “YOUR progress” is innocent and does not have tons of blood on its hands that’s a problem. It’s just as problematic, in fact even more so precisely because it is packaged as universally innocent.

    @Tim: Many cultures have ritual sacrifices. At least this one only dealt with animals. The US is built on native genocide and the African slave trade.

    1. The reference to the 4th century comes from a Pakistani woman, I’m simply relaying it. There’s a reason she wanted out to the United States. You’re coming dangerously close to characterizing Pakistanis as ‘noble savages’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage). I bet you don’t understand which way traffic flowed over the Berlin Wall, either?

      1. Day by day it is becoming more evident that there are perhaps multiple civilizations on this planet, not this antiquated paradigm of “we are the world,” one universal civilization or even an East vs. West mentality. “Civilization” in the sense that it is a term to define the highest ordering of a subset of cultural beliefs, traditions, endowed rights, etc. The civilization boundaries that encompass the islamo-ethic traditions & beliefs have no desire for a Western mindset or a shared existence with neighboring civilizations. To argue such is a waste of time. There’s no push to advance toward modernity. Modernity, or more specifically technologically advances, will not serve to advance the internal population’s condition, but instead be used to further that civilization’s identity (language/culture/traditions/heritage). The goat killers don’t want blue jeans and cold beer. There is no universal “We.” The world is an “us,” a “them,” and a “them,”etc.

        The U.S. is many things, but it remains a shining city on a hill for hundreds of millions of people across our globe for a multitude of reasons, perhaps freedom or economic freedom being the most. Gwayrav’s use of historic U.S. tragedies and abominations to make a relativistic point is perhaps the most revealing insight into his/her perspective. He/she is either implying Americans should not voice their disgust for pointless death because we have blood on our hands or he/she’s equating historic victims of genocide/enslavement to a slaughtered goat. Either way…moronic point. He/she is once again proving we have no common humanity because apparently it’s all relative and there is no inferior way to conduct ourselves. Wisdom from experience and/or tradition passed through a value system will always subordinate ignorance and relativistic views. It is Gwayray’s relativism that enables this behavior (pointless goat slaughter) and the devaluing of life in general. It should be shunned and stigmatized…unless the goat was served up for lunch with eggplant and naan bread.

  4. I completely agree with Tim. Killing an innocent creature in a brutal, painful and disgusting manner for the sake of it is wrong. But then if you don’t get that immediately you never will. It’s called empathy and basic caring for living things that feel emotion just like you.

    1. I eat meat. I’m okay with animals being killed to provide that sustenance to me and to others. And, yes, there’s blood involved when that happens.

    2. Probably worth noting here that, generally speaking, the ritual sacrifice practices in that part of the world are based on principles that require the killing to be performed in a manner that is as painless to the animal as possible, similar to the way halal or kosher butchers operate. Calling it “brutal, painful and disgusting” might just be missing the point a bit.

  5. I have personal issues with the killing of the goat for this reason – but that’s my opinion, as someone who has lived his entire life in a very different culture and set of religious beliefs. So, while I may disagree with the killing of the animal for this reason, I also won’t condemn the culture or religion that led to it happening. Who am I to judge, when there are many things about my life that the average resident in Pakistan would find offensive?

    Regardless of beliefs about animal cruelty, using this as a means to make jokes, or to justify prejudices based on ethnicity and religion, is inexcusable. It’s one thing to say, “I personally disagree with killing an animal in this manner” and a completely different one to use this as a means of justifying prejudice and discrimination.

  6. I’m with @GaryLeff and Tim on this one. And I would be HORRIFIED if I saw that while sitting on that plane on the tarmac

  7. The purpose of the ritual is to give the meat to the poor. So the animal is killed and the proceeds (food) is given to the poor. According to reports, it is done prior to boarding, but it may be visible from the airport lounge, etc.

    As for the racist rhetoric, why is Gary’s view of the world and how things should be the way it should be? Why can’t a country not have skyscrapers and still be ok? Why can’t a country be different and still ok? Just like not everyone has to collect miles or fly first class or constantly put people down on blogs.

    1. No one is talking about ‘skyscrapers’ but you. We’re talking about ritual sacrifice of living creatures, and subjugation of women that the women affected often wish to escape.

      Not everyone must ‘collect miles’ (again something only you speak to here), but I do think our collective humanity can speak to cultural practices that treat some people as less than others. And if they can offer that judgment, then simply saying “but culture” is insufficient to prove a relativism that keeps us from offering moral claims about which practices are worse than others.

      The racist rhetoric — suggesting that all practices are ok no matter whom they hurt, because those lives do not matter? — is yours EE.

      1. Ok, so now you are saying that slaughtering an animal is wrong? But yet you eat meat? So if the consumer is white, it is ok, but to give meat to the poor is not ok. Pakistan has had female leaders, the US has not. Why are you making stuff up about women trying to escape? Many men and women now want to escape the US because of the incoming president. Just because one person makes a claim does not mean you should generalize that 3rd party info and spread it as fact.

        As for your role in all this, Gary why don’t you speak out on the cultural practice of white supremacists of killing jews, black people, and muslims? Or what about the cultural practice of police killing people?

        I used to support your blog, but I can’t anymore.

        Happy Holidays!

        1. Genuinely lost by what you mean by I don’t speak out by ‘white supremacists killing jews..’ I am Jewish and members of my family died in the holocaust.

          I certainly don’t think it requires moral perfection to speak out about moral questions. So you’re welcome to challenge me on my own moral failings, there are plenty of hypocritical practices all over the world — but pointing out hypocrisy doesn’t absolve everyone else their sins.

          Animal rights is a complicated moral question when it comes to eating meat, I think it’s probably beyond the scope of what we can accomplish in the comments section of Seth’s blog. It’s something I’m genuinely conflicted about. It gets bound in questions of where rights come from. And I’m not certain the ultimate answer here. But saying that moral questions surrounding eating meat are complicated, again, doesn’t mean that all killing of animals (ritual sacrifice) is ok.

          1. > But saying that moral questions surrounding eating meat are
            > complicated, again, doesn’t mean that all killing of animals
            > (ritual sacrifice) is ok

            That’s true, but it doesn’t mean it is not okay either – just like eating meat.

            I’m a staunch atheist, but I’m happy for people to kill animals for their beliefs subject to the same conditions as killing one for pure consumption: that it isn’t pointless and the animal does not suffer unnecessarily. As I understand it, the animal didn’t go to waste and the process of killing it was not notably worse (albeit different) than a normal halal/kosher animal death, so it’s fine by me. If I’m wrong and the animal did suffer more than any other death causes, then then I would have a different opinion, but I don’t believe that is the case.

  8. They should’ve just smashed a champagne bottle over the goat’s head. None of us traditionalists would have quibbled over that.

  9. Its a religious practice and its main reason is to feed the poor and needy people with that meat . Idea is that with their prayers and with helping humanity, God will show mercy and forgive our shortcomings. Again no harm in doing that but still need to get the basics done correctly. You cannot ignore the basics and pray to God that no incident happens

  10. Its disgusting to see that the noble practice is being ridiculed by (mostly) ignorant and racist bloggers

  11. Kill a goat or don’t kill a goat- as a meat eater, I’m not going to be hypocritical about it, as long as the animal doesn’t suffer, and the meat is used.

    But calling it a “noble practice”? Nope- sorry- it’s not. It’s another superstitious ritual. And fair game for mocking- given the safety performance of the PIA ATR fleet, anything other than a rigorous scientific focus on repair, maintenance, and inspection is unwarranted.

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