Extremism and Terrorism
Arrest of a suffragette. Hundreds of suffragettes in Britain were sent to prison because of their violent and damaging behaviour pursuing rights for women. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Terrorism is the use of intimidation and violence, sometimes against innocent people, to impel change in society. It raises a number of difficult questions for animal rights.
A Definition of Terrorism
A few animal rightists use extreme methods. But what are their extreme methods? Does this make them terrorists, as some people make out? Are terrorists disgraceful lowly people? Are extreme methods morally right and effective? If extreme methods are not effective then is there any point continuing with them?
Animal rights extremists attack animal abusers, such as individuals, business companies, animal laboratories, shops and farms and the law has reacted by charging and jailing a number of extremists. Some typical animal rights extremist actions have been:
- Mailing indecent articles by post
- Sending dead animals to companies
- Damaging animal research companies
- Trying to firebomb premises<
- Improvising postal bombs
- Breaching injunctions
In a more bizarre case an alleged animal abusing woman was kidnapped when she was dug up from her churchyard grave. (1)
From the 1970's the number of animal rights extremists grew in Britain and their method spread abroad, especially to Australia and the United States. Despite the quantity of news reportage they fuelled, it is said they numbered only a few hundred people at most. But animal rights extremism was seen as outrageous by some people and as a result some politicians and media branded them as terrorists: people using intimidation and violence to impel change in society.
Extremism is as old as history, but the expression terrorism
appears to have originated in 18th century revolutionary France. In the French revolution (1789), during the period known as the Reign of Terror, the state ordered the arrest, torture and execution of thousands of citizens to impose order on society and murder political enemies. Robespierre (1753 - 1794), French lawyer and radical political leader, is quoted as saying, "Terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible." (2) Robespierre personally ordered dozens of executions and himself fell prey to the terror when he was imprisoned and guillotined.
Diverse people turned to extremism / terrorism after the Second World War when their nations sought independence from colonialism. However, after independence several erstwhile terrorists became respected leaders of their country and admired internationally. Menachem Begin (1913 - 1992) led the Irgun, a terrorist group fighting British rule in 1940's Palestine. One of the Irgun's acts was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the central British administrative offices, and over 90 people died. In 1977 Israel elected Begin as Prime Minister and a year later he won the Nobel Prize for peace. Ironically, Israel had to deal with Yasir Arafat (1929 - 2004), himself a one-time terrorist fighting Israel for Palestinian independence, who subsequently became President of the Palestinian Authority and also a Nobel Prize winner for peace. Thus, even though terrorism is rejected by most people most of the time, terrorists and their causes do not necessarily remain lowly contemptible figures.
Menachem Begin (left) as Prime Minister of Israel in 1978 with the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and the President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat (right). Photo: Jimmy Carter Library / Wikimedia Commons.
Menachem Begin as a young aspiring terrorist in 1940. Photo taken by the Soviet secret police (the NKVD) and found in the secret police (KGB) archives. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Terrorists do not shrink at killing people in pursuit of their cause. Animal rights extremists are extreme, but not extreme enough to be terrorists and it is clearly an over reaction to call them such. In liberal democracies we have to maintain the right level of response to different provocations.
Whether for or against extremism, pragmatic questions persist. Is animal rights extremism the right thing to do?
"In moral terms, the granting of rights to animals leads to the conclusion that direct action in their defence is not only permissible but also a moral duty, although whether this justifies some of the more extreme actions involving violence is an open question." Robert Garner (3)
And is animal rights extremism efficacious?
"Yet any historian knows that in some earlier reform movements little progress was made until illegal and sometimes violent acts occurred. Whether reforms would have been achieved without the direct action of the suffragists, for example, or whether they would have been achieved more slowly, are matters for conjecture." Richard Ryder (4)
The problem is that no one has successfully weighed the morality and efficacy of extremism versus moderation (through the alternatives of education and changes to the law) to the ultimate satisfaction of all. People argue as their opinions take them. Thus it is impossible to know the single best way to bring about a substantial change in perspective to animals in society. Possibly the most sensible means is to advance on a broad front, as people typically do, everyone doing the best they can in their own way.
Nevertheless, rather than extremism versus moderation, a third way and an altogether different approach, is to encourage effective innovations for getting round the use of animals.
An example is the emergent technology of laboratory grown food that looks, smells and tastes like real meat and is just as nourishing and cheaper
to produce than growing real animals. The factory farming market would collapse, ending the slaughter of literally billions of animals annually. Genuine alternatives to animal experimentation and animal fur are other future avenues.
When people no longer need to use animals then more people will favour animal rights simply because they no longer need to use animals. Even so, we can expect extremism to continue in the persistent relatively small pockets of animal abuse.
(1) BBC News Channel. Four jailed in grave-theft case.
www.bbc.co.uk. 11 May 2006.
(2) Robespierre, M. Sur les Principes de Morale Politique…
(On the principles of political morality which must guide the National Convention in the internal administration of the Republic
(3) Garner, Robert. Animals, Politics and Morality.
Manchester University Press. 1993, 239.
(4) Ryder, Richard. Speciesism in the Laboratory.
In Peter Singer (ed), In Defense of Animals.
Harper & Row. 1986, 86.
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