Editorial: Reclaim the cause from the terrorists

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1994:

One cannot make peace by waging war––a truth that should seem self-evident.
The cause of animal protection is essentially the cause of peace, extended to all sentient
beings: of preventing suffering through preventing violence. As conscientious and consid-
erate people, we should all understand by now that one cannot prevent suffering by causing
suffering, nor can one prevent violence by causing violence. That much should be obvious
to anyone who has ever either held or beheld a cruelly wounded and frightened victim of
anyone’s violence, animal or human. Pain and fear know no bounds of age, sex, species,
or ideology.

It is thus with particular disgust that we report in this issue how the nightriding
cowards of the Animal Liberation Front mindlessly planted nine small firebombs in four
Chicago department stores, to protest the sale of fur garments. The ALF communique
about the deed, distributed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, argued that the
firebombs were only intended to set off sprinkler systems, to damage merchandise. But
sprinkler systems don’t always work as intended. Even small fires can become deadly in
seconds if they happen to ignite––for instance––an aerosol container, a bottle of cleaning
fluid, or a piece of PVC pipe. Knowingly or not, the ALF courted mass murder. No one
detests the cruelty of the fur trade more than the Editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE, who has
personally dismantled countless traplines, seen and handled the victims of traps, and seen,
too, the abuse of animals inherent in fur farming. But just as two wrongs don’t make a
right, so nothing done to animals to make fur coats could be undone or prevented by killing
people whose only involvement in the matter might have been taking the wrong escalator at
the wrong time.
As appalling as the recourse to violence itself is the arrogance of the ALF attempt
to terrorize stores into discontinuing items that should be discontinued not because someone
is afraid to buy or sell them, but rather because most people make the moral choice to not
buy or sell them. People who have choice taken away from them do not have to think about
what they do; do not have to choose to be better, kinder, wiser, gentler people; do not
grow, and so remain as susceptible to thoughtless participation in violence as ever.
For more than a decade now, most of the animal protection community has pri-
vately regarded the ALF with exasperated embarrassment, while a more militant minority
has extolled the ALF as heroes and heroines and tried to mirror ALF deeds with fiery
rhetoric. Some of the major organizations have tried to politely distance themselves from
animal rights because of the association of militant rhetoric and ALF deeds with the term
“animal rights,” which deserves better service. No one, though, has stepped forward to
bluntly point out that the ALF and imitators are practically singlehandedly responsible for
rationalizing the organized backlash against the animal rights movement; are the major rea-
son why animal protection representatives still have virtually no place on institutional ani-
mal care and use committees, where a voice raised at the right time can often save hundreds
of animals from suffering; and have managed to equate the term “animal rights activist”
with “terrorist” in the minds of many people in law enforcement and media, even those oth-
erwise sympathetic to the cause of animals. The fact is, the ALF hasn’t done either animals
or animal protection any good since it digressed long ago from the undercover information-
gathering that characterized early actions, taking up ever-escalating vandalism instead, as
if merely gathering publicity were the organization’s sole objective, never mind for what.
When the ALF plants firebombs, it flaunts disrespect of everything the rest of us
in animal protection stand for. It not only directly harms the cause it purports to aid; it
escalates the societal cycle of violence. And arresting the cycle of violence is far more
important than the accomplishment of any single tactical objective, whether stopping the
sale of fur or the practice of vivisection or any other particular abuse. We enjoy the oppor-
tunity to arrest violence toward animals––and children, women, gays, poor people, and
racial and ethnic minorities––because we live in a society which through the effort of gener-
ations of our forebears has, however tenuously, replaced the old notion of “might makes
right” with the concepts of debate, democratic process, and respect for divergent points of
view. Part of our social contract as civilized people is that we agree to trust in the ability of
our ideas to persuade, and to tolerate the prevailing consensus, however much it may
offend us, until we can change it by peaceful means. We accept that no principle is more
important than the principle that we will not revert to might-makes-right and the mayhem
that goes with it wherever and whenever factionalists decide that winning a point now mat-
ters more than building upon a secure foundation of mutal trust.
We need only look to Northern Ireland or the former Yugoslavia or any of a hun-
dred other societies wracked by bloodbath and retaliation to see what happens when one
condones violent tactics. Violence begets violence. Deed brings retribution. People and
animals suffer, and the more violence there is, the more readily the various factions ratio-
nalize even more violence, so that within a short time violence on behalf of lofty ideology
becomes violence as means of bare survival. It is to be sure a considerable distance from
one or several idiots placing firebombs in department stores to fullscale civil war; but if we
accept violence on behalf of our cause, why shouldn’t proponents of a thousand other caus-
es accept violence on behalf of theirs?
That’s the real issue. If we’re genuinely against suffering, we’re against vio-
lence––and against the ALF, who belong in the same jail cell as animal torturers, because
regardless of their rhetorical excuses, they’re really all about the same thing: short-term
self-gratification, without regard to consequence.
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