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April 2004
Builders or Plunderers: Which are We?
By Steve Hindi


Those who advocate the use of violence in the animal protection movement follow a well-worn path. It’s called “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s the stuff that causes children to reject their double-talking parents, voters to reject corrupt elected officials, and the faithful to reject phony religious leaders. Violence conducted on behalf of animal protection causes society to reject the efforts of all other animal protectors to create a more peaceful and compassionate world for nonhumans.

SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) considers violence to include a physical attack, or threat of, on any living creature; attacks on property having no direct relationship to animal abuse; and the use of bombs, arson, or property damage with intent to cause bodily harm. SHARK supports direct action and certain kinds of property destruction. We have conducted home demos, and are certainly considered to be an in-your-face organization. Just ask our opponents. Show me a lobster trap and I’ll destroy it. The trap plays a direct role in the suffering of lobsters. What SHARK will not do is cut the brake lines on a lobster truck, as was committed by unknown people a couple years ago in Chicago. If I destroy a lobster trap, I can tell people why I did it, and they can relate to the plight of lobsters. When someone cuts a truck’s brake lines, the public feels threatened, and the suffering of the lobsters is forgotten.

The use of violence shifts public attention and opinion away from the true victims—the animals. Then it is the animal exploiters who reap the public relations benefits as they portray themselves as victims.

The cost of negative publicity should not be ignored because it is nonhumans who pay the price. Animal protection legislation becomes tougher to pass. Pressure eases on enforcement of existing humane laws. The public is less willing to support animal causes or organizations that might be construed as “terrorists.” And legitimate animal protectors can find themselves encountering suspicion and resistance. When society’s focus shifts from animals to the violence perpetrated in their name, animal exploiters are free to molest, injure and kill with abandon, while the limelight is shining elsewhere. You cannot induce people to be compassionate under a threat of violence. Often such tactics only cause the opposition to grow stronger in retaliation.

Education is the key to eliminating cruelty. Teaching compassion is not a quick process, but properly conducted, history proves it can be successful. Today’s technology allows us to bring messages and images of animal abuse directly to the public via the media, mobile video displays, and other methods of public presentation. This has already had a profound effect on issues including whale protection, the fur industry, seal slaughters, puppy mills, factory farms, circuses, rodeos, bullfighting, the meat industry and many others.

I’m not saying that these abuses have been wiped out. Like other social issues, they are like cancers in that they are very difficult to eradicate and tend to recur. Our goal is to relegate them to oblivion. But we must do this in a way that is in line with our plea for compassion and nonviolence.

In the case of the Chicago lobster action, some people tried to defend it by pointing out that there were written messages on the windows of the business warning that the brake lines had been cut. This does not change the public’s perception that it was a violent act of terrorism. Furthermore, there is no certainty that advance warnings will be received or heeded, and there is no certainty that innocents will not become victims.

I am amazed and repulsed by the rationalizations given by animal abusers for their crimes against animals. Supporters of hunting, bullfighting, rodeos, flesh peddlers, cockfighting, etc., use the age-old “tradition” argument. This is, of course, ridiculous. An indefensible act repeated over time remains an indefensible act.

I recently read a similar claim by an animal protector who wrote that since violence has at some point been employed by every successful social movement, this makes it a legitimate and even necessary tactic on behalf of animals. Were I to accept that argument, I might as well return to hunting, fishing, and meat-eating, as these are all activities that have been part of human existence from the beginning, along with murder, rape, incest, pedophilia, and war.

Must the past determine future behavior, or can we learn from our mistakes? Isn’t making positive change and stopping injustice what the animal protection movement is all about? Any claim that violence must be used in the cause of animal protection is a defeatist argument that indicates a lack of faith in the power of compassion, and doubt with regard to the legitimacy of our cause.

Another attempt to defend the indefensible is a claim that our violence isn’t as bad as the violence of our opponents, or that violence used to counter the violence of our opponents is justified. That’s the “eye for an eye” proposition of the Old Testament. The late Mahatma Gandhi correctly observed that “an eye for an eye” would cause the whole world to go blind. It’s a vicious circle with no possibility of producing a good outcome.

Someone has to break the circle of violence. Clearly we cannot expect animal abusers to do that. By default that means we must be the agents of change. The very fact that we abhor the violence of our opponents is reason enough to reject such methods. There have always been those who build, and those who plunder. Animal protectors should be the builders of a better world. We cannot plunder our way to a more peaceful and compassionate planet.

Another indicator that violence is counterproductive lies in the fact that our opposition wants us to indulge in it so badly. In 1999, when SHARK was battling Pepsi Cola over its sponsorship of bullfighting arenas in Mexico, Spain and other countries, Pepsi executives falsely reported a bomb threat, and pointed the accusing finger at me. Again, in 2001, as SHARK was battling the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) over the inclusion of a rodeo as part of the “Cultural Olympiad,” the FBI, acting as private thugs for SLOC head Mitt Romney, accused SHARK of making bomb threats against the Olympics. In both cases, the opposition was exposed and discredited.

The point is that the use of violence is something that our opposition is counting on—they absolutely need it—in order to draw attention away from their corrupt, fear-based, hate-filled acts of cruelty and murder. The question is—why are some of us playing right into their hands? When society focuses on crimes against animals, animal abusers are forced to change. This is a painfully slow process, but it is progress, versus the violent methods that stymie our cause.

Violence is a tool for those who have no conviction in their beliefs, and who fear the truth, and who have no ethics. This is true regardless of whether those involved are animal abusers or animal protectors. No one can claim to abhor the violence of others, but then advocate violence to achieve their own ends. It is interesting that an informed society always takes a position that animals deserve protection against cruelty and exploitation. Those same people, however, often express resentment towards animal protectors, and that is largely because of the violence associated with the movement.

Those who commit and support the use of violence impede legitimate animal advocacy and insure that it will at best remain what it is today—a small, largely ignored movement that is often viewed with derision and contempt.

Steve Hindi is founder and president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), an organization dedicated to ending animal suffering and abuse. A former hunter, Hindi utilizes TV technology with the “Tiger Truck,” custom-equipped with large video screens, and prowls the streets educating passersby with video footage of animal abuse. Contact www.sharkonline.org or (630) 557-0176.

 

 



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