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January 1999
Editorial: The Horne of a Dilemma
By Martin Rowe

 


On December 13 last year, British animal rights activist Barry Horne ended a 68-day hunger strike after Tony Humphreys, a friend of Horne’s, said that the all-party Parliamentary Animal Welfare Committee of the House of Commons would look into vivisection issues this month and report back to the government. This condition falls short of Horne’s original request for the British Labour government to stand by its election pledge to institute a Royal Commission to look into the issue of vivisection. The government, standing by its decision not to be “blackmailed” by Horne, refused to commit to a date for the Commission.

Barry Horne’s hunger strike—this one was his third and by far the longest—poses a number of dilemmas for all concerned with the issue of vivisection, both for and against. It should be said that it is difficult to see Horne as the apostle of non-violence. Horne, 46, who is serving 18 years in prison for arson attacks against shops in the south of England, is clearly someone who believes that destroying property is justifiable violence. His hunger-strike prompted a group called the Animal Rights Militia to threaten to assassinate 10 scientists who vivisect, or have worked with those who vivisect, if Horne died. One of those on the list, Professor Colin Blakemore, says he has received two letter bombs in 12 years and has had missiles thrown through the windows of his family home—presumably by those who consider themselves animal advocates.

It should also be said, however, that discussing the issue of vivisection is fraught with exaggeration and half-truths. Statements about violence, especially, should be examined with suspicion, since infiltrators from industries that abuse animals have been known to try and cajole animal advocates into violent acts as a way of both trapping them and creating negative publicity for animal liberationists. In Horne’s case, furthermore, the mainstream media have unsurprisingly played up Horne’s unsavory connections and played down Horne’s central, and rather unremarkable, demand that the government should stand by its manifesto pledge. Yet even the media and the threat of violence cannot hide the fact of Horne’s bravery. Not only is the former garbage collector likely to suffer permanent physical damage after this extraordinary endurance test—one which lasted two days longer than IRA-supporter Bobby Sands’ fatal hunger strike in 1981—but he has truly brought to the fore the issue of whether we should or should not continue to experiment on animals.

During Horne’s third hunger strike a number of significant developments took place. The government announced that there would be an end to all experimentation on animals in the U.K. for the purposes of testing cosmetics. The campaign to abolish hunting after hounds received a shot in the arm after more celebrities—including Sir Paul McCartney—vowed to apply more pressure on the government to pass a bill that would, in a recent survey, be supported by two-thirds of the British people. And Horne’s protest briefly banished a little bit of cynicism about government and what we can expect from it. The Labour Party had not only encouraged expectations in animal advocates by producing a manifesto that made numerous and specific commitments to animal welfare and rights measures, but has, during the last 18 months, reaffirmed its pledge to implement every line of its manifesto. The government didn’t need to take such a progressive stance on animal rights to get elected, and didn’t need to keep promising to keep its promises. Barry Horne didn’t need to put his life on the line. But the government did what it did, and so Horne did what he felt he had to do. His brave stance—however futile it may ultimately be—should be celebrated for what it was: a single human being trying to hold the government that he voted for accountable.

The dilemma as I see it is recognizing the larger goal of ending violence by not unleashing violence. Satya condemns any violence—whether actual attempts of assassination or even threats of assassination. These do nothing but damage to the cause of animal liberation. When Bobby Sands died in the Maze prison and became a martyr to the Republican cause, there was an upsurge in violence in Northern Ireland, from Republican and Unionist paramilitaries, and even more draconian measures from the Conservative government. Seventeen years after his death, nothing appeared to change—there was still violence and division. When Sands’ sister and her husband were implicated by association in the bombing which took the lives of almost 30 ordinary people in the Republican stronghold of Omagh on the Irish border last year, the revulsion from all concerned was so intense that the couple were forced to flee. As the situation in Northern Ireland has shown with terrible clarity, the commitment to change entrenched attitudes only stops when the cycle of violence comes to an end.

Thus, I salute Barry Horne’s brave action and expect him to serve his term in jail. I welcome the support he has received from many people around the world for his actions and condemn the statements of the Animal Rights Militia. I thoroughly endorse his mission to end violence against other living animals and equally thoroughly oppose the use of militaristic terminology such as “war” or “enemy” to describe those who—with patience and good will—will ultimately agree with those who support animal liberation. If all this seems a contradiction, then so be it. As Barry Horne has found in settling for something less than he starved himself for, life is rarely simple and progress rarely linear—especially in the shadow of death.


Martin Rowe


 


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