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From 13 October 2002 Issue

Who Are You Calling A Terrorist?
By Steven Zak
www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20021010-73507064.htm

One might be tempted to believe that conservatives don't like animals. A lot sure don't like animal advocates. At the tamest level, they label us "screwballs" and "extremists" or just, derisively, "animal righters." But more seriously, some such critics -- let's call them "animals wrongers" -- brand us terrorists.

The Wall Street Journal howls that we "terrorize civilians."

Dick Boland in The Washington Times barks that "Animal-rights groups are the closest thing to terrorists we have in this country." (Apparently he hasn't read about the al Qaeda training camp graduates recently arrested in Buffalo, N.Y. and Portland, Ore.) Wesley J. Smith adds to the cacophony in National Review Online (NRO) with the ominous pronouncement that animal advocates "have crossed to the dark side animal rights terrorism."

Granted, some radical animal activists have committed serious acts of vandalism and other crimes. But the wrongers' wrath isn't directed solely at them. Mr. Smith, for instance, condemns groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and even the moderate Humane Society of the United States.

Why do the wrongers feel so threatened by even mainstream animal welfare activism, whose lineage in this country goes back to the Puritans? (One would expect some conservative sympathy for a cause with so much history.) Mr. Smith provides a possible answer in an earlier NRO piece where he objects to "personhood theory" according to which rights come not from simply being human but rather from "possessing relevant cognitive capacities."

In plain English, that means that no conceivable set of facts could ever convince Mr. Smith that animals have rights. It wouldn't matter if animals could read philosophy, compose sonnets and play a game of chess. For Mr. Smith, human life alone has value, not because of any characteristics humans possess but "simply and merely because it is human."

Try such a declaration in a purely human context: "Caucasian/male/gentile life has value simply and merely because it is caucasian/male/gentile." Such claims have of course been made at various times and places, explicitly or implicitly, but few would mistake them for moral positions.

What such a baldly self-serving, only-my-group-has-value argument reveals, though, is that equating animal rights with "terrorism" is not a reaction to the vandalism of any radicals. For the animal wrongers, anyone who trumpets the value of nonhuman lives, even peacefully, is a threat. The mere recognition that animals have a place in the circle of moral concern, alongside human beings, leads to, as Mr. Smith puts it, "dehumanization" the ultimate form of terror.

No wonder the animal wrongers see "terrorists" everywhere. There are plenty of people concerned about animals, even among conservatives. For example: Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Elton Gallegly, who just three years ago championed legislation to outlaw snuff films with animal victims. And former Republican senatorial staffer Christopher J. Heyde, who wrote critically in the Washington Times recently about animals in labs. "I am appalled," he wrote, "that these atrocities occurred in U.S. laboratories, which happened in part because the overwhelming majority of animals used in research have been denied legal protection." And Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President Bush and author of a new book on animal rights, who argued in a recent piece for the New York Times, the intrinsic worth of elephants and against the ivory trade. And Victorino Matus, who wrote sympathetically in the conservative Daily Standard about the neglected and abused animals in the Kabul Zoo. And former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who appeared at a black-tie dinner at New York's Waldorf Astoria to raise money for veterinary care at the nonprofit Animal Medical Center and to honor NYPD and other search-and-rescue dogs.

Even conservative author and dog-lover Ann Coulter was quoted in the New York Post as saying that "Dogs are people too."

Do such expressions of concern and caring for animals make you worry that animals will soon get the vote, or that shared restrooms for them and us can't be far behind? Of course not. But they apparently do worry the animal wrongers, who fear the slippery slope that we've all stepped onto long, long ago.

But they're worse than just silly reactionaries. By equating vandalism and other property crimes with terrorism, the wrongers trivialize the real thing and insult its victims. Which, come to think of it, sort of makes them terrorists.

At least as much so as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Steven Zak, a longtime animal advocate, has written about animal rights for many publications including the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times.

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