I’ve been called a terrorist on several occasions. I’ve been lumped in with suicide bombers and crazy people who fly planes into buildings, killing thousands.
Why? Because I work for an animal rights organization. That’s right; I’m a hardened criminal. I spend my days promoting vegetarian food and writing about cockfighting, dogfighting, and hunting. If you’re not careful, I might suggest that you choose cruelty-free products or attend an animal-free circus instead of one where the trainers allegedly beat elephants.
Yeah, watch out for me, boy. Sometimes my co-workers and I stand in front of KFC and McDonald’s with signs informing people that the fast food companies buy chicken from suppliers that scald the birds alive. I’ve even dressed up as a rat to protest animal testing.
Some people find these actions threatening. They somehow equate promoting compassion with committing violent crimes. There’s even an Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to silence people—including everyday law-abiding grandmothers, teachers, lawyers, and bus drivers—who dare criticize those that make money terrorizing animals in slaughterhouses, laboratories, circuses, and fur farms.
After 9/11, everyone was talking about ways to reduce the pain and bloodshed in the world, but animals were often left out of the discussions. Relatively few people were concerned about violence to animals or what they could do to stop it. But animals matter too, and while there isn’t a whole lot that most people can do to drastically change the situation in the Middle East, everyone can make a difference for animals simply by eating a vegetarian diet and showing basic compassion for animals.
The wise philosopher Pythagoras reportedly once declared that “as long as humanity continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower beings, we will never know health or peace. For as long as people massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
Other great peacemakers and famous figures have embraced this idea. Gandhi, for example, spoke out against killing animals for food. His birthday, October 2, is commemorated both as International Day of Nonviolence and as World Farm Animals Day.
Nobel Prize-winning Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, who fled from Poland to the United States in 1935 and took a room above a slaughterhouse, was one of the first people to equate the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses with the treatment of humans in concentration camps. He advocated vegetarianism until his death in 1991 and urged people to speak out against all atrocities.
Playwright and humanitarian George Bernard Shaw also often wrote about the ethics of eating of animals. He called meat-eaters the “living graves of murdered beasts” and also opposed animal experimentation and cruel sports like hunting and fishing.
There is no just excuse to terrorize animals for any reason. Like us, animals value their lives and struggle to avoid pain and suffering. As we remember all of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, let’s also reflect on what we can do to show kindness and empathy for animals. It won’t make you a radical terrorist, but it will help make a radical difference in the world. For inspiration, listen to PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk’s address, Nonviolence Includes Animals, at the International Nonviolence Conference in Bethlehem.