Thursday, July 21, 2005

Three ugly faces of direct action

This isn't exactly the most important story in the world, but animal rights activists have just burnt down the Hertford College boathouse in protest against the new primate laboratory that Oxford University is building. I'm not sure I have a position on their specific grievance - I do love animals and am sure I would be horrified by the more grotesque aspects of vivisection. However, I think their tactics are problematic, unjustified and stupid.

There is a strain of the anti-globalisation movement that departs from the hegemonic non-violent line to argue that violence against property is justified. This is the position of groups like the Black Block anarchists (about whom I know very little) and the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (infamous for its ransacking of Cargill seeds and Monsanto and its attack on KFC in Bangalore). In the case of the KRRS, its grievances are against the GATT (now WTO) and assorted trade agreements. Whether or not one considers the use of violence against property justifiable, KRRS' targets at least make sense: they are attacking the beneficiaries of the trade agreements they are critiquing. In the case of the animal rights activists, the object of arson bears no relation to the issue at hand except for the very loose connection of being owned by the same corporate entity (it's a bit like burning down a government-owned primary school in protest against the war in Iraq). Further, I'm not sure whom this sort of an action is intended to persuade or convince (or is the only intention here to intimidate and sow fear?) - after all, is it inconceivable that animal lovers might be rowers? Opinion: legitimate ends perhaps, but illegitimate and illogical means.

The other ugly direct action story comes from Israel, where thousands of settlers marched earlier this week against the proposed withdrawal from Gaza. Opinion: legitimate means as far as I can tell, but illegitimate ends given that these demonstrations are intended to perpetuate a racist and colonialist occupation.

*** I'm interrupting this post because I've just heard that there have been three more tube 'incidents' in London, so have to go watch TV. No one injured. London Metropolitan police not treating this as a 'major' incident yet. More ugly 'direct action', I guess. Opinion: We don't know who was behind this. Yet. ***

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