By Ingrid Newkirk
Is it a coincidence that, in the wake of the attacks on Washington and New
York, most men speak of retaliation while most women express an urge to
return to peace?
At the Washington Center for Teaching Peace, Professor Colman McCarthy has
fretted over the fact that, year after year, his female students are always
more open than his male students to the concept of peace. A Georgetown law
student thought she had the answer. “Women want to know about nonviolence
more than men because we are more victimized by violence than men. And
victims always want solutions quicker.”
McCarthy thought it over and
realized that most domestic violence is caused by men. After all, there are
no battered men’s shelters. The leading cause of injury to women is being
beaten at home. Some women have more fear walking into their homes than
walking out of them. In McCarthy’s words, many women suffer husbands and
lovers and fathers who surround them with “combat and commotion, not
compassion and comfort.” In many of those homes, humane society officers
find that children and animals take the brunt of physical violence.
It has always been that way. I remember my mother describing how English
families destroyed their beloved pet dachshunds in World War Two because
people saw the dogs as “German,” and would throw stones at them or worse.
Then there is the writing of Rosa Luxemburg, a peace activist jailed for
opposition to World War One. In 1917, two years before she was assassinated by
the secret police, she wrote from her cell in the Breslau Prison about war
and the use of animals.
She recounted how soldiers outside her window mercilessly flogged a team of
buffaloes who were war trophies from Rumania. She wrote, “A lorry came laden
with sacks, so overladen indeed that the buffaloes were unable to drag it
across the threshhold of the gate. The soldier-driver belabored the poor
beasts so savagely with the butt end of his whip that the wardress at the
gate, indignant at the sight, asked him if he had no compassion for animals.
‘No more than anyone has compassion for us men,’ he answered with an evil
smile, and redoubled his blows.”
Eventually, the animals, utterly exhausted, succeed in drawing the load over
the obstacle, and stood perfectly still. Ms. Luxemburg wrote, “The one that
was bleeding had an expression on its face and in its soft black eyes like
that of a weeping child – one that has been severely thrashed and does not
know why, nor how to escape from the torment of ill-treatment.” She thinks
of where these buffaloes have come from, the rich, green meadows of another
land, and how they are now objects of disdain for their “nationality,” and
concludes, “I had a visitation of all the splendor of war!”
While we reel from the differences between human nations and religions and the destruction that brings, it is a good time to examine how it is only our own ingrained prejudices that allow us to treat others we don’t understand as nothing more than commodities, instead of as sentient beings who feel love, pain, fear,
misery, loneliness and the blade at their throats.
Luckily, it isn’t only women who understand that non-violence can be
expressed through kindness to the animal ‘nations,’ the ultimate kindness,
perhaps, being to leave them in peace and refrain from eating them.
Professor McCarthy advocates vegetarianism.
The Martin Luther King family has
become vegetarian because they cannot escape the absolute analogy of he
slaughterhouse that supplies the supermarket and the carnage that is war and
Mahatma Gandhi, who liberated India from the harsh yoke of
the British Empire, embraced a nonviolent diet and spoke forcefully against
frightening animals and stealing their lives all for a fleeting taste.
The Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose fled Nazi-occupied
Europe, became a vegetarian when, from the window of his rented room, he
viewed cattle in shackles being beaten down a ramp to their deaths.
Many Quakers and Grahams who fought for emancipation of women and the abolition of the slave trade refused meat so as to avoid violence to their own bodies
and to animal life.
As we cast about for ways to cope with the World Trade Center and related
incidents, perhaps it is time to look at the animal rights message with new
eyes, to wonder if we can open our hearts and minds and oppose
violence in all its forms, not simply when the horror reaches into our
families, communities and homes. We’re all free to make a start
by wiping violence off our plates.
Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, will send free vegetarian recipes to anyone who writes to PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510, or the web site below.
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