By Dirk Boon in a Dutch Newspaper "Trouw" on october 22, 2003Since the Seventies, Dirk Boon (54), has been concerned with the Legal position of animals. He graduated and obtained a doctorate on the subject. Since 1997, he was professor Animal Rights at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Animal rights professor understands animal crusaders
In Boon's opinion, crusading goes too far where violence against people and "great destruction” is concerned. But he does understand the radicalisation on the part of champions of animal rights. "When frustration becomes so high a McDonalds can go up in flames. I can understand that.”Boon knows a number of radical crusaders.' "they are all well-meaning young men.”
In the professor's view, the animal rights movement is no different to other freedom movements ."I mean here abortion, euthanasia, nuclear power, the right to strike. Each time there is a strong call for political intervention, it is about choices of principle. It leads to struggle which goes on for decades. "
Since the Seventies, Dirk Boon (54), has been concerned with the Legal position of animals. He graduated and obtained a doctorate on the subject. Since 1997, he is professor in Utrecht two days a week. To his dismay, Boon is to date the only lawyer in The Netherlands who is specialised in animal rights. "During the Eighties I hoped that many would follow me after my doctorate. That animal rights would develop to become a discipline in itself. Although that has occurred in the case of environmental rights, animal rights have remained behind. "
And where Boon remained alone in the academic world, the extraparliamentary champions of animal rights remained voices calling in the wilderness. Boon: "no progress whatsoever has been made. A number of distressing things are happening to animals, such as factory farming.” 130 million animals are kept in factory farming. They live in abominable circumstances. In the course of the last thirty years attention has been sought for this problem, to no avail.
The fact they are never heard leads to enormous frustration for some people. They see animals as their fellow creatures. Cropped up anger drives them over the limit: they break windows, visit a breeding farm. But is that a crime? It is a totally different category to knife fighters and drug smugglers. I can sympathise with these people. There are limits to what you can do to animals. "These lie, for example, by use of laboratory animals. I am not amazed that many people are appalled by this. The 7,000 people in our country concerned with the 700,000 laboratory animals we use each year are not giving any information away. It is almost impossible to ascertain how animal experiments are carried out and why. Their argument: 'We have no desire to expose ourselves to terror'”.
,,The same applies to livestock farming. In this sector 130 million animals are kept, but when driving through The Dutch countryside, you see no evidence of it. Livestock farmers have made themselves invisible. Nobody is allowed in the stables because of danger of infection. They say: 'the consumer wants affordable meat, and the consumer wants animal-friendly products and less disease among animals.'' Without openness, these two parties become incredibly angry with each other”.
Boon considers the breakdown in communication to have disastrous consequences. "Radicalisation automatically comes about in this way. But it would be going too far to call it fundamentalism. Although Volkert van der G. has become the epitome of all that is evil, his way of working for Environment Offensive (Milieu Offensief) demands respect. In his short career he started 1200 legal proceedings, of which he won 90. He made no friends with local and provincial authorities in this way, but they had made a mess of it themselves.”
Animal crusaders are not terrorists
Violence by protestors is accepted by the community as an unpleasant fact. And football hooligans do not have to pay for the damage they bring about. But damage done by animal crusaders is suddenly labeled "terrorist”.
Animal crusading is not terrorism. The Grote van Dale dictionary describes terrorism thus: 'committing violence (individual or collective attacks, kidnapping, destruction) in order to demoralise the population and so to attain a political goal'. In the modern sense of the word, terrorism mainly means undermining democracy. There can be no talk of this in the case of animal crusading.
I have done research into social and political actions after the Second World War. Many of these actions are accompanied by destruction. Football hooliganism is a good example. The Ajax bus was recently set on fire. I don't need to elaborate on the damage done by the squatters movement. I remember distinctly the state of siege which was the order of the day in Amsterdam during the Provo- period. Rows, rebellion, crusading, protests, all social and political offshoots. Destruction in Rome during the European Convention. Destruction in other parts of the World during World consultation about globalisation.
If the majority of Parliament judges animal crusaders to be terrorists, as became obvious recently, then I can only conclude that football hooligans and other rebels must also be included in this category.
Fact is that in the past, no hard measures were taken against all forms of vandalism. If supporters demolish the same football train every weekend, why do these hooligans not have to pay for the damage? If hooliganism requires inset of so many policeman on Sundays, why does the football club concerned not have to pay for the extra police activities? That doesn't happen - at least not in my opinion - and still animal crusaders should be charged and treated as terrorists?
In a communication (Podium, 7 October), the VVD-member of Parliament, Anouchka van Miltenburg, awakes the impression that I approve of violence arising from social frustration. That is certainly not the case. She refers to an interview with me in Trouw (3 October) but the first lines of that interview state: no violence and little destruction. I do not close my eyes, however, to the fact that many protests are accompanied by destruction and violence. Such actions seem to be acceptable, provided they are conducted with moderation and everyone seems to turn a blind eye to the material damage. I have never heard of the violators of commemorative monuments being followed and charged. The same applies to the Moroccan youths who recently left a trail of destruction throughout Amsterdam-West immediately following the commemoration of a Moroccan boy who had been shot and killed by a policeman. In this society, this sort of destruction is obviously tolerated by police and the Public Prosecutor. It is just a fact of life. Nobody gets upset at the fact that the independent tobacconist is not compensated by his insurance company for damage and that he is too afraid - for fear of repercussions - to claim the costs of the damage from the perpetrators. We clearly need to be brave and carry the costs of material damage ourselves
Many social questions are solved eventually. That can take a year and sometimes much longer. There has never been an adequate solution found for football hooliganism which has been around since the Seventies.
Animal welfare problems have increased both in quality and numbers during the last forty years. In the Netherlands 150 million animals are kept, almost ten per member of the population. For far and away most of these animals, their welfare leaves much to be desired. The main problems lie in farming of production animals, which counts some 125 million at this point in time. Factory farming should be seen as a dead-end street. It has provided the farmers concerned no lasting, economic position, the landscape has been destroyed, the problem with manure is as large as ever, animal fodder needs to be imported from countries far abroad, which has been produced on a surface six times as large as the Dutch agricultural acreage, and animal welfare remains as poor as ever. There is constant tension between producers and consumers, and at the same everyone has had enough of the breakout and combating of infectious diseases in animals in recent years.
Most people are fed up of this situation. In their houses, however, 800,000 thoroughbred dogs are to be found, the majority of whom are afflicted with serious hereditary abnormalities. Painful defects which make them sick. And then there are all those people who are concerned about the fate of the 700,000 laboratory animals used annually in The Netherlands and about the state of the environment.
Via my University Chair, I am often approached by people who are emotionally totally distressed at the conditions in which so many groups of animals are kept in our society. I myself am not lead by these sentiments, but I recognize very well the frustration in various layers of society. The 'human-animal question” has only increased during the last forty years and to a certain extent I can understand how so many people have become frustrated at the many problems occurring with animals. If aggression arises and is released at the loss of a football match or other such trivial matter, then I am certainly not surprised that material damage is caused during crusades by seriously frustrated animal lovers. Let me put it more strongly: I am surprised that these actions are so small-scaled and only take place incidentally. If the Parliament Building should be stormed tomorrow and held under siege for considerable time by animal crusaders, it would not surprise me at all. Please note: I do not approve of this, I am only registering and while doing so I note that so much aggression is accepted in our society as being self-evident.
The term 'terrorists' should be reserved for people and groups of people who attempt to undermine Democracy and her culture by means of destruction and violence. In our society, besides, various forms of violence and destruction are to be seen, conducted individually or in an organized manner, which need to be settled within the normal framework of criminal justice. This also includes animal crusading.