Speak Out in defense of liberty!

Pro-test (the pro-vivisection group) clearly do not like the animal rights movement and the feeling is mutual.
However despite the utter sychophancy of those in power towards this small pressure group (which if they stood against government policy would have faced arrest by now), pro-test are not utterly under the control of the state.

In the past those respresenting pro-test have had the decency to squirm and look uncomfortable about the Oxford injunction, they argued between themselves at an open meeting in May 2006 about civil liberties and in general it would appear that even they, the poster boys and girls of the vivisection movement, believe that the government and the police have gone too far in stopping peaceful protest.

It must, after all, be embarassing to hold a peaceful demonstration knowing that if you held the opposite view that you could be arrested and that the police might wade in and rough up a few pensioners.

We will never agree with pro-test, they support the torture and murder of innocent creatures, but they are not comfortable with the relentless attack on democracy.

If we are all locked up what on earth would they have to chat about on Oxford Gossip?

Speak Out
by Lee Jones
Friday 26th January 2007
Original article at www.cherwell.org

The animal rights movement is profoundly misguided, misanthropic and irrational. Until recently I sat on the organising committee of Pro-Test, the campaign group supporting animal research, so I have no sympathy with their outlook or goals, but if the ‘SPEAK Two’ are imprisoned this week, it will strike a blow against all our rights.

SPEAK has been the sustained target of politically-motivated uses of police and judicial power, designed to silence and now decapitate the campaign against Oxford’s new animal research laboratory. It has been subjected to increasingly restrictive injunctions limiting the frequency, length, size and location of its demonstrations and other campaigning activities.

Police have used their powers to expel demonstrators from the city centre, and manipulated bail conditions to deprive demonstrations of leadership. New legislation allows shareholders’ names to be kept secret so that activists cannot contact them, asking them to disinvest.

Now SPEAK’s co-founders face bankruptcy or imprisonment for refusing to obey a court order to hand over the list of email addresses they use to distribute their campaign literature.

The University and the government have demonstrated that it is possible to use state power to isolate and silence their opponents, but their strategy is illiberal and myopic, bringing pyrrhic victory at a high price.

The highest price is paid in fundamental freedoms – freedom of speech and assembly. Both are denied to SPEAK and both are crucial rights in a democracy. As J.S. Mill argued, the truth is far too complex to be contained by a single mind but ‘has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners’.

SPEAK believe animal research to be as barbaric as slavery; most people rightly disagree, but they might change their minds – just as we changed our minds on slavery. We cannot allow the state to decide what is ‘right’ and to suppress dissent, because this pre-empts the process whereby truth is established.

The new law protecting shareholder anonymity would have rendered illegal 1980s campaigns to get shareholders in firms involved with South Africa’s Apartheid regime to disinvest. Oppressive laws don’t just silence the campaigns you happen to disagree with; they erode our collective capacity to protest what we see as injustice and demand change.

The 1986 and 1994 Public Order Acts, which allow police to ban demonstrations and arrest people who make remarks which ‘a person’ is ‘likely’ to find ‘abusive or insulting’, are an offence to democracy.

Arguments about values and truth might well involve exchanges we find ‘insulting’ (I have already insulted SPEAK in this article) – but we ought to be robust enough to cope with that, and fight it out, rather than turning weakly to the state to defeat our enemies on our behalf.

Furthermore, the government and University’s strategy does not even guarantee long-term victory against animal rights campaigners. The real problem the pro-vivisection cause faces is that public support depends heavily on revulsion at the violent tactics of animal rights extremists. Many people are actually rather queasy about the use of animals in research and ill-informed about the scientific necessity of it.

When animal rights ‘extremism’ is defeated, more ‘moderate’ opponents of animal research will appear eminently reasonable and the reason for supporting vivisection will have evaporated. This will simply mirror the way British hyper-nationalism was dealt with: rather than lead public opinion against racism and xenophobia, politicians and activists preferred to target violent extremists and silence the Right with the ‘no platform for fascists’ slogan.

Now groups like the National Front and Combat 18 have faded away, Nick Griffin’s BNP can look ‘reasonable’ presenting identical ideas – because those ideas were never truly defeated, only suppressed, and thus resonate far more widely than they should. Rather than myopically silencing and imprisoning critics, government and scientists should launch a massive publicity campaign in defence of humane, progressive science, laying a solid foundation for support for vivisection.

Politically inspired attacks on SPEAK’s liberties allow them to pose as martyred victims of the government and pharmaceutical corporations, and to highlight the hypocrisy of the University’s reliance on academic freedom for its own existence while it seeks to suppress the freedoms of others.

These attacks infringe all of our liberties, erode our capacity to agitate for change, and fail to make the positive case for animal research. Finally, the ‘SPEAK Two’ should walk free next week to preserve the idea that a political campaign does not have to tell the government who is on its mailing lists: that is something everyone (including those, like me, who are on those lists) should defend.


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