Who Are You Calling a Terrorist? Animal-Rights Advocates Should Not Be muzzled.(OPED)

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Zak, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

One might be tempted to believe that conservatives don't like animals. A lot sure don't like animal advocates. At the tamest level, they label us "screwballs" and "extremists" or just, derisively, "animal righters." But more seriously, some such critics - let's call them "animal wrongers" - brand us terrorists.

The Wall Street Journal howls that we "terrorize civilians."

Dick Boland in The Washington Times barks that "Animal-rights groups are the closest thing to terrorists we have in this country." (Apparently he hasn't read about the al Qaeda training camp graduates recently arrested in Buffalo, N.Y. and Portland, Ore.) Wesley J. Smith adds to the cacophony in National Review Online (NRO) with the ominous pronouncement that animal advocates "have crossed to the dark side - animal rights terrorism."

Granted, some radical animal activists have committed serious acts of vandalism and other crimes. But the wrongers' wrath isn't directed solely at them. Mr. Smith, for instance, condemns groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and even the moderate Humane Society of the United States.

Why do the wrongers feel so threatened by even mainstream animal welfare activism, whose lineage in this country goes back to the Puritans? (One would expect some conservative sympathy for a cause with so much history.) Mr. Smith provides a possible answer in an earlier NRO piece where he objects to "personhood theory" - according to which rights come not from simply being human but rather from "possessing relevant cognitive capacities."

In plain English, that means that no conceivable set of facts could ever convince Mr. Smith that animals have rights. It wouldn't matter if animals could read philosophy, compose sonnets and play a game of chess. For Mr. Smith, human life alone has value, not because of any characteristics humans possess but "simplyand merely because it is human."

Try such a declaration in a purelyhuman context: "Caucasian/male/gentile life has value simply and merely because it is caucasian/male/gentile." Such claims have of course been made at various times and places, explicitly or implicitly, but few would mistake them for moral positions.

What such a baldly self-serving,only-my-group-has-value argument reveals, though, is that equating animal rights with "terrorism" is not a reaction to the vandalism of any radicals. …