It appears that an environmental and animal rights
activist has shot and killed the popular Dutch party
leader Pim Fortuyn. This is a great anomaly in the generally
peaceful Dutch political tradition, and totally at odds
with our democracy. Logically, all political parties,
friend as well as foe, unanimously condemn this murder.
And, most likely, almost every individual citizen has
distanced himself from it. Such a barbaric crime leads
only to great personal suffering and useless polarization.
On May 6th, 2002, the controversial Dutch politician
Pim Fortuyn was murdered. As we write this, the suspect
is a "left-wing" environmental activist who
fights for animal rights, who is also a vegan. What
does this say about animal rights and veganism? Can
a murder like this ever be morally justified? Are left-wing
organizations that stand up for animal rights partly
to blame for the murder?
by Titus Rivas
These occurrences may cause many people who are unfamiliar
with animal protection, animal rights activists or veganism
to develop a totally distorted image of the kind of
people who work for these goals. The consequence may
be a terrible association between fighting for animal
rights and violence against people. However, the large
majority of these activists do not perceive a contradiction
between animal and human rights, but rather a continuum.
They are pleading for animal rights that come down to
nothing more than applying (certain) human rights to
It would be utterly absurd to deny people rights that
we are at the same time trying to award to animals.
There is just a tiny and isolated minority within the
world of animal rights activists who think that human
rights may be violated for the betterment of animal
rights. The Animal Rights Militia and the Justice Department
in the UK are small terror organizations that claim
to stand up for animals. Animal rights activists in
the UK and outside distance themselves utterly from
this kind of blinded, terrorist groups.
An article in the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf of May
11th 2002 reports the Dutch Intelligence Service as
having claimed that there are a few small groups of
independently operating 'cells' of such eco-terrorists
in the Netherlands as well. These groups are reported
to have become ever more violent over the last few years,
and to train in "summer camps". All this can
be compared to the relationships in groups that strive
to realize a major left-wing social turnaround. Most
of these groups operate with zero violence, and respect
human rights. There are just a handful of extremist
groups such as ETA or the former Rote Armee Faktion
(RAF) that are guilty of bloody bomb attacks and other
acts of violence. Naturally, these groups are not generally
associated with peaceful left-wing or liberal parties
such as Dutch political parties "Green Left"
or the "Socialist Party".
This heinous deed on May 6th has absolutely nothing
to do with the general ideology of people who stand
up for animal rights. They reject this murder just as
unanimously as does the entire population. And besides,
left-wingers usually represent solidarity and progressive
change, and will have nothing to do with the violent
ending of political opponents' lives.
The suspect's motives
As the media have reported, the suspect had been -
before committing his heinous act - an honest vegan
without violent tendencies. He devoted himself successfully
to court cases against the expansion of factory farming.
But on the other hand, he is said to have been overworked
and consequently emotionally unstable for some time.
The press claims that before his death, Pim Fortuyn
made some remarks about animal-unfriendly measures he
planned to propose, and to have made condescending remarks
about the environmental movement. This may partly have
been what caused the suspect - in his stressed-out condition
- to make a fatal decision. Maybe he thought that Fortuyn
would reach a great electoral victory the week after,
giving him a position in which to realize his plans.
As do the followers of the dangerous Animal Rights Militia
or ETA, he may have thought that the end (animal protection)
justifies the means (murder).
One possibility that was put forward by the media, is
that the suspect had secretly been a member of a sort
of Dutch Animal Rights Militia for years. In that case,
he would have had such fatal ideas for longer, and might
even have put them into action earlier.
Some link the suspect's veganism to violence against
people. This is strange, because veganism is a diet-plan
shared by many very different groups. Veganists disagree
amongst themselves about a lot of things. The rejection
of terror may be one of the few things all veganists
Does this mean that advocates of animal and human rights
may never resort to violent actions? There are situations
in which violence seems justified. Ghandi, an advocate
of 'ahimsa' (non-violence) even said it was downright
cowardly not to apply violence under certain conditions.
He referred to situations in which the rights of people
or animals are structurally being violated, and there
is no possibility of non-violent action. Think for instance
of a dictatorship or violent occupation by an outside
- repressive - power. There will not be many people
who condemn the executions by the Resistance in WW II,
insofar as they were deemed necessary. Neither is it
seemly to morally reject the armed revolt by the Jewish
victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.
But the murder of Pim Fortuyn and the Dutch democracy
do not fit this model at all. Fortuyn, no matter how
controversial, was definitely not a fascist or a dictator.
Neither did he structurally violate animal (or human)
rights. There would have been plenty of opportunity
for non-violent action, such as voting during the election,
to limit his influence. This murder cannot be justified
in any way.
Are legal organizations that fight for animal rights
partly to blame for the murder of Fortuyn?
Shortly after Pim Fortuyn's violent death, various
sympathizers directed emotional reproaches to "left-wingers".
Left-wing politicians and personalities were said to
have 'demonized' Fortuyn, and to have incited hatred.
I think this is totally misplaced and unjustified. Maybe
here and there people tended to typify too much, which
is always regrettable. But the same thing happens the
other way around. Fierce accusations and descriptions,
after all, go hand in hand with great contradictions
in politics and morality. This seems inevitable, and
the fact that it is possible even graces democracy.
Persons or organizations can only be deemed partly responsible
for the bloody tragedy if there was direct incitement
of physical violence and hatred. As far as I know, none
of that happened. Neither did I hear anything of the
sort from the field of animal rights activists.
Furthermore, left-wingers are said to tolerate extremist
groups. Again, this accusation is unjustified. After
all, the extremist group or cell the suspect may have
been a member of, did not operate openly. One cannot
condone something one has no knowledge of.
Fortuyn's followers, just as most of his opponents,
are stricken by his untimely death and that is completely
understandable. We should be careful not to project
conspiracy theories on innocent people who have had
no part in this terrible murder.
Let us hope that humanity and reason will soon return
to our country.