Recently the symbol for the French struggle for freedom, Joan of Arc (St. Jeanne
or rather Jehanne d'Arc) was brought to the attention
of a larger public again in the largely historic movie
with the same name; Joan was played by the charismatic
actress Leelee Sobieski. This movie however doesn't
immediately clarify how much this saint differed from
the established pattern. Joan of Arc was a poor young
girl from the fifteenth century who wore weapons herself
(even though she wasn't actually prepared to use them),
within the context of a national liberation instead
of a crusade against the Muslims. Not that saints didn't
play their parts in wars between mutual Christian kingdoms.
In that respect we only have to remember St. George
or St. Patrick. But in these cases it was never about
saints that were alive and physically present during
battle. And least of all about an eccentric, precocious
teenage girl who not only inspired captains and soldiers
to a bitter struggle, but for instance also about observing
Christian moral regulations.
We are familiar with the image of female soldiers involved
in battle from other directions. For instance, the ancient
Greeks as well as the Romans had a female god of war:
Pallas Athene or Minerva. Even in the Torah there are
militant women such as Judith. Joan
of Arc in any way was an anomaly in her own time, and
finally she had to pay dearly for that. Of course, Joan
herself interpreted the voices that incited her to fight
for France as celestial (coming from the archangel Michael,
holy Catherine and holy Margaret). But her opposition
just as naturally saw her as diabolical. Her answering
of these inspirations immediately "proved"
that she was a heretic and so she ended as a 19-year
old in a humiliating funeral pyre.
Women who are prepared - if need be - to get involved
with violence to attain an ideal are still a source
of great fascination, as is demonstrated by the success
of the movie "The Girl with the Red Hair"
about the Dutch resistance fighter Hannie Schaft.
It's as if even now the combination of altruistic ideals
of justice and humanity with violence is found surprising,
especially in females. This is probably because women
are after all easily associated with for instance motherhood
and caring, values that seem at right angles with war
and struggle. Throughout history, however, women have
often stood in the forefront in protests against wars
in which their sons, husbands and brothers died. Still,
western culture has always had a place for militant
women, even in the physical sense. I think they are
icons for an uprising against such unjust situations
that even gentle, "sweet", motherly creatures
will physically resist.
In Holland we have had someone who may be taken for
a Joan of Arc of animal protection. This was someone
called Henny, a leading figure in the Animal
Liberation Front. She was very militant and had
no trouble destroying other people's property for the
sake of individual animals. I met her a few times, and
even though I thought she was very inaccessible, I also
found the symbolic power she exuded very impressive.
But even without physical weapons women can still be
very militant when it comes to animal rights. One example
of such a lady is Jane
Goodall, the great chimpanzee-expert.
In a wider context, everybody that stands up assertively
for what were always considered feminine values of caring,
love and compassion, is in a sense related to Joan of
Arc. Thus, completely apart from the question what the
ideals of the historical Joans were exactly all about,
she can be a model for a belligerence that is inspired
by values of respect and compassion for all animals,
Of course, opponents will not literally tie us to the
stake anymore, but still they are always trying to ban
our inspiration as a dangerous thing. After all, people
who gain financially from using animals feel exposed
by advocates of animal rights. They are afraid their
image will be harmed by an exposure of hard facts in
this field. That's why they are trying to depict us
as misanthropes and why they point out far-reaching
economical consequences and undesirable, supposedly
unhealthy changes in food patterns that would be follow
if the exploitation of animals would stop.
Joan of Arc is a martyr and partly because of that
she was canonized. Her nearest relatives were raised
to the peerage. And of course her inspiration played
an important part in the liberation of France. Non-believers
will probably consider this little comfort for the terrible
torture she underwent at the stake, and for her very untimely death at 19 years of age. Your personal boundaries
will probably determine the considerations you make
in this respect. The above mentioned Henny underwent
-to a certain extent- similar humiliations as Joan of
Arc did but she kept struggling for years within the
Animal Liberation Front (see for an example who walked
the legal road: Mies van
Oosten in memoriam).
Within moral philosophy this kind of self-sacrifice
is usually seen as a form of "doing good"
that goes far beyond "not doing evil". "Not
doing evil" is a principle we should all live by,
but actively "doing good" is a matter of personal
choice that you shouldn't find self-evident, certainly
not to this degree. That's why the Catholic Church canonizes
such figures, and that outside of that we usually refer
to them as "heroes". Joan of Arc may play
a part as an abstract symbol for a struggle for compassion,
for liberation of the oppressed. But in a more concrete
sense she's not as suitable as an example to each of
us personally. Still, she can inspire, as proof that
there are people who think an ideal is so important
that they are willing to die for it. Apparently there
is something very valuable in these -often dismissed
as unworldly- ideals!
Contribution by Titus Rivas.