THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
Redefining the limits of freedom
"At no time has a new criticism of the limits of pure reason been more imperatively needed (...); to fight against vivisection is to fight against the principal fortress of the foe of idealism and spiritual evolution. Not until this fortress lies shattered, and even its ruins are removed from the face of this earth, can we justly claim to possess civilisation" (The Shambles of Science, Hageby and Schartau, 1903).
Animal rights campaigners have reason to be optimistic. On the 19th July 2004, building contractors Montpellier downed tools at South Parks Rd and formally announced their withdrawal from the construction of Oxford University's new animal research laboratory. Sixteen months down the line, no other contractor has been found to replace them (despite numerous rumours to the contrary).
After the victory by the animal rights movement in Cambridge, few could have believed that success would come so quickly once SPEAK moved its sights to Oxford University. As the campaign has gathered momentum, so support for it has grown, while those defending vivisection have become increasingly marginalised. What inroads we continue to make in this regard is down to our collective flexibility and determination as a movement to resist the measures that are designed to silence us.
While non-humans suffer and die in vivisection laboratories in untold numbers, sacrificed to an antiquated and flawed science, accolades and awards go to the butchers of medical research, and pharmaceutical cash registers keep ringing. Those advocating a sound, ethical science are vilified in the press, dragged through the law courts, and are forced to resist a sustained campaign against them by those serving the status quo.
Yet their methodology now has icing on the cake, for the Government's new anti-terror laws aim to curtail freedom of expression still further in this country. Animal rights campaigners and groups are to be targeted under this new law. This begs the questions: What is the definition of terrorism? Is saving the lives of animals (either directly or using proactive campaigning methods) from brutality an act of terrorism, or is the infliction of gross mental and bodily harm to a sentient creature an act of terrorism? Many would argue that the answer to this question must surety be the latter. But further - what will we actually be allowed to publish or say, without being charged with committing an act of terrorism, incitement to commit acts of terrorism or glorifying the same? And should the media publish reports of a direct action, will they then also be guilty by default of inciting readers to commit similar acts by giving them airtime?
As the Labour government lurches from one political disaster to the next, we have already seen an example of the workings of new anti-terror legislation in the shape of the farcical arrest for heckling of an 80-year old Labour supporter at the Labour party conference. If this is the sort of thing we can look forward to, what does this mean for any of us? A police state seems ever more likely, and none of us - not just animal rights campaigners - should take it lying down. This must be resisted as a point of principle.
But the implementation of these draconian measures proves one point more emphatically than any other: that we are effective. That the power of those defending vivisection is weakening. And that, put simply, is why they're tightening the screws. And the more they do, the more we know we're still getting to them. Ironically, the opposition already know that in the end we will win. And we'll win because the view is gaining wide acceptance that the enslavement, abuse and torture of sentient creatures is an unspeakable crime. The growing support from ordinary members of the public proves that we are ahead in the stakes.
We know that the vested interest groups will continue to work in unison to try and destroy us by whatever means they deem necessary, but Cambridge and Oxford have shown that as a movement we are as powerful as the combined might of those vested interest groups as long as we remain united.
The Oxford laboratory project, its skeleton still standing abandoned, is a symbol of the "fortress" to which antivivisectionists Hageby and Schartau referred. Their words hold as true today as they did over 100 years ago. We and the rest of the world would be foolish to ignore those sentiments. Medical progress is hampered because of vivisection. The moral progress of our society is equally hampered if these atrocities are allowed to continue. The question is not whether vivisection is a necessary evil, but whether an inaccurate science based on the suffering of countless sentient beings can ever be justified. The price for all of us is simply too high.
The importance of rekindling values like community, cooperation and openness is ever more vital and urgent in our society. Historically, Oxford failed once before to judge the mood of its people. It, and its various supporters, appears to have done so again. Living in the 21st century is - or at least should be - about salvaging our humanity, about living openly in the world. In the 21st century, the role of the animal rights campaigner is to be the voice of reason, morality and clear judgement. We stand at the gateway of a new and more humane science offered by alternatives that harm no living creature. We just need a final push to open it.
So let's get out there and finish the job we started.