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Review of Capers in the Churchyard

Recent headlines bring news that attacks on laboratories by animal rights extremists in Britain have declined by as much as fifty percent in the past year. The reasoning for this is certainly complicated, but most definitely interesting to consider for those active in the animal rights movement. Shedding light on the issue of terrorism and animal rights is Lee Hall’s new book Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror (Nectar Bat Press, July 2006), with an introduction by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Hall is the current legal director for the group Friends of Animals and authors the column, “Movement Watch.”

While the book seems to meander between many topics in a somewhat unstructured manner, many of the topics take head on issues within the animal rights movement most are too cautious to approach. The subtitle of the book speaks to the larger issue on the minds of many as the terms terrorist and animal rights activist are all too commonly linked in the minds of those in government and the media. Though tactics such as boycotts, protests, and undercover investigations are by no means terrorist acts, other acts committed by certain groups and individuals with the clear intent of invoking fear, and arguably terror, in particular individuals to promote an animal rights agenda are causing this connection, an issue to which Hall’s book speaks. By looking at the Newchurch, England campaign against a family-run farm where guinea pigs were breed which took place over a six-year span from which the book takes its title, as well as others, Hall questions some of the contradictions of the tactics of more aggressive campaigns.

Additionally, much of the controversy for Lee Hall comes from the reoccurring disagreements within the movement between the welfarist vs. abolitionist mentality. For example, the discussion of the use of birth control by the state to control the population of wild horses has brought divisive lines between the campaign work of groups such as Friends of Animals, arguably abolitionist, and the Humane Society, arguably welfarist. Hall writes, “The welfare group’s agreement to add another layer of control over the animals without disturbing their valuation as resources distinguishes animal welfare management from an animal–rights approach.” This is not to say that all of the topics addressed are boiled down to a polarity between these points, however it is clearly an issue of great contention and Hall addresses the issue on many different fronts throughout the book.

The book is a good read for those looking to examine tactics within the movement and consider what the larger implications of these campaign tactics may be beyond the particular campaign and how it may be perceived by those outside the movement. Though it’s hard to imagine handing someone on the street the “Handy Pull-Out Guide to Animal Rights” and having the reader understand what it is we as a movement really want to happen and how, the point that the movement should have something so straight forward and handy is not lost. Book such as Hall’s cause those of us within the movement to take the time to examine in what direction we are going and how best we might achieve the ends which we seek to achieve.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by

    dustinbuster

    on #

    Caper’s in the Churchyard: Animal Rights in the Age of Terror is an almost masterpiece. I say almost because the book ends just where it needs to begin.

    Hall’s book is so powerful and convincing in its analysis of the modern day animal rights movement that you’d be hard-pressed to find any glaring errors; she takes on the whole movement, and many of its Sacred Cows, to make the point that there really barely IS a rights movement; in the United States, at least, it’s about welfare, not rights, and much of the sheer stupidity exhibited by many of those in positions of power and visibility within the movement do nothing more than mock the movement as a whole.

    Much of this book is about violence, and how brutality in any of its manifestations is completely antithetical to animal rights. That’s the part of this book that is stunningly brilliant. Hall minces no words in taking to task the multitudes who argue violence as a necessary form of direct action of behalf of animals. Hall instead argues that animal rights, by its very nature, is a peace movement. She is passionate, articulate and persuasive in making the case.

    This book should be required reading for every person involved in the Animal Rights/Vegan community.

    But I do have a complaint: Lee Hall does one heck of a job deconstructing the mess that is Animal Rights, but what she fails to do (and to be fair, doesn’t attempt) is to outline what the movement could or should be. For me, this is a glaring omission. After feeling very inspired by her words, I found myself feeling very lost, too. Where do we go from here?

    That said, this book impacted me more than any other book on the subject that I’ve ever read. Period. I’m crossing my finger’s that Hall becomes a louder voice in a community full of loud-mouths—people who are more interested, it seems, in being provocative, shocking and offensive than in changing the course of public opinion.

    An important work.

  2. Comment by

    seattlegal

    on #

    Animal Voices (http://www.animalvoices.ca//) just interviewed the author. You can download the interview on their website.

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