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With Primal Scream long established and H Bomb in the works, Harvard’s campus is getting more naked. This is—generally—a positive trend. Yet Monday’s nude protest in the Pit staged by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reminded us that just because people are naked doesn’t mean that their cause is worth supporting.
The arrest of six animal rights activists for indecent exposure during PETA’s “Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” rally is only the most recent addition to the organization’s long list of over-the-top advocacy positions. During the Harvard Square protest, PETA Vice President Dan Mathews and five others (including one undergraduate) frolicked almost completely naked in a bed to make a point (kind of) about the horror of fur. Mathews had called the protest as a hands-on prelude to his scheduled appearance later that afternoon in Religion 1529, “Personal Choice and Global Transformation,” taught by Lecturer on the Study of Religion Brian C.W. Palmer ’86.
In the past few years, PETA has repeatedly used shock tactics in an attempt to further its cause, summed up by PETA President Ingrid Newkirk as “total animal liberation.” Last year, its activists began a campaign entitled “Holocaust On Your Plate,” likening the slaughter of stockyard animals to the genocide undertaken by Nazi Germany. On the PETA-controlled website dedicated to that campaign, www.masskilling.com, images from concentration camps are juxtaposed with images from the stockyards.
PETA also advocates boycotting charitable organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross and the American Foundation for AIDS Research, which all use testing on animals as a means to discovering cures to endemic diseases. The organization called a boycott of the March of Dimes, one of the nation’s largest annual charity events, and even considered disrupting local March of Dimes events and displays because some of the money that organization raised went to organizations and labs that used animal testing.
Other PETA-led campaigns and statements from the organization’s leadership similarly reflect a puerile and insensitive approach to human tragedy and sickness. Last year, Newkirk wrote a letter to Yassir Arafat expressing her outrage that a donkey was used in a suicide bombing—a plea to “leave animals out of this conflict.” In a billboard suggesting that milk causes cancer, former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani (then ailing from prostate cancer) was depicted with a milk moustache next to the bolded words, “Got Milk?” And during the first Mad Cow scare, a PETA executive mused that America’s meat-eaters would get what they deserved if the disease reached American shores.
The sum total contribution of PETA to America’s political arena has been stunningly harmful to those who truly advocate animal rights causes. PETA’s traveling exhibits only alienate the vast majority of people who find nothing, and certainly not the butcher of animals, comparable to the tragedy of the Holocaust. Nor is PETA interested in convincing ranchers—who were collectively compared to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer by the organization’s leadership—to adopt more humane methods of slaughtering animals. They seem more concerned about launching shock campaigns to convince (vainly) Americans to go vegan. In any case, it would be fallacious to think of PETA as an organization bent on saving animals’ lives. To this goal, less than 1 percent of PETA’s annual budget is dedicated.
It’s saddening that Mathews will only present an extreme version of animal rights activism to students in Religion 1529 if Palmer makes good on his efforts to reschedule him. Mathews and his cohorts have done more to hurt the cause of animal rights than to advance it. We hope Harvard students, Pit dwellers and all Americans will see through their histrionic tactics.
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