THE IGUALDAD ANIMAL/ ANIMAL EQUALITY INTERVIEW
Sharon Nunez from Spain's Igualdad Animal organisation interviewed by Claudette Vaughan
This group is doing important work in Spain. They are also great advocates for animal equality.
Abolitionist: A slaughterhouse owner has taken legal proceeding against you and other activists for chaining yourself to their slaughterhouse. Is it too early to ask you how you going to proceed with this and what happened?
Sharon Nunez: On "World Animal Day" October 4 of last year, four Igualdad Animal/ Animal Equality International activists, Azucena, Ivan, Javier and me (Sharon), chained ourselves to a slaughterhouse entrance to protest against the use of non-human animals for food. The idea was to draw attention to the murder of non-human animals in these horrible places, places where sentient beings are slaughtered while we're busy with our every day lives. Most humans hardly ever see a slaughterhouse, much less the animals being brought to them and murdered. We thought (and still think) that such action is an excellent opportunity to explain that veganism is a barrier between the animals and their death, getting people to re-consider their idea of what "respecting animals" means. We gained some media attention which got people interested in our claims, but we were also sued by the slaughterhouse manager (it was the second time we had carried out this action in Madrid), we went to trial and we're still waiting for the sentence to be read (we suppose we will be fined about 1,000 euros). Of course, we'll fight with our lawyers to try to avoid any fine at all, this is the first trial of this kind in Spain. Sadly, most of the movement in Spain has turned its back on us, while we have received dozens of mails of anonymous activists and individuals supporting us, our approach to animal activism (an abolitionist one) has gained us a certain amount of antipathy in the movement. Although this doesn't bother us too much because we believe a new abolitionist movement must be created no matter what the welfarists or new-welfarists think of it.
The protest was very intense emotionally and heartbreaking, as a part of it, I can say I was very touched by seeing animals arriving at the slaughterhouse, that morning I saw a whole family of baby lambs arriving in a truck, and a few minutes afterwards the truck coming out empty through another door that we weren't able to chain ourselves too. Veganism and activism are the only hope for non-human animals and I just wish we can make some difference to them.
Abolitionist: Igualdad Animal promotes animal equality and activism against speciesism. How do you do this Sharon?
Sharon Nunez: Igualdad Animal is an international animal rights organisation currently present in Spain, Peru and Venezuela that believes that all sentient beings deserve equal consideration, this means that all animal interests should be considered equally no matter an individuals gender, age, species, degree of intelligence, etc. The intensity with which we experience suffering in our life is no way determined a priori by our species, neither is our interest in life determined (understanding interest in living as the desire to experience present and future pleasant experiences -or in continued existence-), as Peter Singer would put it, by our capacity to anticipate future events, etc. Interest in life or in continued existence as Professor Gary L. Francione excellently states, appears in all those beings with the capacity to experience their life, all conscious beings want to continue experiencing pleasure or joy and want to avoid suffering, no matter how much ahead of them they can plan. A human baby's interest in continuing with his/her existence is comparable to a human adult's interest and both deserve equal protection for their life simply because both of them are interested in experiencing pleasure, and frustrating this desire in any of these two cases is a violation of their basic interests.
Igualdad Animal firmly believes in egalitarian protection of interests, and promotes this idea in its every day work in a simple manner, we consider speciesism –species discrimination- to be the main cause of animal exploitation and all the suffering and deaths derive from it. We attack this prejudice through all sorts of tactics though it's our main target. We also believe emotions play an important role in people's capacity to change their relation towards non-human animals and their habits, and we use equal amounts of rational and emotional discourse to promote real social change. Igualdad Animal uses all opportunities possible to get the message through, whether it be the Canadadian seal hunt, Japanese dolphin slaughter, vivisection or any other form of animals use, Igualdad Animal will try to be there to give what we believe to be the appropriate message.
Abolitionist: What is your definition of anti-speciesism?
Sharon Nunez: Anti-speciesism is the idea that speciesism -discrimination due to the species we belong to - is an immoral and unjustifiable prejudice that must be questioned and firmly and effectively rejected. Speciesism is as morally defensible as racism, sexism, ageism or any other group discrimination. The consequences of speciesism are brutal. Behind speciesism there is a tremendous amount of suffering and an immense number of deaths. Speciesism is babies separated from mothers shortly after birth, millions of hours of deprivation from freedom, murders, mutilations, rape, and any horror imaginable in a perpetual cycle. We aren't wrong if we say that speciesism is responsible for the greatest holocaust ever.
Abolitionist: Do you think organising an annual international Anti-Speciesism Day much like the annual Meat Out should be taken on by the international localized animal rights movement?
Sharon Nunez: Definitely, speciesism should be challenged, (in comprehensible contexts for the general public) and targeted. There will be no end to animal exploitation until the real root of it all is effectively questioned (the idea that their interests don't deserve equal consideration because of their species of belonging). Speciesism is in Igualdad Animal's every day discourse, in all our leaflets, on most of our banners and posters, on all of them you can read: stop speciesism! Last year an anti-speciesist collective in Paris organised on June 10 a protest to denounce speciesism, we backed up this initiative by doing a street stall and giving out hundreds of leaflets. This year Igualdad Animal will organise a demonstration on that day.
Abolitionist: What are your views on Happy Meat?
Sharon Nenez: "Happy meat" is "free-range" flesh, flesh supposedly obtained in ways where as they put it "animals have a great life" (sic), and I shall add "and a terrible death". Respect must at least mean not killing someone for your pleasure, and "happy meat" is no way a synonym of respect for non-human animals. Non-human animals have an interest in being free, in living with their families, protecting and caring their loved ones, and definitely -as I argued before-in not dying.
"Happy meat" is the flesh industry's attempt to come along as animal-friendly through the idea of a "conscientious omnivore", promoting the idea of customers who exploit animals but don't feel bad about doing so because those non-human animals were "treated with care", while the industries based on animal exploitation make more money. The fact that a movement that is supposedly here to defend and protect animals supports these kinds of initiatives is beyond my comprehension and shows just what kind of movement exists.
Abolitionist: Can you be an anti-speciesist and still be a part of the Happy Meat brigade?
Sharon Nunez: I think promoting welfarism is NOT anti-speciesist as regulation of animal exploitation is speciesist by definition because it doesn't question the fact that non-humans are being used and in fact reinforces their property status. For those who consider themselves anti-speciesist and promote happy meat I presume it must be quite mind-blowing to defend something you intrinsically think is wrong. It sounds grotesque to defend that the way to end rape is to recommend more gentle rapes.
Abolitionist: What are your views on animal liberation and social revolution?
Sharon Nunez: I think that the struggle for animal equality (I prefer the term animal equality over animal liberation) is the single most important fight of all. Non-human animal exploitation is the activity that takes the most lives and causes the most suffering, the form of exploitation least questioned where the victims can't defend or stand up for themselves, and the one that, in general, least humans are dedicated too. If we think non-human animals are our equals we must act in the same way we would act in Nazi Germany (with the difference that every four hours in the United States alone more non-human animals die than all the humans during the Holocaust), the numbers and the suffering are unimaginable.
No other past or present form of human exploitation is the slightest way comparable to what non-humans undergo. Fighting against animal use is a moral imperative in my opinion, just as fighting against Nazism was and not merely not taking part in the assassination of millions of victims. I believe anti-speciesism is a very important part of social revolution, the most important and urgent ever. Anti-specisism is also related to other forms of injustice such as racism or sexism for example, no doubt about that; but as I said, I consider speciesism to be the most urgent. We must bear in mind that those that may be nearer to questioning speciesism are people who are already fighting against other forms of discrimination. Our approach implies education on ethics and moral behavior, and the consequences of this social education will not only influence or change the way people dress, eat, or entertain themselves, etc. We believe there will probably be important political, social and economical changes, social revolution if you want to call it that. I would also like to add that the change we are promoting is starting from the basis, a social change that people are taking an active part in. We must work for ourselves in order to achieve the changes we want to see in the world and not delegate responsibilities to others (as many organisations try to make us do): each one of us has a lot to say in social change. We promote this form of activism in Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality continually, the idea that we mustn't wait until others start fighting before we begin the fight ourselves.
Abolitionist: How are your Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality campaigns accepted by the average Spaniard?
Sharon Nunez: Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality International is today without a doubt the most active group in Spain and is beginning to be in other countries where we're present such as Peru and Venezuela. In Madrid, Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality carries out more than five actions a week including street stalls, protests, talks, etc. We have spent hours in front of animal exploitation institutions denouncing animal use, protested against circuses, zoos, animal experiments, and the media attention we have gained has been important (sadly more due to our determination in gaining media attention than in the media's interest in animal rights).
People in Spain and Latin America tend to respond quite well to our campaigns, obviously depending on the age, sex and cultural groups, (for example younger and middle age people usually respond better than older people) and the campaign in particular (protests against seal hunting usually get more positive feedback than in favour of veganism). In a nutshell, I think that the response is overall positive thanks to the simple and understandable message. To the present day we have received lots of e-mails from people who have changed to a vegan lifestyle, have helped create several antivivisection groups in universities where we've given talks, got the media to talk about speciesism (even getting right-wing journalists to respond addressing the essence of our message: speciesism), in less than a year we have met many individuals we have helped to change. Institutions such as Madrid zoo or an important circus are beginning to respond to our campaigns with sometimes aggressive messages (the circus decided to write a leaflet about how happy non-human animals exploited there were) after one of the most important anti-circus campaigns ever to be done in Spain carried out by Igualdad Animal, and the zoo (as I shall explain ahead) has launched a million Euro campaign trying to relate words such as equality and respect for animals to themselves after several protests there last year.
Abolitionist: Where are you concentrating your efforts at present?
Sharon Nunez: Well, we are concentrating on several different things at the moment, we are preparing two websites, one centered on fishes and their individuality and sentience and the terrible ways in which we exploit them, and another centered on all non-human animals used for food. We are also preparing a website in English. Our campaigns promoting veganism are constant, with more than three protests a week exclusively centered on promoting this way of lifestyle in Madrid and several more in Peru. We are also preparing more demonstrations against zoos, we will be organizing several at their door. We are also preparing actions, stalls and protests in different cities in Spain apart from the ones where Igualdad Animal has a group, such as Barcelona, and we will be going to London in August to participate in the Vegan Festival and give a talk titled "Abolitionism: from the theory to the practice in Spain and Latin-American countries".
Abolitionist: Do animal rights groups in Spain suffer from surveillance, infiltration and/or harassment ever since the terrorist attack on the Spanish railway system?
Sharon Nunez: Yes and no, definitely the animal rights movement in Spain doesn't have for the moment as many difficulties as in other countries where activism has been going on for a longer time (such as USA with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) or England. And yes, we do suffer a certain amount of repression because, just as with all social movements, institutions are frightened of anything that questions the present status quo. In regard to the bomb attacks and the consequences of them on our movement, anything minimally related to terrorism (and I am afraid the animal rights movement will be considered this way too) is socially harassed.
Abolitionist: Joseph M Smith said of veganism that it is more than just a refusal to take part in violence against non-human animals for food, clothing etc., veganism is a refusal to take part in any violence that affects society as a whole. Veganism works to expose and end the subtle indoctrination of industry in capitalist society that wishes to desensitize humanity to the violence against the many for the gain of the few. What is you view on abolitionist veganism?
Sharon Nunez: Veganism, as Professor Gary Francione explains, is the abolitionist principle put into practice. In my opinion it is one of the most important things one can do for the animals -obviously a necessary one-, but for me not taking part in their exploitation is only the beginning. The terrible lives and deaths millions of non-humans undergo require a more active implication from our part, this meaning we should take action for the animals as soon as possible. In Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality we promote activism nearly as much as we promote veganism, everyone can do something for non-human animals, from leafleting, stalls, talks, protests.
Regarding the capitalist issue: I don't doubt that a capitalist society increases the domination non-human animals suffer and that it's part of the system to perpetuate that situation through different means. But having said that, I also want to state that I don't think that the root of all evil is capitalism since speciesism has been practiced in several different kinds of economical and political systems through history. Speciesism is so subtly incorporated in our education and socialization that sometimes we need to come back to the early indoctrination found in our text books, stories, etc. to help people to understand how it has worked. In Igualdad Animal we have made the first exhibition of speciesist educational materials. We compiled several children's books that clearly show how non-human animals become instrumentalized (as PhD. Roger Yates explains more deeply in his work). It was a very revealing activity I'd recommend to you all.
Abolitionist: This is our Religious, Vegan and Anti-Speciesism issue so I would like to hear your views on what role you think religion should play in the animal rights movement now and in the future?
Sharon Nunez: Igualdad Animal doesn't have any specific opinion about religious beliefs as long as such beliefs don't affect non-human animals. I'll explain: just as we criticize Canada for the seal slaughter for example or any politician, country or institution that uses non-human animals or promotes their enslavement, we will denounce any religious decision that affects non-humans.
From my personal point of view and although I respect all beliefs, I consider religion to be in most cases an impediment to animal equality. Religion is based on irrational beliefs rather than rationality and ethics derived from logic and analysis. Most if not all religions sustain the idea that non-human animals are somehow inferior to human animals based on nothing else than "beliefs" and, as I am arguing, I think irrational beliefss do no favour to critical thinking.
Abolitionist: Roger Scruton is a writer that is avidly against animal rights. In an essay titled The Conscientious Carnivore (Food For Thought The Debate Over Eating Meat). He said, "If these animals were moral beings then we could not, morally speaking, make use of them as we do". To an anti-speciesist Scruton misses the point. Can you discuss your thoughts here?
Sharon Nunez: Such argument is so easy to refute that I sometimes wonder how professional philosophers such as Roger Scruton aren't able to do so themselves. Lots of humans aren't moral beings either (this meaning they haven't got the capacity to act based on moral principles), does Roger Scruton believe we can use human babies, humans with mental deficiencies in the same way we use non-human animals? Some people say that it's actually the fact that "most" humans posses these capacities what makes us all (even those who don't) deservers of moral or legal protection, but this definitely misses the point as it maintains that it's the fact of belonging to a certain group what means we deserve protection, in short: it begs the question.
Then again, does this mean than human babies only deserve respect because they are "human" and not because they are beings who suffer and are able to enjoy life? Does it also mean that, if suddenly most humans became mentally retarded, none of us would deserve any kind of protection (not even the ones who are still "rational" or "moral") because they belong to a group where the majority of people aren't? What should be protected are someone's interests; it's our capacity to feel pain that makes torture hurt and not the fact that we belong to the human species. In the same way, it's our capacity to experience life that makes us all candidates for protection and not our species, intelligence, etc. Roger Scruton's arguments are the demonstration that animal rights activists don't and won't have a very hard time responding to such ridiculous statements.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to explain Igualdad Animal / Animal Equality ideology and strategy and my personal views on animals and activism. Abolitionist Online is an excellent site, vitally important to the movement today, thank you so much for your work and efforts.