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Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?
Steven Best, Ph.D., Anthony J. Nocella, II
Review by Nathan Nobis

Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights by Tom Regan, PhD (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, 229 pages, $21.95)

Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Edited by Steven Best, PhD, & Anthony J. Nocella II (Lantern Books, 2004, 402 pages, $22).

These two books must be read by those interested in vegetarianism, new vegans, long-time vegans, their friends and family, and compassionate activists: in short, they will be of value to everyone, as they serve a variety of purposes. They especially must be given to critics of compassionate eating so they might better understand the arguments, and the people, of this cause.

Professor Regan’s book is like no other. It has all the virtues of good philosophy, but is unique in that it tells the story of how he began to see that respect for animals requires vegetarianism. His and other advocates’ stories dispel stereotypes about who we are: for the most part, we are just “ordinary folks” who have undergone a “change in perception.” Regan’s “animal consciousness” began with his opposition to the Vietnam War. This led him to Gandhi, who challenged him to explain how he could oppose unnecessary violence towards humans, but not against animals. He found he could not; Gandhi won him over.

Regan argues that humans have rights because they are “subjects of lives”: we are aware of the world and our lives can go better or worse from our own point of view, regardless of whatever value others might find in us. But since many animals are also subjects of lives, they too have the right to be treated respectfully and so not “used” for culinary entertainment. Regan shows that reason requires recognizing rights for all subjects-of-lives, not just humans. No clearer and more forceful presentation of the philosophical foundation of veganism is available. Visuals of animals’ heart-breaking suffering and their beauty and grace are available at the book’s superb companion resource center at www.tomregan - animalrights.com.

Agribusiness’s rhetoric about “animal welfare” and “humane treatment” is debunked: what they mean by these terms clearly is not what the public has in mind. Regan discusses ways to advance the movement: to get (more) involved and improve our efforts, there is much to learn here.

Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? focuses on controversial questions about putting the philosophy of veganism into practice. Outreach and education challenge the demand for animal-foods, but other activists directly challenge producers, sometimes with force. To educate the public, abuses must be documented using surreptitious, illegal, means.

The media disparage these efforts: ignorant of real terrorism, columnist Michelle Malkin has called these activists “terrorists with tofu breath.” Abusers lobby for stiffer legal penalties against advocates for compassion, better human health and a safer environment. Vegan health organizations are berated: the late Dr. Atkins’s wife unbelievably said they are “like the Taliban.”

Thirty scholars and activists explore these “politics” of vegan advocacy. Karen Davis’s discussion of “open rescues”—liberations and rehabilitations of farmed animals where the identities of the participants are not concealed, since they have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of—and Karen Dawn’s analysis of the value of media coverage are especially important. Regan criticizes a common argument for “violence” defending animals, but he does not let us forget the bitter truth that all the violence ever done for animals is a drop compared to the oceans of truly horrific, legally protected and socially esteemed violence done to animals daily.

These books’ jackets and webpages are overflowing with fully deserved, glowing praise. They are two of the most important books for the movement, ever. We must ensure that they are read widely; their authors would surely agree that this is one of the most effective forms of vegan advocacy we might engage in.