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The lives of others (By Benjamin Zephaniah - poet)
Who wouldn't agree that slavery is wrong? But when I say that I am talking about animal slaves who are beaten and forced to perform, crammed inside battery cages to produce cheap food or systematically tortured in laboratories, people waver. It is always hard to look at today's abuses and imagine them through the critical eyes of future generations, just as those who sold hundreds of thousands of human slaves along the Thames 200 years ago probably could not imagine how that industry would be viewed today.
I became involved with Peta 's Animal Liberation Project - which I help launch tomorrow in London and which will be touring towns and universities throughout the UK - because it graphically points out the shared experiences of all those who are oppressed, human and animal. The exhibit juxtaposes images of cruelty which most people today view as wrong - such as enslavement, beheading, massacre and forced-feeding - with images in which those same abuses are inflicted on billions of animals for food, clothing, experimentation and entertainment. Will future generations look back at ours with the same shame and horror we feel when we read about ships loaded with slaves? The mindset that permitted atrocities to humans in the past is the same as the mindset that allows abuse of animals today. The only difference is that today's victims - used and abused because they are "different" and powerless - belong to different species.
Today, billions of animals are slaughtered, experimented on, shot, poisoned, beaten, shackled, drowned and dissected. This happens routinely despite our ability to choose humane alternatives and even though scientific proof and common sense show that animals have the ability to think and to feel pain, love, joy, terror and other emotions. It happens because animals are powerless to stop us.
All animals are made of flesh, blood and bone - including us, the human animal. All animals have the same five senses, value their families, form friendships, have individual personalities and don't want to die. Other animals are more like humans than they are unlike humans.
Just as it is always wrong to oppress and abuse less powerful humans, it is always wrong to abuse and oppress animals. Because today's victims of tyranny are unable to speak for themselves, it is up to people of principle to speak out for them. Animals' lives are as important to them as ours are to us. We must stand up for them, as good people from other eras stood up and even risked their own lives in order to defend children from sweatshops and women's right to vote and fought against massacres of entire groups of people and other acts of violence.
It has been 200 years since parliament banned the slave trade. It's about time that enlightened attitude was extended to other exploited beings. Every day we have countless opportunities - from what we eat to what we wear - to choose whether to support or oppose injustice. Let's choose not to be a part of cruelty, violence and enslavement - in any of its forms.
(Guardian 01/08/2007 )