Thou shalt not kill; but I may kill you

Share
Related Topics
WHAT makes a person enter a movement dedicated to the sanctity of life and find fulfilment within it as a killer? It seems such an odd trajectory. We know there are people for whom the ambition to kill is powerful, and it is not surprising to find them reading gun magazines and mercenary journals, enlisting in adventurous, masculine, high-risk occupations and - some of them - actually making their way to war zones in search of a slice of the action. From diver to oil-rig worker to helicopter pilot to treasure-hunter to soldier of fortune - there is nothing odd in the psychological profile. But from anti-abortionist to murderer - that takes some explaining.

Many people in Britain live in apprehension because their scientific work makes them possible targets for the extreme wing of the animal rights movement. They are afraid to speak up in defence of their work because they do not want to be identified and singled out for special treatment. But this targeting of individuals has proved unpopular with the public, and has apparently been dropped by mainstream campaigners in favour of broader targets such as institutions. After all, the animal rights movement needs public opinion on its side.

But singling out has its own vicious charm. If I say to you: 'Here is a photograph of Dr X. He tortures animals. This is his address and here is his telephone number', I am enlisting you in one kind of activity. It sounds like persecution already, doesn't it? Whereas if I say: 'There are 50,000 people with licences to experiment on animals. We must do something to stop them, to alert the public, etc', it sounds like a very different kind of call to action.

The two distinct approaches will attract, no doubt, different kinds of recruit. Operation Rescue, in the United States, runs 'boot camps' that aim to train the 'shock troops of the anti-abortion movement'. They give instruction in the tracing of car licence numbers of clinic employees and patients, in electronic surveillance, jamming of phone lines and similar skills. 'These,' their director told the New York Times last week, 'are the field exercises for what is to come.' So they are aiming for the commando mentality, and will no doubt arouse interest among rejected commandos and fantasising would-be sleuths.

A somewhat different mentality was exhibited by Michael Griffin, who is charged with shooting David Gunn, the abortionist, in Pensacola, Florida. On the Sunday before the murder he reportedly led a prayer at a fundamentalist church that Dr Gunn should 'give his life to Christ'. So in a way he seems to have turned his victim into a sacrificial object before feeling entitled to dispatch him.

The reaction to this killing among the anti-abortionists of Operation Rescue was to agonise as follows. They all expressed the belief that, being an established abortionist, Dr Gunn was a mass murderer. On the other hand, they agreed that it had been wrong to kill him - no one at Operation Rescue would, they said, murder an abortionist. On the other hand, again, a few people thought that the killing was morally justified. And then someone asked: 'If it is morally justified, why aren't we all out killing abortionists?' Whereupon, there was a long silence.

One way to describe the mentality in question without resort to such terms as fanaticism or madness is to see that it is wholly engaged with a single issue. This differs from the quality we admire and call singlemindedness, which is really a description of singleness of purpose or will. The singleminded might be variously resourceful, brilliantly devious, wildly creative in their thinking. But the single-issue mind has lost, if it ever possessed, the capacity for ethical thought: there is only one issue and there is only one solution.

In the past two decades philosophers have increasingly been turning their attention to the kind of issues raised by abortion, animal experimentation, euthanasia and the subjects known under the heading applied, or practical, ethics. One of the leading figures in this area is Peter Singer, a man who stubbed his toe most spectacularly against a practical problem in philosophy: it became impossible for him, in practice, to argue for his philosophy anywhere in the German-speaking world. He had been 'singled out', tagged with having written in favour of active euthanasia under specific circumstances.

The campaign against him was not confined to the universities. It spread through the press. It became an issue for militant disabled groups. He was deemed to be a supporter of Nazi practices. In vain did he argue that, as the child of Austrian-Jewish refugees, he was hardly likely to be a Nazi. He was told he did not understand what Germany had been through. In vain did he explain that, having lost three grandparents in the concentration camps, he did know a bit about what his critics were referring to.

The campaign continued through 1989-90. In 1991, he was asked to Zurich to speak on animal rights, but he never managed to deliver the lecture. First there was a protest by the disabled, who said that, while they did not care about his views on animals, they were appalled that Zurich should have invited someone with his views on euthanasia. After this protest seemed over and Singer rose to speak, a part of the audience began to change 'Singer raus, Singer raus'. As he heard this, he wrote later (New York Review of Books, 15 August, 1991) that he 'had an overwhelming feeling that this is what it must have been like to attempt to reason against the rising tide of Nazism in the declining days of the Weimar Republic. The difference was that the chant would have been, not 'Singer raus,' but 'Juden raus'. An overhead projector was still functioning, and I began to write on it, to point out this parallel that I was feeling so strongly. At that point one of the protesters came up behind me and tore my glasses from my face, throwing them on the floor and breaking them.'

If we may freeze-frame this protester for a moment, he is the man with the single-issue mind. He is barracking the Nazi, the man who is killing all these babies, the man who must be stopped at all costs. And then, oh no, this Nazi picks up a pen and begins to turn into a Jew. This must not be allowed to happen] The Nazi must not be allowed to escape]

Tear the glasses off the Nazi, shoot him in the back (as Michael Griffin allegedly shot Dr Gunn, three times) - this is the way to make him 'give his life to Christ'. This is the lethal opportunist coming out of the crowd, doing the thing for which he has secretly prepared for so long, in the bootcamp of his single-issue mind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future