When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, should we fight fire with fire?

   When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, should we fight fire with fire?


According to the principles of Jainism, we must always promote the application of “ahimsa” (something I discussed at length in my most recent post), for when we do harm to another sentient being, we likewise harm ourselves in the process. This process has been shown throughout history to be dangerously accurate, when we consider (as one example from many) the stories of slaughterhouse workers experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other mental concerns, to say nothing of the worryingly high rates of spousal abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and high levels of incarceration in these communities. Data can quite often give us a clear perspective on the truth, and the truth that ahimsa teaches is cause for concern; truly, its quite evident that when we cause harm to those who are defenseless, it certainly causes a deep and ugly from of internal destruction within our minds and our spirits, something that can take years to heal.

Recently, the website OneGreenPlanet.com covered a news story concerning comments that were made by the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki. In light of the swath of ivory-related killings taking place across the continent, Kagasheki’s opinion on how to handle the issue is below:

“Poachers must be harshly punished because they are merciless people who wantonly kill our wildlife and sometimes wardens…The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.”

Understandably, Kagasheki’s comments have divided the animal rights community. After all, some of these poachers will inevitably be so motivated by the idea of becoming rich through the the black market ivory trade that they would be willing to risk death many times over to profit in this unfortunately lucrative business. As most animal and human rights activists would attest to, justice is a powerful motivator, and it would be very natural for us to hold to the idea that if a poacher was executed for his actions against defenseless creatures, justice would certainly be served, and no one would bat an eye.

Then again, in the course of our personal growth and development, we must learn to restrain ourselves at times when we feel most overwhelmed, emotional, or heated. As an animal activist, my heart breaks when I learn that African elephant populations are being pushed to the brink by illegal poaching, and I desperately want the unnecessary violence and bloodshed to end. When considering options to stem the tide, however, do we not run the risk of creating an internalized violence by allowing ourselves to harbor hate, bitterness, and unchecked anger against our fellow human beings? Francione has put this sentiment succinctly, by being “violently against violence” (a bit tongue in cheek, of course); he reminds us that we have never, ever put an end to violence on any level by attacking the institutionalized action (in this case, the poachers themselves); rather, it is only through changing people’s hearts through non-violent vegan education that true change can occur. If we focus on this approach, changing the hearts and minds of the people, demand itself will decrease, causing the ivory trade to simply fade away. We can be quite sure that the majority of these poachers do not have a personal vendetta against elephants; there is simply a great deal of financial incentive in store for those who are willing to risk personal safety and now, possibly, death, in order to gain access to the elephant’s tusks. We cannot, and will not, solve the issue (however heartbreaking) by adding more death into the equation. Although it might momentarily feel “good” to know that those are creating such violence and destruction towards these beautiful animals might be dealt with in  “just” manner, adding to the death toll (regardless of species) is not by any means a long term solution, and the short term repercussions include supreme violations of human rights as well as the potential to stoke tensions between differing factions within these countries.

Would I ever condone the actions of these individuals? Absolutely not. But that does not mean that we must end their lives on the spot, without due process of a trial and sentencing? I would likewise disagree. Violence in one form does not excuse or justify a violent response. While there should certainly be severe repercussions for these individuals, killing cannot be justified from a moral or ethical perspective, if we truly consider ourselves to be practitioners of a non-violent lifestyle.


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