|Captain Kangaroo She Shepherd|
by: Brendan O'Neill From: The Australian January 14, 2012 12:00AM Share Add to DiggAdd to del.icio.usAdd to FacebookAdd to KwoffAdd to MyspaceAdd to NewsvineWhat are these?
THERE'S a bit in Bridget Jones's Diary where Bridget get terribly embarrassed after her gauche mother describes the Japanese as a "very cruel race".
Fancying herself as modern, Bridget thinks prejudices like that belong firmly in the past.
Not any more, they don't. Thanks to the eco-warriors of the anti-whaling lobby, who are currently clashing with Japanese whale-hunters in the Southern Ocean, the old, backward view of Japs as a peculiarly heartless people is making a comeback.
It is now positively fashionable to be as blinkered as Bridget Jones's mum, just so long as you dress up your Jap-bashing in the finery of animal rights activism.
Reading about the antics of the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, you could be forgiven for thinking this gaggle of unemployable hippies was engaged in a life-and-death struggle to defend human decency against an army of barbarians.
...With their mission to stop Japanese whaling by any means necessary, the Sea Shepherd activists fancy themselves as a cross between Malcolm X and Mary Poppins, radical and angry but also possessed of a Disney-like concern for the poor, defenceless creatures of this benighted planet.
This week, when three Sea Shepherd activists boarded one of Japan's whaling ships only to be held captive by the Japanese (er, what did they expect would happen?), whale-loving greens talked it up as a wicked act of war.
Sea Shepherd's supporters treated us to stories about Japanese "dressed like ninjas" who were using "security overkill" against these bloody decent Australians. Desperate to turn their moralistic mission against whale-murdering Japs into an international stand-off, these self-selected spokespeople for the whale community called on the Australian government to send customs or navy ships to "shadow" the Japanese whalers.
The attempt to transform Sea Shepherd's cynical seafaring shenanigans, this overblown act of adrenalin-pumping adventure tourism, into a clash between the Australian and Japanese authorities shows what lies behind concern for whales today: a desire to exert the moral authority of what are presumed to be Good People (in this case Australia) over Bad People (Japanese).
One of the key driving forces behind much international animal rights activism is not so much love for animals as disgust and disdain for wicked human beings especially human beings with dark or "yellow" skin.
So Australia's anti-whalers have successfully rehabilitated what many of us considered to be long-dead prejudices against the Japanese.
Echoing World War II propaganda that tended to depict the Japanese as uniquely wicked - far more weirdly sadistic than the Germans, say - the Sea Shepherd website informs us that the whaling carried out in the Southern Ocean is "cruel and barbaric, a gross sadistic perversion".
A columnist for The Courier-Mail once lamented the "uncivilised barbarity" of that whaling nation of Japan, in contrast to Australia, which is "a civilised nation of pet-lovers".
Here, the issue of whaling is openly used to advertise the decency of white folk who own puppies over yellow people who scoff whale meat.
Sea Shepherd has also referred to Japanese whalers as "viciously cruel" and as "terrorists". On one eco-website, a contributor to an online debate about Japanese whaling said explicitly what other people generally only hint at - that the Japanese kill whales because they are "f . . king evil bloodthirsty amoral wankers".
Sometimes, there's a very thin line between international animal rights activism and xenophobia. Often, expressing concern for God's creatures is a cover for communicating disgust with ungodly human beings.
So posh Brits just love to campaign against Spanish maltreatment of donkeys and bulls, believing Spaniards have a weirdly cavalier, very Mediterranean attitude towards animal welfare. American animal-rights activists kick up a fuss about French people's penchant for eating horses. And dog charities go mental over the fact that Koreans eat "man's best friend".
One such charity - Dogbiz - makes all sorts of lurid claims about Koreans' dog-chomping behaviour, claiming these peculiar people "take great delight in watching the poor animals die, wagging their tails in a last moment's desperate but futile plea for mercy".
Once again, the tag "animal rights" is used to doll up what is in fact just bemusement with Johnny Foreigner, incomprehension of the cultural practices and culinary antics of strange people "over there".
Indeed, the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight once discovered that many far-right groups in Europe were consciously campaigning around animal rights, seeing it as a useful way of posturing against foreigners. "The far Right have become animal lovers," said Searchlight.
In the 1990s, a group of British fascists joined forces with Italian fascists to set up an animal rights group called Greenwave, whose aims were to secure "a total ban on all animal experiments, a total ban on the use of animals in any form of entertainment and a total ban on all hunting or shooting of animals". No doubt they'd like to ban whaling too.
This is not to say that the Sea Shepherd people are fascists or far Right. But there is something unsettling about people who make it their mission to curry international disgust for foreign cultural practices they either don't understand or don't like.
You don't like whale-hunting? Then don't do it. You don't like the idea of whale meat? Then don't eat it. But please stop branding as cruel, perverse, heartless and foul those people who have been doing such things for generations, and who think it is perfectly normal behaviour.