Rehumanize International’s activism spans across a wide array of issues, including some that are beyond the Minimise Project’s remit – our aim as a group is to reduce the abortion rate, and we do not have an official stance on other issues like war, or euthanasia. However, we are including write ups of a variety of events from the Rehumanize annual conference. People often think that pro-lifers only care about abortion. This is a snapshot of the variety of issues that pro-lifers actually care about, and of the injustices in society that they pro-actively try to change. Reporting on the event is Cian, a Minimise member who is very much on board with Rehumanize’s broader mission, and who attended the conference.
Rehumanize International have been at the forefront of refreshing, boundary-breaking pro-life activism for some years now. Their annual conference is always a big hit, and this year’s was no exception. Covid-19 meant that the conference was entirely online, but the change in medium gave the conference new potential, meaning that anyone in the world with an internet connection could join in. Having attended some of the talks, I thought to say a little bit about them. The conference gave a platform to a wide variety of activists from across the Consistent Life Ethic spectrum. Here are a few lines on some of them. (Given differences in time zones, I only attended some events.)
David Swanson, World Beyond War
David Swanson of World Beyond War gave a stimulating and provocative talk about anti-war activism. Swanson was perhaps a bit too dismissive of Just War Theory, describing it as ‘an unfortunate vestige of abandoned worldviews’. However, he made good points about JWT’s abuse as a rhetorical device by, for instance, the US military. If war is a last resort, he asked, why do we never hear about any other resorts? While being conscious of not telling oppressed groups what they can and can’t do, he urges them to resort to non-violence, ‘the most powerful tool in your toolbox’. As an example of non-violent resistance against an invasive force, Swanson cited the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, when the Germans enacted a policy of complete non-cooperation with the French occupiers. When you do not obey, he argues, there can be no occupation. Given that World Beyond War is American-based (and the conference likewise), it’s unsurprising that much of the talk focused on the US military. However, we in Ireland are by no means removed from this, given that the US military continue to use Shannon Airport with impunity.
See worldbeyondwar.org and davidswanson.org
Josie Setzler, Witness Against Torture
Josie Setzler is a longtime activist with Witness Against Torture. Her talk focused on the torture of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. Of the 779 men who have passed through Guantánamo, only eight (!) have been tried and convicted. 40 men still remain incarcerated there. Witness Against Torture campaign not just for the closure of Guantánamo, but also for the US government to take responsibility for the prisoners once they are released, make reparations, and strengthen anti-torture provisions.
The brutality of Guantánamo might seem far removed from us here in Ireland, but Shannon Airport has played an important role in ‘rendition circuits’, i.e. trips to take detainees to prisons such as Guantánamo. ‘Indifference is the currency of brutality’ is a phrase which cropped up in Setzler’s talk and it seems to be a guiding principle for Witness Against Torture: simply, if we’re indifferent to something like torture we make it easier for it to happen. Indifference – or even support – for torture is a significant problem, and popular culture plays a major role in this. Setzler observed a marked change between portrayals of torture in popular culture before and after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001: before 9/11 it was the ‘bad guys’ who tortured people, but after 9/11 it became the ‘good guys’, i.e. the US.
To explore the writings of some Guantánamo prisoners, Setzler recommended Poems from Guantánamo: the detainees speak (2007), and Guantánamo Diary by former detainee Mohamed Ould Slahi (2015). She also recommended the film The Report (2019).
For details of how to write to prisoners in Guantánamo, see http://witnessagainsttorture.com/join-us/ or email email@example.com (currently it is not certain that letters written to detainees actually get to them). Witness Against Torture plan to hold a ‘fast for justice’ and a week of action in January 2021. Contact them for further details.
Given recent events in the US, it was unsurprising that Ismail Smith-Wade-El’s talk on dismantling racism had a large attendance. Smith-Wade-El began by arguing that racism is an obstacle to consistent human dignity and to opportunity, and therefore it is contrary to a consistent ethic of life or justice. He injected a bit of levity by quoting the black writer Zora Neale Hurston: ‘Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?’
Smith-Wade-El emphasised that dismantling racism requires cooperation. He also directly addressed the issue of racism in the pro-life movement, pointing out that it alienates people from the movement, ‘short-circuits the power that a movement can have’ and ‘breaks down opportunities for progressive work’.
Smith-Wade-El listed some things we can all do to dismantle racism, including:
– instead of being colour-blind, embrace and affirm difference. Consult the experience of people different to you
– remember that we all benefit from dismantling racism: as Indigenous Australian activist Lilla Watson puts it, ‘your liberation is bound up with mine’
– intervene when you encounter racism
– intentionally create diverse institutions and abandon or disrupt homogeneous ones (but avoid being tokenistic)
John Kelly, Not Dead Yet
Disability rights activist John Kelly’s talk dealt with ‘Ableism, euthanasia and assisted suicide’, highlighting the presence of ableism in the discourse around the issue. He also tackled many of the prevalent myths about euthanasia and assisted suicide. For instance, we have reached a point where palliative care prevents people from dying in excruciating and prolonged pain, yet dying in terrible pain is one of the reasons given for why ‘assisted dying’ should be legalised. Not being used to interdependence, many people – especially those from white, privileged backgrounds – are afraid of relying on others for assistance, and feel that being dependent on others is an intolerable indignity. But as Kelly pointed out, we’re all interdependent, whether or not we acknowledge it.
As we have seen in Ireland with abortion, once something is regarded as ‘healthcare’, it becomes normal, acceptable. Kelly gave the shocking example of insurance companies who won’t cover chemotherapy but would cover assisted suicide. He also had some helpful advice for debating this issue with others. He suggested asking your interlocutor if they oppose the death penalty. If they do, and if part of their reason is that 4% of executed prisoners are innocent, then point out to them that 12-15% of people who die by euthanasia or assisted suicide were not actually dying beforehand.
Terrisa Bukovinac, Pro-Life San Francisco
‘Activism’ is a huge topic to cover in just thirty minutes, but Terrisa Bukovinac managed to pack in plenty of advice and encouragement in that time. She stressed the importance of supporting fellow activists. Activism is difficult, and it goes against norms that have become ingrained in us. Obedience to authority figures has been drilled into us from an early age, and it is necessary to free ourselves from this ‘cycle of obedience’ in order to fight for justice.
Bukovinac acknowledged obstacles to activism, including fear (and pointed out how oppressive institutions use fear, notably fear of the unknown, against activists), but she was also blunt: ‘It’s not someone else’, she said, ‘it’s you’. You can’t expect other people to do the work for you. She also emphasised the importance of unity, however difficult it is to achieve. In order to make change, it is essential to find common ground with fellow activists and set aside your differences. She also advocated the use of humour – poking fun at an oppressive institution – as an underutilised tool for activists. Perhaps most importantly, she noted that when fighting for the rights of our fellow human beings (as when we seek to protect unborn humans from violence), ‘giving up is not an option’.
We all need encouragement – and we certainly need it in the pro-life movement. This is one of the great things about the Rehumanize Conference: you can’t help but get a boost from having so many dedicated activists gathered (virtually) in one place. Huge credit is due to all concerned for the success of the conference, and in particular for ensuring that the technology did what it was told – no mean feat at the best of times.
Twas a great writeup Cian, thanks for that. And recall seeing that Rehumanize said they would at some point post the talks online, suspect I’ll end up watching a few of them.
On the point about just war theory, (JWT) I wanted to offer some counter arguments against it (largely secular and a few religious ones at the end). If you’re reading this and pro-choice or undecided on abortion, my arguments here may not automatically convince you (and aren’t in this context directly aimed at you, but hi and thanks for reading this anyway); I’m assuming here that abortion and euthanasia, or specifically the direct killing involved in them are always wrong.
Ultimately, the fundamental philosophical problem I have with war is that it seems to suggest that the right to life of those that war is claimed to be justly waged against is ultimately dependent on their actions. We presumably think that (assuming for the sake of argument that such a war could be waged justly) it would be wrong to have killed generals/soldiers enacting a genocide once captured by say, UN peacekeepers, but on the other hand under just war theory, it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong (with the additional conditions of JWT) to have bombed them if say, they were in the middle of raiding a village and shooting everyone of a certain ethnicity on the spot, or preparing to do so immediately.
This implies that the right of said soldiers not to be directly killed depends on their actions/capabilities, and seems to instrumentalise them, which in the context of abortion, or end of life care is a view we both rightly reject. It’s far from clear that say a 2 week old embryonic human can suffer (though they can be harmed), but if directly killing them, even to save their mother’s life would be wrong, it’s hard for me not to think that killing said soldiers by burning them to death or dismembering them (sounds not that dissimilar from D&E or banned saline abortions) wouldn’t also be wrong. And even if the weapons injured but didn’t kill said soldiers, it still strikes me that the method being used to stop them is something that in any other context we would rightly recognise as torture, so I genuinely can’t understand why any consistent pro-lifer wouldn’t be opposed to all wars (potential exceptions from divine command theory etc aside). The fundamental point here is that the method being used to stop them involves actions that are directly killing/maiming etc, rather than this being a potential side effect of the actions. Or to be a bit more concrete, I think it was wrong to have bombed the Nazis, because the method being used intended their deaths, but that bombing the railways used to transport people to the death camps would be in and of itself totally justified (since the intention is to slow down the genocide and any deaths of repair workers wouldn’t have been intended or intrinsic to the action of trying to destroy this piece of infastructure).
Making other arguments that go into the practical consequences of JWT, I claim that with war, JWT is a slippery slope in the same way that “hard cases” applied to euthanasia or abortion end up leading to it being expanded more broadly, the same is very much true in the context of the military industrial complex. After all, one consequence of WW2 was the development and continued existance of atomic bombs (by the way, the US military did some radiation testing in the early 50’s that involved deliberately inducing abortions to study the effects of radiation), along with a massive expansion of military spending (just for context, the UK could according to UN estimates eradicate extreme poverty over the next 15 years for the cost of 1/3rd of it’s annual military spending). And while I am still trying to work out if I think his analysis is correct, John Whitehead of the US Consistent Life Network has claimed that one direct consequence of the aftermath of the US occupation of Japan, itself debatably a direct consequence of the allegedly just WW2 (fwiw, I don’t think it met the conditions of JWT) was a massive expansion of eugenics laws in 1948, including the legalisation of explicitly eugenic abortion (socioeconomic grounds followed in 1949).
I can’t even say that a military seems to be necessary for self-defense either, as shown by the example of Costa Rica (which hasn’t had one since 1948, and is one of the most successful countries in the region for various quality of life and socioeconomic measures, at least from memory). We might reasonably be able to make arguments that the effect of accepting lethal violence to solve injustice is harmful to a wider culture as well, in the same way that we would say a widespread social acceptance of euthanasia (even where illegal, as in the UK) is harmful in other areas as well, though I will choose to avoid spending too much space on this, in part because my thoughts here aren’t fully fleshed out and since it’s not my main argument.
Finally, the religous (specifically Christian, apologies to non-Christians reading this far) arguments I would like to make are firstly that I don’t think that JWT has any basis in either early church tradition or what I’d have thought were some fairly obvious doctrines about loving ones enemies etc. To deal with the first (and with the disclaimers that I haven’t read said works and I or the cited authors could be wrong), I wanted to point out that Rob Arner claims that there was an overwhelming consensus in the early church, after reviewing all pre-Constantian document considered orthodox that all killing of humans was wrong (which seems plausible in light of quotes like “Therefore, in this command of God, no exception whatsoever must be made. It is always wrong to kill a man whom God has intended to be a sacrosanct creature.”– Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 6.20, or “A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.” Apostolic Tradition 16:9-11
Now, I do wish to be careful here with such an argument; due to being Protestant (I wouldn’t accept this sort of argument applied against the use of contraceptives, for example); though I think it’s hard not to see JWT as a later invention. I claim that it’s not consistent with what the NT teaches either (blessed are the peacemakers, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, etc) and that the early Church was correct on this point. That nothing in JWT requires loving your enemies makes me extremely skeptical that it has any basis in the gospel, or was anything but an attempt to make excuses for the flaws of the “Christian” Roman empire. A lesser argument I might pose here as well is that militaries end up leading to idolatry (at the very least, that’s how I as a Protestant look at stuff like Remembrance Sunday),and Westmister Abbey held a truly terrible service last year that glorified nuclear weapons (not God), which is admittedly due in part to the lack of speration of Churhc and State but still by any measure utterly awful.
Rob Sider puts it best when he said that “How can one kill a person and at the same time fulfill Christ’s mandate to invite that person to accept Christ? How can one obey Christ’s command to love one’s enemies while one is killing them?” The way I see it, if we as Christians are called to be Christlike, take up our crosses and follow him (even when the end result of doing so is ending up starkers on a cross or similar) and there was nothing in his life to suggest he even considered killing, how then can we ever view “just” war (using lethal violence to solve injustice at best) as compatible with Christianity? This isn’t to say that we should be in favour using the state to force non-Christians to live by intrinsically religious laws by any means (a terrible idea for a multitude of reasons), but quite how we can on the one hand worship Christ as the prince of peace and on the other hand defend ourselves as being open to theoretical circumstances in which we might not act immorally if we killed other humans is beyond me- and effectively asking non-Christians to do the dirty work of killing for us is equally unjustified.