Spear tactics and the camouflage of rights

Rights as Weapons. Instruments of Conflicts, Tools of Power
Forfatter: Clifford Bob
Forlag: Princeton University Press (USA)
POWER ABUSE: Human rights and justice in general are a positive value that can end in cynical manipulation. New book perspective the concept.


In 2010 bullfighting was banned in Catalonia. It was a significant victory for animal protection groups, but in many ways it came slightly in the back door. Already in 2008, the largest of the groups, Plataforma Prou, had collected 180.000 signatures against bullfighting, which required the regional parliament to respond. But the politicians showed no interest in the matter, so nothing really happened. A few years later, however, the verdict fell in a completely different case. Last June, the Madrid Constitutional Court rejected the Catalan claim to be recognized as a special nation within the Spanish national community, triggering major demonstrations in Barcelona and other Catalan cities. Suddenly, Catalan nationalists caught sight of the Plataforma Prou ​​initiative, and a month later, the regional parliament passed a law relieving the bulls of a painful and humiliating death in the arena.

Worldwide, this was portrayed as a great day for the animal welfare case. By contrast, it was largely overlooked that the Catalan nationalists had made a mark in this way by distancing themselves from bullfighting as a piece of Spanish cultural heritage. The fact that the welfare of the animals came only in the second row, was emphasized by the same parliamentarians a few weeks after statute by law that correbous – an equally brutal practice where bulls are chased through the city streets – is part of Catalonia's cultural heritage.

Marco de Angelis. EEA WWW.LIBEX.EU

Clifford Bob, who is a professor of political science at American Duquesne University, looks at how recent rights and rights have often become an instrument in a conflict situation. This is the case from Catalonia as a shining example, because here animal welfare was used cynically as a service in a completely different matter, and from there he embarks on a tour that will come together as a kind of typology of rights.

Spear tactics

The Catalan example is rights such as camouflage. This tactic is often used in marginalized groups, such as when the right-wing radical group English Defense League seeks popular support by criticizing halal slaughter. The claim here is that the Islamic slaughter method violates animal welfare, while the group's actual errand is Islamophobic.

One invokes the right of the majority and enters the right of the minority
under foot.

Another form of action is what Clifford Bob describes as the spear tactic. One could just as well call it a needle stick operation, for this is the procedure when a small group of limited resources attacks the establishment. He resorts to a classic example: At the beginning of the millennium, Soili Lautsi sued the Italian state because her two atheist sons felt offended by the crucifix that hung in every classroom at their school. Together with a small group of Italian atheists, she won the case at the European Court of Human Rights.


Crucifixes in school are, of course, only a very small part of the whole question of the relationship between church and state and the individual citizen's freedom to choose or opt out in faith. But that's the whole idea. The small group chose to go into a limited case instead of directing the major frontal attack on the entire ecclesiastical establishment, and the victory at the court led to a broader debate that created hope for more fundamental changes. A limited goal creates better chances of winning, and it can be an advantage to lose the judicial showdown in the first place. Lautsi was first dismissed by the Italian judiciary, which opened up the possibility of an appeal to the European Court of Justice, and it automatically created increased awareness of the case.

The interests of the majority

Conversely, rights are also seen as an instrument of power and a method of justifying the oppression and neglect of a minority. Thus, in January 2014, when Nigeria implemented a strict ban on any expression of homosexuality, it countered international criticism by asserting the sovereign right of Nigerians to decide how their society should be organized.

However, we do not have to go that far in the world to find similar examples. In the past year, several European governments have passed laws that are supposed to protect the interests of the majority. Switzerland has introduced a ban on building minarets, and in several places Muslim women have been restricted in their right to wear a headscarf. One invokes the law of the majority and tramples on the law of the minority, and the official explanation for a headscarf ban is often the equality of women, while the real cause is fear of foreign cultural influence.

Rights have always been a Janus head. They are used not only defensively, but equally offensively. Rights are not only invoked in the struggle for liberation, but are used just as much to justify or promote oppression.

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