A couple of weeks ago I went to Shenstone, just outside Birmingham, to show my support for the eight activists who had shut down an Israeli-owned factory making engines for drones by camping out on the roof. The factory remained closed for forty-eight hours before the protesters were removed and charged with aggravated trespass. I was not on the roof. In fact, due to a perhaps slightly over-zealous local police force, I was not even close enough to see those who were.
Nevertheless, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in that sleepy small town, outside an inoffensive looking industrial unit, to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza; and, more concretely to say that yes, I wanted this Israeli drones factory closed down. To say, in fact, I want all drones factories closed down.
This protest, like the march through Birmingham in solidarity with the people of Gaza a couple of weeks earlier brought into sharp focus one of the challenges of joining with others to campaign against injustice, to speak for peace. It is a challenge it is important to be aware of and acknowledge, because by doing so, we free ourselves to be true to what we think and believe.
I wanted to be there, to be counted among those calling for an end to the bombing of Gaza, calling for an end to the building of drones, calling for an end to the export of arms made here to commit atrocities around the world. I wanted to stand with others who cared, deeply, passionately about these issues too. But some of what was said and chanted, some of what was thought and felt and expressed, these were not things I wanted to add my name to.
The building of drones engines by UAV systems in Shenstone is not ok. But to my mind, some of the views expressed by those supposedly on the same side were also not ok.
It has, of course, a wider relevance. A choice to associate oneself to a campaign can always subtly, or not so subtly, be twisted into suggesting associations with other issues; or be accidentally or deliberately misunderstood as meaning something slightly, or even completely, different.
But perhaps because the Palestine question provokes particularly heightened emotions, and because it is a cause whose complexity attracts people who approach it from very different perspectives, it was more immediately evident that whilst there was certainly some common ground among those who felt the suffering of the people of Gaza was unacceptable, there were also a range of views being expressed which didn’t all have either the same starting point, or the same final aims.
And thus it served as a reminder of the challenge of every campaign: the challenge of finding common ground and solidarity with others to build a mass movement which can effect real change, balanced against the need to be true to the essence of my own vision and faith.
Because for me, the theory, at least, is very simple (even if putting it in to practice is infinitely complicated): To campaign for peace is to say no to the violence that pervades every level of our society and our world. To say no to the aggression, hostility and fear which feed our economy and our education, our relationships with those close to us and those far away. To campaign for peace is about much more than just an end to warfare and weaponry (although that would be nice), it is about changing our words, our actions, our mindsets. To campaign for peace cannot mean calling out in vitriolic language imbued with the same violence that the drones manufacturers espouse.
To campaign for peace and justice is to also seek those virtues within ourselves, and, little by little, to allow them to fill our hearts and imbue our words with a different vision.
This is what I wanted to speak for in Shenstone. If I do so with those around me, so much the better, but even if I do so alone, I hope I have the strength to acknowledge my differences from those by my side as well as our shared understanding and to be true to that message, the message of peace.
This year we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. It is a time when we should be encouraged to remember, to reflect, to study and to debate. By coincidence this centenary moment is likely going to coincide with a pullout of American and British troops from Afghanistan. It is already a couple of years since British soldiers left Iraq. Perhaps the heightened present of the military in our national culture is about to diminish. Time will tell.
So how best can we use this coming time, when images of war, both historically and present-day, will seem further away from our everyday experience? Emotions might become less heightened, debates less controversial.
I would like to propose that it is precisely during these moments of quiet that we are called to re-begin to think about war, spiritually, biblically and theologically. History tells us that war will return. In the moment of crisis there is never enough time to decipher fact from fiction. There is never enough time to go through a long process of spiritual discernment about rights and wrongs. These moments of crisis come as if from nowhere and call us to action, the question is not whether or not we will respond, the question is how we will respond. Doing nothing is always a decision to side with the powerful.
When the moment of conflict looms (and be sure it will loom again) the nature of our response will be determined by the work we have done during the lull. It is in these moments of quiet, in the space we’ve been given to dig deeper foundations, that we will prepare ourselves to find a way through the confusing fog of war fever.
In 2001 There were 25 short days of calm between the 9/11 attacks and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Suddenly the whole world was asked to declare its allegiance; the Church was no exception to this call for polarisation. Christian people across the world were forced to reflect very quickly on ‘what would Jesus do?’ Some chose to actively support the American military, others spoke up for peace, most failed to react at all stunned into inaction.
Given only 25 days most of the Church failed to respond, not because they were not moved by the events unfolding on their screens, rather because they were unprepared, Few had thought deeply about how Jesus might respond to the realities of modern warfare and religious extremism. And so we were paralysed, the churches either took the road of least resistance backing the home side (so to speak) or we retreated from the public conversation to concern ourselves with raising money for our roofs or to organise another social event.
There are still a lot of people who are justly angry at the way our world is organised; history tells us that it is not difficult for promoters of violence to harness this anger. So we are called to do all we can to work for justice, we are called to do all we can to live much more simply, and to do all we can to be ready to respond when the next moment of imminent crisis suddenly darkens our horizon.
A longer and more details version of this article can be found Here