Tag Archives: arms trade

No Faith in War

Over coming days, as those involved process the experience, I’m sure there will be more to be said about Tuesday’s “No Faith in War” day of action outside the DSEi arms fair. There will be photos certainly, and maybe some video footage too. But some first thoughts from me:

On Tuesday 8th September, Christians gathered outside the ExCeL centre in London as it prepares to host one of the world’s largest arms fairs. Travelling from across the country and representing diverse denominations and groups, we maintained a presence at the gates throughout the day.

Peacefully, prayerfully, many stepped out into the roads, successfully preventing access to the entrances to the centre where preparations for next week’s exhibition are underway. Multiple blockades through the day were part of a whole week of creative action to disrupt the set-up of the DSEi Arms Fair. Informal prayers sat in front of a growing tail-back of lorries and a funeral procession for the unnumbered victims of the arms trade were among the powerful moments which took place in the approach roads to the ExCeL gates.

Supported by those maintaining prayerful vigil on the surrounding verges and pavements, the atmosphere remained one of respectful peace and of passion steeped in gospel values: a stark contrast to preparations for an event which will contribute to the continuing escalation of instability and conflict; the human cost of which is becoming increasingly evident.

DSEi takes place every two years and brings thousands of arms manufacturers and dealers together with representatives of global governments including those from some of the world’s most repressive regimes. As the refugee crisis in Europe draws our attention to increasing global conflict and instability, there is an almost sickening irony in knowing many of those conflicts are fuelled by a trade which being encouraged here, in our capital.

The theme of the Beatitudes reverberated through the day, with different groups independently choosing their inclusion in their liturgies. The power of Jesus’ words, spoken to an audience living under a military occupation, resonated through acts of repentance and resistance, in the face of a system which continues to perpetuate violence and oppression.

The sense of joy and community, which pervaded the day, even in the seemingly impenetrable face of death and destruction, allowed us to experience the truth of the blessing, that the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice will know happiness.

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War Starts Here

In a month’s time, the DSEi arms fair will take place in London. Once again, our capital will play host to arms dealers and military personnel – the arms dealers there to sell their wares, the military there to browse the weapons and other equipment that will be used in the wars of the future. The global arms trade is worth billions of pound20130910_090118s – in 2013, global military expenditure was $1.75 trillion, and DSEi is one of the biggest events of it’s kind.

The scale – of DSEi, of the arms trade, of the sums being spent – is almost beyond comprehension. The economic and political interests behind the global trade in weapons can seem insurmountable. Yet, what this industry is really, really reliant on is our acquiescence, our sense of powerlessness  – as soon as people refuse to allow such an industry to take place in their own backyard, it runs into trouble. Like in 2008, when the Australian government cancelled the APDSE arms fair due to the massive opposition mobilised against it, or kayakers set off into the Thames to slow down advancing war ships, or protesters sit down in the gates and hinder access to the arms fair. The arms trade relies, more than anything, on our silent complicity – as soon as we decide to get in it’s way, it slows and falters, we see it vulnerable, and we can imagine new futures, a different way, something new, vibrant, light, and beautiful.

In September, members of Put Down the Sword will be praying for peace outside the DSEi arms fair – come and join us!

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The Challenge of Campaigning

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.

AZ Palestine Roof Protest - August 2014 029This 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.

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“Arms are the main reason for the war. … We pray for those making and selling arms, that compassion fill their hearts. May God change the hearts of the violent and those who seek war and those who make and sell arms. And may he strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing,” Pope Francis, Amman, Jordan, May 2014

“Arms are the m…

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