Wednesday, 4 October 2017

No Faith in War: a beautiful resistance

                                                Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
                                                not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
                                                looking into the shining world? Because, properly
                                                attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
                                                Can one be passionate about the just, the
                                                ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
                                                to no labor in its cause? I don't think so.
                                               All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
                                               story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
                                               Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
                                               light is the crossroads of -- indolence, or action.
                                               Be ignited, or be gone.

                                               ~ Mary Oliver

In her forward to Gods and Radicals’ spring 2016 publication, ‘Beautiful Resistance: the Fire is Here”, animist, anarchist, and mystic, Emma Restall Orr, writes of the urgency of resistance to what she calls “the fistful of c words”; civilisation, colonialism, consumerism, conservatism and, the c word to rule them all, capitalism. She also comments that “raw indignation is graceless”, that we must stand against the dualism of which capitalism and its exponents are so fond without resorting to the outraged objection that makes us also ‘peddlars of capital’; asserting our own sense of self and our own distress over that of another. What is needed instead is relationship, a non-hierarchy of being in which capitalism’s inherent need to assert who has the most, or who is ahead, dissolves. A ‘beautiful resistance’ indeed. And that is what I found when I took part in Stop the Arms Fair’s event ‘No Faith in War’ on 5th September, 2017.

If conscience counts for more than might,
and justice, mercy, truth still more
whoever calls us out to fight
we still say No to every war.

If every person, every life,
deserves our reverence and respect,
at poisoned words formenting strife
we must protest, we shall object.

Each night that falls, each day that dawns
brings terror to earth’s neediest ones,
for grapes have never grown from thorns
nor peace from bombs, nor joy from guns.

So no short cut shall tempt our feet,
for vicious means make crooked ends,
nor shall we think our work complete
till enemies become our friends.

And even if that cannot be
within our span of mortal breath,
we still refuse to bow the knee
to gods of power and pride and death.

If health and hope may yet increase
and seeds of love find space to grow,
our Yes to justice, freedom, peace
still means to killing we say No.

(excerpt from ‘If Conscience Counts’ by Christopher Idle, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship)

Stop the Arms Fair is seeking to end DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International), the world’s largest arms fair, being held at ExCeL – the huge exhibition centre in London Docklands - once every two years in the second week in September. It was first held in 2011, the same year as the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. As Pat Gafney, General Secretary of the British section of Pax Christi, writes; “Each (is) a manifestation of the violence that human beings can inflict on one another.” Sixteen years later DSEI is still taking place and many continue to make money from suffering and death. There are only victims. No one wins, no one.

DSEI, organised by Clarion Events with extensive support from the British Government, attracts around 34,000 attendees from all around the world, many from countries with deeply questionable human rights records and repressive regimes and who have violated International Law. There are 1,600 exhibitors, including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Rolls Royce. The Guardian reported that, “Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, and Ben Wallace, the security minister, were scheduled to address the event on Wednesday, with Harriett Baldwin, the minister for defence procurement, and Tobias Ellwood, the minister for veterans, speaking later that week. Their presence provoked criticism after it emerged that the UK government had failed to send any ministers to a UN event happening at the same time that was aimed at stopping the trade of illicit arms.” In 2016, charges against five men and three women who had blocked the road in order to prevent exhibitors reaching the arms fair were dismissed at Stratford Magistrates’ Court because the judge considered that the defendants had, “presented clear and credible evidence that illegal activity had been conducted at the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in previous years, and that police arresting the activists had failed to investigate to ensure it was not happening again.” Not only does our Government continue to support this event, despite clear evidence that illegal activity, which will ultimately lead to the deaths of fellow humans, is happening inside, but Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world, many of those arms fueling conflict in the Middle East. It would be easy to just carry on writing at this moment but I want to repeat those words, let them sink into my heart and make it fire; "Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world"... 

It is because of this that Stop the Arms Fair held a week of events at the beginning of September to disrupt the setting up of DSEI by blocking the road and by drawing attention to the destruction and injustice that it fuels. These events included creative action against nuclear weapons, to protest the arming of Israel, to call for the creation of jobs which renew life rather than destroy it, for free movement of people, not weapons, and to share artists’ responses to the arms trade. On 5th September, faith groups of all kinds gathered for a day of worship and non-violent direct action. This was ‘No Faith in War’.  

I must admit to feeling nervous as I went to the event, as I’m not too familiar with that area of London. However, I asked the security guards outside the Excel Centre to direct me to the protest (they were quite helpful and slightly amused!), gathered further instructions from some passing Quakers, and all was well. In the end it proved to be the most heartening and inspiring of days, filled with good feeling and good company. It began with a ‘peace sit’ by Wake Up London, followed by a Quaker meeting for worship and readings from the Torah. Sadly, I missed both of these as they began quite early and I was travelling but I arrived as a service of ‘wild Communion’ was being held in the middle of the road, which was a wonderful sight to see. The Eucharist; delicious grape juice and fresh seeded bread, had been set up on a peace flag and bunches of grapes and Bibles had been placed across the road. We stood in a circle and all were invited to take part. I found this particularly moving as, being unconfirmed, I am not (officially) allowed to take part in Communion at my own church. I hope to write more about that another time but, for now, I will say that this radical act of Communion at which all were welcome was inherently anti-Capitalist, which is as it should be at such an event, and always.  

After this service many of us walked down to a bridge where four Quaker activists had been hanging from climbing gear with banners denouncing the arms trade, one reading “Theresa May, who would Jesus sanction, starve, and then blow to pieces? #StopDSEI” I was told that they had been blocking the road for at least four hours. 

By the time I arrived they were being hauled up onto the bridge and arrested, although they were released later in the day I believe. When the last protestor was removed we all clapped! Afterwards I spent some time exploring the site and looking at the moving and creative, sometimes smile-making, banners hanging all around, marking our sacred space.


And my personal favourite!

Soon, a reading of the International Prayer for Peace was followed by a delicious, abundant, and generously shared, bring-and-share picnic, during which several speakers shared thoughts on the relationship between faith and militarism. 

One had recently returned from the West Bank and shared with us, in both Arabic and English, a Muslim prayer that his father had taught him and which he recites to himself when he is feeling afraid. Another spoke of her belief that we each carry with us our own “individual spark of God” and that whenever someone is killed by the after-affects of arms dealing that spark is lost to the world forever. Rev. Dan Woodhouse, a Methodist minister who is soon going for trial for trying to disarm Saudi Arabian warplanes bound for Yemen, offered prayers, an Anglican minister led us in a deeply moving prayer for the police, which they could most certainly hear. This was indeed the most beautiful resistance. Following this, Sue Gilmurray of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, read a poem by wonderful Malcolm Guite (which we all insisted she read again later), and then Quaker activist, Sam Walton introduced Muslim, Saeed Shehabi, who told us how the sale of arms is oppressing the people of Bahrain. During lunch someone came up to me and pointed out peace activist, Margaret Slee, who was being led away by the police having blocked the road alone. She is 98 years old. When I grow up I want to be just like her.

After lunch, Sue Gilmurray, who had set her keyboard up at the side of the road, led us in ‘Songs for the Road to Peace’, which I found deeply touching and it is always empowering to let our voices be heard in a world that has little space for the sound of the human voice, or for song. The songs were written by herself and by Christopher Idle, who was also there although he had only just come out of hospital.  

Afterwards a Quaker peace group who had travelled from the Midlands led us in a service which included song and performance poetry from Eagle Spitz. As part of this we were each invited to attach a dead flower to a cross wrapped around with wire as a symbol of grief for all that unfolds in the name of war.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation then led us in a beatiful Taize-style service; the sound of a flute filled the air, the rain fell, there was a rainbow. We all agreed that it was a fine thing.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving God. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with those in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12: 9 – 13)

Finally, Pax Christi, the International Catholic Movement for Peace, led a service to “mark the death of the arms trade and the birth of peace and hope.”

Here together, we bring our struggle for change.
Here together, we own our connection to all things.
Here together, we listen for God’s word.
Here today, we offer ourselves in prayer and action.”

This service included a moving act in which “those who offer false peace” were named, those companies who would be trading at the arms fair in the coming days, whose names had been written on paper tombstones. All were placed on a central altar and, amidst prayer and song, they were symbolically ‘buried’ and a hessian cloth laid over them. We then called in a “new earth of peace, hope, and justice.” We offered the police, who were standing in a line just behind us, a "peace be with you", many of us working our way along and shaking each hand, because there is no 'us and them', there is only us.

Over this land of ours and other sister lands, that changed their songs of joy because of oppression and the whine of shrapnel, the bread of peace...”

May our personal and national interests be not the coin of our exchanges. May our laments be turned into songs of life, clenched fists into open hands. And bring us together into the love that knows no bounds. For the earth’s people, let there be peace.”

And so it ended and most of us left to go back to our homes, some stayed and camped with a gathering of ‘Occupy the Arms Fair’, many gave a cheery, “see you next time” as they went. We were undimmed. It may seem like a small thing compared to the might of the arms trade and the war machine, a small thing compared to the ability of Capitalism to make us forget our humanity, a small thing that these few people gathered in the rain and filled the air with song and prayer, broke bread together, shared the peace. But it matters to do ‘something’ and it isn’t enough just to pray; not really. We stood in wild communion with people of many faiths (I hope next time many more) and with Spirit. In this world of disconnection that is a radical act; a beautiful resistance. It is what love requires of us.

                                         The gospel of light is the crossroads of indolence, or action.
                                         Be ignited, or be gone.
                                         ~ Mary Oliver  

If you would like to learn more about the arms fair and the movement against it, here are some links..

And finally, over one hundred people were arrested whilst protesting against the arms fair. If you would like to support them when they face their court charges the dates and times of their plea hearings are here...


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I genuinely do appreciate and value what people have to say.