Kingston Peace News - October 2015

Scenting peace

A Middle East Peace perfume exists, and apparently has done since 2012 when it was launched to celebrate that year’s International Day of Peace. A blend of fragrances from Israel and Iran the product was available from Selfridges but is now out of stock. A good sign?

Jez he will !

Peace campaigner set to shake up British politics

Jeremy Corbyn in Tavistock Square 6 August 2015
Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Hiroshima 70th anniversary commemoration in Tavistock Square this year while Bruce Kent looks on.

Despite what all the pundits were saying, who would have thought that a sworn opponent of Trident, a vice-chair of CND and fervent anti-war campaigner would actually be voted in as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition?

Jeremy Corbyn has thrown a spanner of gargantuan proportions into the workings of the Establishment. He has shown up the political class, on both sides of the political divide, for its detached, self-serving attitude and its smug contempt for the real lives of ordinary people.

He has also created confusion among his foes. One day David Cameron is warning that Jezza is a threat to national security, the next he is inviting the MP for Islington North to join the Privy Council where he will have access to regular top secret security briefings. Make up your mind, Dave. Then Jezza turns up at the 75th anniversary service for the Battle of Britain and issues a moving statement about the sacrifice made by civilians and the military in combating the Nazis. The Tory Press reaction? He didn’t sing the National Anthem and he couldn’t tie his tie properly! Things can only get sillier, but also a lot nastier as the Government and its echo chamber in the right-wing media plumb every depth and concoct every imaginable slur to discredit Corbyn and to drive a wedge between him and the more timid members of the Parliamentary Labour Party in particular and the electorate in general.

Bode well

On the positive side is that membership of the Labour Party continues to soar. In the first three days following his election as leader 30,000 new members signed up. And they did that fully in the knowledge that Corbyn is fervently anti nuclear weapons. This can only bode well for the future.

A few other statistics are interesting. In receiving almost 60% of the votes cast in Labour’s leadership election Corbyn received a bigger endorsement than Tony Blair when he was elected leader. Also, and Corbyn delighted the TUC conference with this snippet, the more than a quarter of a million votes that he received in the leadership ballot is more than twice the entire membership of the Conservative party.

Reacting to Corbyn’s leadership triumph CND general secretary Kate Hudson said:

“We are delighted to congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on his resounding electoral victory as new leader of the Labour Party. Jeremy joined CND when he was 15 and has been active in the anti-nuclear movement ever since – both inside and outside parliament. In recent years he has been both vice-chair of CND and chair of the cross-party Parliamentary CND group. His commitment to opposing the replacement of Trident – due to be voted on early next year – is of crucial importance to securing the safety and security of future generations.”

She added that his success proved the policies of scrapping Trident and opposing austerity were popular, “and have now entered mainstream politics.”

As we went to Press the latest story was of an army general muttering about a coup if Corbyn became PM. Don’t they teach them about democracy at Sandhurst?

Congress backs Iran deal

Israeli lobbyists defeated

The US Congress has upheld the historic Iran nuclear deal following another vote in the Senate last night! The Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC poured millions of dollars into trying to sabotage this deal, but suffered a well-deserved defeat. On the downside, however, they still managed to convince Washington to send even more weapons to Israel as a sweetener.

Rosemary Addington has received the following message from campaigning group CODEPINK:

We just avoided a potential war with Iran. The US should use this diplomatic momentum to push for a nuclear-free Middle East (Israel is the only country in the Middle East that actually has nuclear weapons) and a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, instead of giving Israel the weapons it needs to start a war with Iran and more weapons to continue oppressing the Palestinian people.

For years CODEPINK has been working to expose the dangerous influence of AIPAC. The behemoth Israel lobby has always seemed insurmountable and in the past we have felt like tiny mosquitoes buzzing around an elephant’s ear. 

But now, the tables have turned. After Congress failed to sabotage the nuclear deal brokered with Iran, the New York Times headline read ‘Influential Pro-Israel Group Suffers Stinging Political Defeat’. It’s official: because of peace activists like you, AIPAC’s stranglehold over Congress has been broken.

Let’s ride the momentum of the Iran deal victory and keep pushing back against AIPAC. Tell President Obama: NO more weapons for Israel!

Dear President Obama,

The United States should not reward Israel with more weapons after Israel and its lobby, AIPAC, attempted to scuttle your administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. The transfer of “massive ordnance penetrators” and other advanced weaponry increases the likelihood of a unilateral Israeli attack against Iran. And a new 10-year deal to provide Israel with up to $45 billion in more US taxpayer-funded weapons will deepen US complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians …

Anti-nuclear Down Under

Two recent reports from Harry Davis in Canberra

It was very pleasant here in Australia to see the kind of reporting in the media, in newspapers and on television, on the anniversary of Hiroshima.

The bombing was openly spoken of as a war crime, something rare in the mainstream media in Britain.  We were in Lismore, a large town in northern New South Wales, and were pleased to read an account of an event held at the Lismore City Library to mark the commemoration, hosted by a group described as Remembering and Healing (RaH), at which the Mayor, Jenny Dowell, a member of Mayors for Peace, gave a speech. Then followed a film, ‘On a Paper Crane’ by Mayors for Peace, after which there were prayers for peace.

RaH coordinator Sabina Baltruwiet explained that discussing and remembering atrocities such as the bombing was crucial to preventing similar events in the future. It’s about remembering what humans can do to each other; the suffering we can inflict on each other. All this was reported in the three-quarter-page article, which gave the casualty figures of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and described the terrible suffering from burns and radiation sickness, which it said eventually claimed as many deaths as the immediate blasts.  The article was accompanied by pictures of the bombing, and of the Lismore mayor speaking.  There was no attempt to justify the bombings.

Very cautious

When we returned to Canberra, the media coverage there was similar, the bombing often being spoken of as war crimes.  It made me realize how very cautious the reporting is in Britain, even by papers such as The Guardian.

Of course, there is a possibility all that might change, if the vote in parliament on Trident renewal goes the right way next year.  I am keeping my fingers tightly crossed about Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.  What a difference that could make in the debate!

Anti-nuclear protest in Australia tends to focus on the dangers of nuclear power, the mining of uranium, of which Australia possesses 31% of the world’s known reserves and is the third largest supplier after Canada and Kazakhstan, and on the radioactive legacy of the British nuclear testing, especially at Maralinga in central Australia from 1956 to 1963.

On 29th June a group of anti-nuclear activists addressed a packed hall in the United Reformed Church in Katoomba, a town in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, to update the audience on all these issues.

Nuclear free zone

The local concern had been to prevent nuclear waste from Lucas Heights, the only nuclear power station in Australia (a ‘research’ facility), being transported through the Blue Mountains, which had been declared a nuclear free zone for more than 20 years.  That battle had been won, the government having recently given an assurance to the Blue Mountains City Council that the zone would be respected.

The group had come from an inspection of the Lucas Heights nuclear plant, and was to continue its tour of critical areas to include the Maralinga site and to address the South Australian government officials to explain why the suggested nuclear power plant in that State was a bad idea.

One speaker, a Doctor Green, currently completing a PhD thesis on the nuclear industry in Australia at the Australian National University in Canberra, gave the audience a resume of the nuclear industry worldwide, which he said was in decline.  The costs of building new nuclear stations were rising so that renewables were becoming a cheaper form of power, the stations that were at the end of their life cycle were not being replaced, and the ongoing disaster at Fukushima remained a stark warning of the dangers of nuclear power.  

One speaker gave a powerful account of the ongoing health crisis in Iraq, which she claimed was due to the effects of the use of depleted uranium in weaponry.  She had visited Iraq five times, including just before the 2003 invasion, when she found a cheerful, prosperous society.  But recent visits had been horrific.  At the hospital in Fallujah she visited, so many pregnancies resulted in stillbirths and babies with deformities that doctors were advising young women not to get pregnant.  In response to a question afterwards, she revealed that she had been one of the 800 or so human shields, who had gone to Iraq to try to stop the impending war by going to likely targets wherever suggested by the Iraqi officials.

Another from the group, speaking easily and without notes, gave an excellent resume of the present position regarding nuclear weaponry worldwide.   After describing how the few nations with nuclear weapons had not fulfilled their pledge under the NPT to disarm, she went on to describe the current global meetings on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the last one being held in Vienna last year.   As KPN members are aware, these meetings are an attempt by the global non-nuclear community, which comprises the vast majority of nations, to bring pressure on the relatively few nations in the disgusting nuclear ‘club’ to start to honour their pledge under the NPT to disarm.  The meetings have been boycotted by all ‘club’ members so far, but the pressure is increasing.

Best wishes from Australia, Kingston Peace Council!  I am enjoying KPN, as ever.

Harry Davis

Magna Carta is history. UK now executes without trial

Following the recent confirmation that a British drone attack had targeted and killed two UK citizens that had gone to Syria to fight with ISIS, Guardian journalist Gary Younge wrote a forensic condemnation of the Government’s action, and its attempted justification. Here is an edited version:

Three months ago David Cameron celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Flanked by the Queen and the archbishop of Canterbury he genuflected before the pillars of Britain’s legal system. “Magna Carta is something every person in Britain should be proud of,” he said. “Its remaining copies may be faded, but its principles shine as brightly as ever, in every courtroom and every classroom, from palace to parliament to parish church.

“Liberty, justice, democracy, the rule of law – we hold these things dear, and we should hold them even dearer for the fact that they took shape right here, on the banks of the Thames.”

Early last month he confirmed that he had executed two British citizens without trial. Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin were jihadis, from Cardiff and Aberdeen respectively, fighting for ISIS in Syria. They were not killed in the heat of battle but with cold calculation. Their assassination was the result of “meticulous planning”, claims Cameron.

Intelligence agencies claim that Khan and Junaid Hussain, a Briton killed in a separate airstrike last month, were planning to attack two major events this year: VE commemorations at Westminster Abbey in May and an Armed Forces Day ceremony in June. Such attacks would have been heinous. But that doesn’t justify state-sanctioned killing, for three reasons.

First, and most important, we are a country ostensibly governed by the rule of law. People are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty by a court. These were the very principles Cameron claimed to “hold dear” just months ago. We know, most recently from Iraq, not to put too much faith in intelligence agencies. But if they are capable of pinpointing the whereabouts of these men in Syria and killing them, then they should be capable of preventing an attack they “know” is coming and arresting and apprehending those they “know” are going to do it.

Any number of vile crimes are committed by Britons every year – the state’s response is never execution. If they had a case they should have made it not to the military but to the courts. This is not an example of justice being done, but of justice being avoided. Even if it were to be found to be legal, morally it would still be wrong.

Second, even if they are guilty Britain does not practise capital punishment. Fred West murdered at least 12 women and tortured and raped many others. He went on trial and died in prison. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, murdered 13 women and tried to murder seven others. He went on trial and remains in jail. Any number of vile crimes are committed by Britons every year – the state’s response is never killing.

Finally, these short cuts do not bolster the fight against terrorism but undermine it, because they violate the very principles of a liberal democratic state that Cameron claims he’s trying to protect. Britain can now add extrajudicial killings to torture, rendition and occupation as tools in defence of “Enlightenment values”. Cameron insists that these men were “seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west”. We’ll have to take his word. They will never be found guilty; only dead.

DSEI returns to London, and so do the peace protesters

Gill at DESIKPC members joined protesters campaigning against the latest Defence and Security International (DSEI) arms fair, the two-yearly event held at the Excel exhibition centre in London Docklands (see picture – Gill Hurle with a selection of banners).

There was good coverage of the protests in maintstream media including the local Newham Recorder and, more surprisingly, the London Evening Standard. The latter lead off its coverage with the comment:

A controversial taxpayer-subsidised arms fair has seen demonstrators descend on the Docklands, and the Tube network flooded by spoof posters.

It went on to say that the DSEI arms fair followed “a week of direct action in east London by peace campaigners. Protesters say many of the exhibitors are involved in human rights abuses while Amnesty, which has taken out an extensive ad campaign opposing the expo, alleges illegal torture equipment may be on display.”

The fair, which is backed by UK Trade and Investment and the MoD, describes itself as the world's largest land, sea and air defence and security exhibition, “bringing together senior international trade and military experts from across the entire supply chain in an optimal business environment.”

Keynote speeches come from the MoD’s service chiefs of staff for the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and Joint Forces Command.

Bus shelter with posterCampaign Against Arms Trade reported that DSEI 2015 featured 1500 exhibitors from around the world, displaying arms ranging from rifles to tanks to fighter jets to battleships. They were joined by ‘trade visitors’ and military delegations, including those from countries involved in conflict and from human rights abusing regimes, as well as those with desperately underfunded development needs.

CAAT spokesman Tom Barnes told the Evening Standard: “We would compare the arms trade to the slave trade, which operated for years before a critical mass of people meant it wasn’t seen as legitimate any more.”

“We’ve seen a really diverse selection of international, national and local groups all come together to show they find it completely unacceptable that the arms fair is happening.

Another excellent form of protest appeared in the form of over 300 ‘fake’ posters by guerilla artists associated with Banksy’s new ‘theme park’ Dismaland that appeared across the capital’s train carriages and bus stops (see picture) to mark the first day of DSEI.

One Tube carriage advert, which sports a convincingly official design, purports to be an “important announcement” for travellers. In a style normally reserved for engineering works, it warns of “a swarm of arms dealers” who “make huge amounts of money from weapons and equipment that kill people in wars all over the world.” The chilling message ends: “Your taxes pay for it. Customers are requested to help stop the arms fair.”

Syria – Isn’t it time for Britain to set a good example?

Noel Hamel looks at the West’s inability to find a relevant solution

The commotion around Syrian refugees has moved from an entirely parochial fuss over Channel Tunnel delays, lorry queues and postponed holidays. Government priorities were laid bare – more guards and higher fences, meanwhile seeking a window in parliamentary sentiment to win a commons vote for more bombing.

Unlike mainstream ‘news’ media the September issue of New Internationalist takes a closer look at the source of the “swarm” of educated, freedom-seeking refugees. It began in December 2011 when peaceful Syrian activists, inspired by the Arab Spring, organised harmless demonstrations to indicate an interest in having greater influence in politics and local affairs. They released 2,000 ping pong balls with the logo “freedom” to which the Assad regime responded with the army and live ammunition; a gross inflammatory provocation. Government did anything to avoid listening or negotiation, preferring in desperation to set Syria ablaze. They opened the jails, releasing the most rabid, fanatical jihadists who teamed up with zealots and malcontents in unstable Iraq where many were seething at the injustices of the US-supported Maliki government. Hence ISIS was born.

Freedom movement

A bravely struggling freedom movement survives still in areas of Syria four years on. Where it does a healthy civil society has emerged with local initiatives and cooperation manning hospitals, schools and social services. Also independent newspapers and broadcasters sprung up. The saddest thing is that these local initiatives struggle to survive under a rain of barrel bombs, targeting the hospitals and schools they are struggling to run. Volunteers, the White Helmets (WH) are the most heroic, constantly risk everything to provide emergency and rescue for those trapped, maimed and killed by government bombing. They raise funding for their equipment and resources. Over three years the 2000 WH volunteers rescued 22,000 and lost 93 of their own. Often Assad bombers wait for rescuers and bomb them as they arrive. Citizens are sitting targets and cannot retaliate but in vain they have pleaded for a no-fly zone. The focus of the international community lies elsewhere – more bombing supposedly to disable ISIS.

Reality check

No one supports ISIS barbarity and blind fanaticism, even Assad who helped launch them, but bombing won’t disable an idea and bombing can never succeed in eliminating them. A likely response to western bombing is to feed a narrative of persecution, much as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Local players like Iran and Saudi Arabia use Syria as a theatre for proxy war whilst Russian intervention threatens wider escalation and paralyses altruistic prospects for positive action like imposing the urgently needed no-fly zone. British, European and US influence is apparently zilch and consequently western pretentions about omnipotent power and influence, prominent in previous eras, which led to earlier military and political incursions, are now obsolete and impotent. What became of our status and reputation for pre-eminence on the world stage? What of the supposed potency of UKplc backed up by our Trident nuclear status?

The UK has to learn how to accommodate to the realities of the 21st century and set an example for others about how to be constructive and compassionate. To engage in humanitarian support for the needy and desperate, not reach for the trigger and the bomb. That reaction to crisis was always wrong and provoked negative reactions. Nowadays it simply doesn’t work. Spending resources on accommodating a fair share of the refugees would be a good start. Making the required firm resolution to adopt an entirely new foreign policy and international role will take time. Scrapping Trident could be a constructive first step.

International Peace Day successes

Support the UN’s International Day of Peace’

There it was - written on Google’s opening page for the first time. Hilary Evans suggested this years ago but we all know that even getting people to acknowledge the need for peace is not going to happen overnight.

More schools

Children on Peace Day, KingstonThis year we have had more school assemblies – currently 13 primary schools and five secondary schools, including one sixth form group - than we’ve ever had. Some local primary schools have over 500 children and we have had similar numbers in visits to secondary schools. For example at Tolworth Girls School we spoke to all the students in Years 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, divided into three separate groups for assembly because of the numbers involved. We are very pleased to have had this opportunity.

The new MP for Kingston and Surbiton

We were delighted that the new MP for Kingston and Surbiton, James Berry, was able to join Christ Church primary school in Surbiton for assembly on 18 September. All the children and teachers had been asked to wear something white so it was quite a special day at the school. After the formal assembly Mr Berry gave a short but excellent talk ranging from his personal involvement at the UN to encouragement to all the pupils to make their homes and school really peaceful places – and to smile.

Mr Berry will shortly be going to Geneva to join a group looking at a recent report on issues arising from the conflict and violence in Sri Lanka in 2009. As readers will know there are quite a number of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka in his constituency. The MP also said how proud he was that Kingston had offered, last year, to host 50 Syrian refugee families – one of the first boroughs in the country to make this offer under the Citizens UK scheme.

KPC members plan to ask Mr Berry to join us at one of our monthly meetings in the New Year so we can hear more about his plans and special interests, and share our concerns.

Maggie continues to delight and inspire children with accounts of cooperative mules, aggressive frogs and the courageous Japanese girl whose wish was for peace rather than her own health. This is the seventh year we have visited some primary schools and they have a new story every year.

And of course there was the peace stall in Kingston Market (pictured). A brilliant sunny day on Saturday 19 September meant lots of people, including many children came and wrote messages on doves to hang on our peace tree. 300 leaflets explaining Peace Day and the local connection were given out. Our new table, specially designed and constructed by Noel, proved its worth providing more room for people writing their messages.

‘If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.’

John Lennon

If you have friends who are teachers

Although we have used Peace Day on 21 September, and Jeremy Gilley and his local connection, as a focus when writing to schools we would be happy to do assemblies or speak to students at any time during the school year. In particular the issues of peace and conflict seem relevant to the current GCSE religious studies syllabus.

Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND