by Genny Bove
Last Sunday, 21 September, I was involved in organising an event here in Wrexham for World Peace Day. It was a beautiful day spent with local people on our town green, known locally as the Library Field. After a minute’s silence for world peace, a circle ceremony and a service for those of all faiths and none, we spent the afternoon together celebrating in peaceful community with live music, poetry and various shared activities and I came away feeling energised and inspired.
On Monday, we held our annual Schools Peace Day at St. Christopher’s Community School with pupils from seven Wrexham schools taking part. There were workshops on topics including militarism and young people, ethical dilemmas in warfare, women and children in Afghanistan, conscientious objectors in WWI, dealing with negative feelings, massage, singing and poetry. Three speakers also went along to the local F.E. college to talk peace with health & social care and public service students there.
Yesterday I stayed at home writing reports and sorting out my photographs.
Today it’s Wednesday and I woke up to the BBC reporting that Britain could be involved in bombing Iraq (again) by the end of the week and that US Secretary of State John Kerry now has over 40 countries joined in coalition against Islamic State militants.
So, what should we do about it? What can we do about it?
Two weeks ago, I was in Dublin with the mother of imprisoned WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning attending a memorial evening for the late Gerry Conlon who died this summer. Gerry was seized from his bed in Belfast in 1974, illegally rendered to England, fitted up, tortured, convicted with three others and held for 15 years for a crime he didn’t commit – the Guildford pub bombing. His father Giuseppe, who went to London to help his son, found himself also arrested, framed and convicted along with six others on explosives charges and died in prison, his name only cleared after his death.
Gerry spent the rest of his life working in solidarity with victims of injustice and had met Chelsea Manning’s family members back in November in Dublin. At a solidarity event held at Trinity College for Chelsea, Gerry gave a speech in which he referred to establishment corruption and cover up and wars being fought on lies, as well as the importance of whistleblowers and the need to stand in solidarity with them.
Back in Dublin, during this memorial evening, we watched the speech again.
What Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning did was to expose the horror of what governments expect children, their sons and daughters, to do on their behalf, the pretext of going to war to liberate people… we all need to be aware of what is being done in our name, because it’s not my name they’re doing it in. I didn’t vote for a politician to take me to war or to take my country to war or to send young men and women to war to be blown up and shot, some of them coming back without limbs, some of them coming back so traumatised that they become outside of society… we have to stand up and… tell them ‘You represent us, not big business‘… We need them to enrich our life, not destroy our lives [my bold].
So, as the US and its unholy alliance up the ante and expand the wars, I’m thinking on this advice.
I’m also mindful of the words of Gerry Conlon’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, who has drawn comparisons between the demonisation of the Irish in the 1970s and the demonisation of Muslims now:
Muslim men and women here and across the world are registering the ill-treatment of their community, and recognising the analogies with the experiences of the Irish…
We’re very apathetic politically and morally in this country. We take it on trust that if the government suspects people of terrorism and locks them up, or puts them on control orders without charge, they must be terrorists.
All of which, along with wars of aggression and the slaughter of innocent civilians, simply serves to fuel resentment and extremism of course.
Three weeks ago, as NATO leaders were about to descend on the Celtic Manor resort in Newport south Wales for their biennial summit, I entered Newport police station to report NATO war crimes using evidence released by Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks. I asked them – there were 9,500 officers in the vicinity at the time – to arrest the NATO leaders responsible who, I had good reason to believe, would be plotting at Celtic Manor to commit more war crimes. I handed over my evidence. The police refused to accept this in the form of a statement but did take it as ‘exhibits’ and for which I have a receipt of sorts:
Two days later, others returned to the police station with more evidence and were kept waiting for over four hours before anyone would deal with them although there were thousands of officers in the area, any one of whom could have dealt with the reporting of a crime, some even stationed in the police station reception area while we were there solely to ‘facilitate your protest’. It was not clear to us why entering a police station to report crimes committed and about to be committed should be considered a protest.
The police failed to act on the evidence provided to them, too busy protecting NATO leaders from the people when their proper business should be to protect the people from NATO leaders, whose crimes are well documented. Warmongers, including Barack Obama, were allowed to get away and continue unhindered with their ongoing killing spree.
Bombing Iraq, Syria or anywhere else for that matter won’t stop the Islamic State and it won’t bring peace. What we’re being sold all over again as being ‘just war’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’ is nothing more than state terrorism in which the only winner will be the military industrial complex and about which we will inevitably be told lies. We should know that by now, especially in light of all the primary source information about the war in Iraq that was shared with the world by Chelsea Manning and for which public spirited act she has paid with her freedom.
This new ‘coalition’ of Obama’s has no moral authority whatsoever. Many of those involved are responsible for crimes against humanity themselves, including over the past 20 years in Iraq. Read this powerful article by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire if you’re in any doubt. I really don’t see that there’s a fundamental difference between Islamic State barbarism and western state barbarism.
Take Obama’s Tuesday kill lists for instance, illegal extra-judicial killings by drones that often leave civilians dead too. Take the deaths of half a million Iraqi children (to 1996) from sanctions that the then US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright had said were “worth it”.
Coalition member Saudi Arabia, with no pretence of the ‘democracy’ we were so insistent on imposing in Iraq at the cost of up to a million lives since 2003, is beheading people left, right and centre, often for minor infractions. See also this cartoon on the subject.
Mairead Maguire examines how Isis might be stopped:
That the US Administration plans to escalate military attacks in Iraq and Syria and to increase funding and training of ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria, is a betrayal of all those people in these countries struggling through peaceful and nonviolent ways to solve their problems without guns and violence. If the US wants to stop ISIS, it can remove its funding and arms, which are coming from US allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others and from the US itself, through intermediaries like the Syrian ‘rebels’. It is the USA and their allies that have created the conditions, funded and facilitated the growth of these reactionary Jihadist organizations. If USA/UK really want to stop ISIS they should work with the Syrian Government, support the people who have been the main victims of ISIS, and support the Syrian peace and reconciliation movement who are working to stop the violence and bring real change in their country.
Maguire goes on to talk about the illegality of military action against Isis in Syria and warns against going into coalition with the US in this war:
The USA administration policy of air strikes against ISIS in Syria and increasing funding for the moderate rebels is illegal under international law, as it is illegal for the US to fund, train, weaponize and co-ordinate to overthrow the regime of a sovereign state. Also the airspace of any country is its own and USA must get Syrian authorization to fly over Syria. (Illegally Israel continues to fly over and bomb Syria). Having visited Iraq before the second war, and Syria in 2013 and 2014 and witnessed that the people of both countries were brave and courageous and trying to solve their problems (in Syria, a proxy war with thousands of foreign Jihadists) through peace and reconciliation. In Syria, they asked that there be no outside interference and aggression on their country, as this would make things worse, not better. Under International Law the US Government, NATO and any coalition forces should respect the wishes of the people of the Middle East and Syria, and recognize it is for the people of Syria to modify or change their government and not for the US or Saudi Arabia or NATO.
Ending militarism and war is possible and restoring justice, human rights and dignity for all the people will bring peace and we must each do all in our power to Resist and Stop this latest drive to war and demand our governments withdraw from this Coalition of war with USA.
Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq during the organization’s relative infancy, Isis cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets – even as the fight is taken to Syria, even if it is conducted by non-Western forces with air support…
Attacking Isis directly, by air strikes or special operations forces, is a very tempting option available to policymakers, with immediate (but not always good) results. Unfortunately, when the west fights fire with fire, we feed into a cycle of outrage, recruitment, organizing and even more fighting that goes back decades. This is exactly what happened in Iraq during the height of a civil war in 2006 and 2007, and it can only be expected to occur again.
The US has already been illegally bombing Iraq for weeks without seeking United Nations approval, is about to up its airstrikes on Iraq and has now expanded them to Syria. French planes have already bombed targets in Iraq and Australian fighter jets have arrived and are ready to go. Britain is about to join in with this bloody and illegal folly and we have a very small window of opportunity to keep Britain out.
Keeping Britain out of this war – things we can all do
It’s imperative that we do everything we can to stop Britain joining in this latest manifestation of asymmetric warfare, in which civilians will as always in modern warfare be the primary losers.
I’ll be following up the lack of police action over the crime reports but the foreign leaders have already escaped and the likelihood of our political police taking action against home grown war criminals – and it’s our elected politicians I’m talking about, not disaffected Muslim kids – seems low at best. However, I think there are things we can do and we need to be doing them now.
(1) A to B marches
There’s always the A to B march option and, as we speak, the Stop the War Coalition (aka Socialist Worker Party) will be busy manufacturing the next pile of placards for another ’emergency demonstration’ that will be used to bolster party membership but is unlikely to do much to stop the wars. If it makes you feel better then go ahead and do it, but please don’t make it the only thing you do. Like the penny in the charity box, it might assuage your guilt but it won’t solve the problem.
(2) Armchair Activism
For the armchair activist, there are things that can usefully be done now and RIGHT NOW is the time to do them.
(a) Write to your MP and demand that they keep Britain out of this latest expansion of the war. The easiest way to do this is through writetothem.com. Maybe phone them or visit their offices too. Stop the War has a suggested letter that can be adapted if you don’t want to write your own.
Along with the majority of the British people, I opposed an attack on Iraq in 2003. The brutal reality of the invasion and occupation tragically confirmed my worst fears. At least half a million died and the country was devastated.
Now, less than three years after US troops were pulled out, the US is bombing again. The British government is considering joining military action not just in Iraq but in Syria too.
All the experience of the varied military action taken by the West in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya shows that such interventions kill innocents, destroy infrastructure and fragment societies, and in the process spread bitterness and violence.
While we all reject the politics and methods of ISIS, we have to recognise that it is in part a product of the last disastrous intervention which helped foster sectarianism and regional division. It has also been funded and aided by some of the west’s allies, especially Saudi Arabia.
More bombing, let alone boots on the ground, will only exacerbate the situation. We urge all ministers and MPs to rule out any further military action in Iraq or Syria.
(b) Write to local and national papers. If editors get a large enough mailbag on a subject, they’ll have to take it seriously. You could also contribute to radio phone-ins if you feel confident to do this.
(3) Get out on the streets. Obviously, it helps to be in London when you’re trying to influence political decisions, but anywhere with people is also really important, especially given the fundamental lack of critical analysis in the news as presented by mainstream media outlets which are happy to peddle government lies as fact. Seeing us standing on the street with a banner or placard might be the only indication people have that there’s any dissent at all.
(4) Then – the bit we’re all best at – share it all on social media!
Vigil in Wrexham?
If you’re willing to go out and vigil with a banner or placard in Wrexham over the next few days, then shout and it’ll mean I don’t have to do it alone which can be very demoralising. We were out on the streets two or three times a week for months through the winter in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 and usually managed at least four people most days, sometimes a lot more.
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07938 619825.
If you live anywhere else, then make a placard or banner (cardboard will do) and get out onto your local streets.
In the words of Jesuit and long time peace activist Daniel Berrigan – and oft quoted by my dear friend Ciaron O’Reilly who has been such an important part of my anti-war journey these past few years particularly in relation to solidarity with Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange –
Don’t just do something – stand there!
Picture: Ciaron, now back in Brisbane, standing there last week.
Hope to see you all on the streets.