Wednesday 28 August 2013

More bombs will not bring peace to Syria

After a short 4 days camping at Greenbelt without any news available, it was a huge shock to come home and see the headlines that the UK, US and French governments are planning to bring peace to Syria by bombing it.

I should not have been shocked, this have been the way our governments have repeatedly operated in the Middle East when they have had the opportunity.

The problem with the use of overwhelming military force is that it does not always create the conditions for peace.

First in Afghanistan, the US led 'peacekeepers' overthrew the Taliban. As horrific as the Taliban were - that military solution has not led to peace. Afghanistan is still the poorest country on earth, but it is now the most dangerous place on earth and the biggest producer of the world's heroin.

Then in Iraq. We all wanted to see an end to Saddam Hussein's rule, and 'Shock and Awe' certainly did that. Then after the shock, the real fighting began, a bloody battle for power that claimed the lives of over 1 million folk and has left a devastating mark on the country and region. 10 years on, and the daily bombing is now hardly seen as worth reporting by our news outlets.

In Libya, again, US, UK and French bombers did their thing, and Gaddafi was brought down. Then followed the vicious internal battles seldom covered by the media, let alone the continued fighting brought to neighbouring countries.

My point is, that as much as we want to see Assad held accountable for the killing of his own people and the possible use of chemical weapons, bombing by Tomahawk missiles is not the answer. US led invention may eventually lead to the end of a regime, but it does not resolve Syria's more entrenched problems. It can even lead to a complete breakdown of the country with the result of decades of violence to come.

I believe that outside nations and the UN could have a better role in pushing for peace in other ways. Negotiations and peace talks may appear like weak responses to news of chemical attacks, but a process of national reconciliation is the only way forward to avoid decades of suffering.

The only people who are happy at the news of international airstrikes are the companies heading to the biggest arms fair in the world - DSEi in London this Sept. War, and the threat of war is big business. The arms companies are happy to see the ratcheting up of the prospect of bombing. They are normally manage to sell weapons to both sides, so they never lose out.

The Syrian people deserve freedom and a peaceful future, but I fear that all we are offering them is many more years of suffering.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Caroline Lucas MP - a fracking hero!

News that the Green MP for Brighton was arrested at the anti-fracking peaceful protest at Balcombe did not come as a great surprise. Whenever I have encountered Caroline Lucas, at Menwith Hill or at anti-arms fair protests, she is clearly still full of passion and thoughtful dignity.

Recently I met with one of her case workers, Melanie, someone I have known for nearly 30 years. Melanie always stood out as a caring and tireless activist, currently she is editing the magazine for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade amid part time case work in Brighton and doing some excellent parenting. When we met on a beach in Whitley bay, I had no idea she was working with Caroline. The realisation that the MP has made such sound judgement for her staff team gave me a real sense of hope.

Maybe it is possible that MPs can have morals! What a hope!

There must be a hundred causes this MP could get arrested peacefully protesting at, the fact that she has chosen the environmentally dubious 'Fracking' programme shows the seriousness that we should all take it with.

Even as a parliamentarian, she has not been able to get answers from ministers about the dangers of the processes or the extent that companies such as Cuadrilla have permission to get away with mining without any local consent.

Given all this, she has put her body where her politics are, and she should be commended for it. Let her be an example to other MPs, they should not just complain when the fracking starts in their own backyard - let them act when the drilling commences!

More importantly we need to follow her example, and whether its anti-fracking or protesting at the coming arms fair in London (day of action 8th Sept starts at 12noon at Excel exhibition centre - be there!) we need to realise the potential of direct action as our last resort to stopping the excesses of this or subsequent governments.

The well being of this planet depends upon us!

Spooks; the real world of Government cover ups

As the hours pass, the lengths governments will go to protect their lies is further exposed. I wrote in my book about the steady erosion of civil liberties in the UK over the last 20 or so years, but over the last few months the crisis of democracy deepens.

The events of the last few days; the partner of a Guardian journalist detained under terror legislation; the disclosure that GCHQ spooks oversaw the destruction of hard drives that contained material from whistle blower Edward Snowden, feels more like a Ken Loach movie from the late 80's, than what we thought was the real world.

David Miranda was detained and had his laptop and other electronic devices taken away, before being released without charge. To hear the justification given by Teresa May, the Home Secretary, you would suppose that he posed a major threat to the British people. In fact, the real danger is that we have a government in power that would so easily sanction the silencing of the media.

Snowden has merely made public something that activists have known for a long time - governments spy systematically on their own people, particularly if you happen to be anti-war or of a left wing persuasion. Its not just Islamic terrorists who come under scrutiny, its anti-fracking campaigners and peaceniks.

Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who has told the story of the leaks from Snowden has done the world a huge service, he and all the people who have made this possible are heroes. The fact that Cameron himself knew of these abuses to our basic civil liberties and freedoms of the press, makes it questionable if he is fit to govern a living, thinking democracy.

Monday 19 August 2013

Di Canio set for a fall

I have two great hopes for Sunderland AFC this season - first, that they comfortably stay in the Premier League, and secondly, that the love affair with the Italian Fascist begins to fade. Criticism of him lessened the minute Sunderland defeated Newcastle 3 - 0, but I think that as time goes by, Sunderland supporters will soon turn their backs on him.

The opening of the season, the so called 'dawn of a new era' ended being a 1-0 defeat to Fulham on our home ground. One of the best players in that match, Sessegnon, is now rumoured to be available for other clubs to sign. In the manner of Mussolini, the man whose portrait graces his tattooed back, Di Canio is obsessed with creating a 'new vision', and seems to think that shouting, bullying and raving will achieve his results.

Hopefully, some of the new players will soon settle in, and Sunderland will stay up - but Di Canio's style may soon feel grating to the good supporters of this city, and I hope that along with many brief Italian holiday love affairs - it will end sooner than expected.

My new Sunderland top which read 'Love Sunderland, Hate Fascism' was a big hit with most folk who saw it. It certainly opened up many debates. Many people do not want to talk about this issue, but until Di Canio owns up to his past, apologises for the hurt his actions have caused and denounces Fascism unconditionally, then he is unacceptable in the increasingly multicultural and diverse city of Sunderland. Turning a blind eye to Fascism never ends well!

The Trouble with Taize...

its taken me a week or two to digest my feelings since travelling to France and spending some time with the Taize community. It was a powerful experience, that did far more for me spiritually than I had bargained for.

Effectively, life is centred around 3 sets of daily worship, Morning Eucharist, Midday and evening prayer. These involve meditative chants in a number of languages, punctuated with one long period of silence, prayers and a bible reading. The singing is beautiful, and its easy to get caught up in the sound of 3-4000 people singing together in the minimalist church surroundings.

There is a lovely wooded walkway down to a lake and waterfall which is open during the day, and signs encourage all who visit to do so in silence, in fact many take up the chance to do the whole week in silence, or perhaps just the last 4 days.

The atmosphere created by the mixture of worship, silence, and the sight of so many young people from around the world playing, talking and listening to each other is totally awe inspiring, and needs to be experienced to be believed.

On the whole it offers people an authentic understanding of what Christian life can be; engaged with the world, yet offering something different, something heavenly.

It has some flaws - it feels quite Catholic for an 'ecumenical' retreat, and the division of male and female roles is questionable. However, there is a progressive feel, and problems are discussed openly an fairly.

The only trouble with Taize, is that it is hard to replicate the intensity of the experience outside of the place itself. We will all be disappointed with the pale imitations in our local churches. The radical communitarianism, the laughter, the sharing of food and tasks, the deep biblical discussion and the challenge to capitalism that Taize represents are in short supply in our normal parish life

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Here's a thought - lets stop selling arms to Egypt!

As terror continues to dominate the streets and squares of Cairo and Alexandria, our prayers are with the ordinary people of Egypt. Whatever our governments feelings about President Morsi's year in office, and the US and UK refusal to see his demise as the result of a military coup, surely there may be second thoughts about his replacement.

The army is out of control, believing it has the right to get away with murder. This power it feels it has does not come from any sense of justice and democracy - it comes from the barrel of the gun. Egypt has one of the most powerful armies in the world, and the US arms dealers have happily supplied it with all it desired, regardless of who was in charge of it. When Mubarak ruled with horrendous human rights violations - we armed him to the teeth. When the Arab Spring toppled him, we can remember Cameron and the UK arms dealers swooping in as fast as a speeding bullet. They were all happy to sell arms to Morsi, and then to even support the military coup that subsequently deposed him last month.

When will we learn? The answer is to strengthen democratic and civilian institutions, not to pour so much funding into military solutions and the sale of armaments.

So, in the upcoming DSEI arms fair to be held in London in a few weeks time - will representatives from Egypt be allowed to plan their next purchases, ready for use again against their own people?

Lets say no. Lets join in the protests outside the worlds biggest arms fair on the 8th Sept, lets say enough is enough. No more arming the generals, and watching them  use the weapons on their own people. Lets stop this violence at its source - the companies who encourage the use of weapons of war regardless of the legitimacy of the regime.