SoundCheck: Shalom, Anarchy and Arms Dealers

Sunday, 28th February 2010 at 2:32 UTC Leave a comment

With nothing on the Friday night apart from registration, today was Day 1 of SoundCheck 10. SPEAK’s annual conference is in its 10th year and continues to provide an important forum for faith and activism. My first workshop today was on the theme of Shalom activism, and turned up a surprising number of fairly laid-back, positive references to anarchy.

This might in part have been Jonathan, the workshop leader, pre-emptively using the word to describe Hebrew society before the time of the Kings. It was a good reminder of how much the conference brings me together with friends. What started as a nice refresher on Shalom (peace as wholeness, not the absence of conflict) quickly moved to discussions of structural violence and limits of engagement. Everyone agreed we should engage with representative democracy, but there was disagreement with where that cooperation should stop.

I regretted not raising the model of centre and margins, and the need to stay in a position of rootedness even when acting outside of the community to secure a better deal. We also heard stories of groups taking initiative for themselves to prove the value of government intervention and redevelopment. Its an interesting model, especially as it sort of subverts the idea of selling out by setting out to convince the government you are worth co-opting. Not that I feel confident the outcome won’t be blindly contented apathy.

The big announcement of the new campaign on the Arms Trade was the last bit I stuck around for. We were given a three point summary of the injustices of the Arms Trade:

  1. Fuels conflict (e.g. India and Pakistan, where we arm both sides)
  2. Aids oppression (e.g. in Saudi Arabia)
  3. Harms development (e.g. through creating lasting debt burden)

I raised the connection between arms and climate change (war is hugely carbon intensive) and received a fair response: its good to talk about it, but it still comes under all of the above categories, especially harming development. The main pitfall with Climate is the tendency to argue around Britain’s war emissions, where we end up discussing helicopters in Afghanistan. This campaign is about ending the exporting of weapons from the UK to all but the most legitimate allies, and ending the preferential treatment Britain gives to the defence sector over all others.

This was specifically highlighted with the new Defence and Security Organisation, a part of UKTI (Trade and Industry), where more staff focus on DSO than on all other export sectors combined by about 170 to 130. This despite only .2% of jobs and very little of GDP coming from the sector. It might be arguable that this is in Britain’s interests, but really, its clearly in the interests of an elite few arms dealers.

The general election appeared again (having taken up some time in the Shalom workshop). SPEAK is keen to utilise the general elections and to have questions taken to candidate hustings on closing DSO and transitioning from Defence to Green Jobs. The problem is that the Tories have said they will re-open DESO, the old MOD department that did DSO’s job and then some. If Labour wins, we need to run one campaign, and if the Tories win, we’ll be facing another. Either way, the campaign briefing is going to be changed come mid-May. Its a challenge that’s facing many NGO’s right now, particularly small-players like SPEAK.

Tomorrow we’ll hear more on Climate Change and prepare for the day of action. Right now, though, I need some sleep.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Conservatives, Development, Elections, Faith, Human Rights, Labour Party, Peace.

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