Last week-end I toddled up to London to participate in a peace camp in Parliament Square. The camp lasted from noon Saturday until noon Thursday, straddling the death throes of the Blair administration and the early wailings of the Brown era (“The King is dead! Long live the… errrm. No, actually, down with the next king too!”)
The camp was entitled “War is still the issue". The aim was to ensure that our focus remains very much on the tragedy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite the change of administration. Blair/ Bliar has been the central bogeyman in UK protests against Iraq and we need to ensure that now he’s gone we don’t let his successor off the hook.
The camp was also designed to support Brian Haw who has camped outside Parliament Square for more than 2200 days. His protest is an ongoing inspiration to peace activists, a high profile reminder to thousands of passing tourists and a significant irritant for establishment politicians.
There has been substantial coverage of the camp on IMC UK (as well as some in the mainstream media). I want to highlight two significant things that came out of the camp for me.
Firstly the fact that there was very little police interference. The camp was illegal as it contravened SOCPA. In particular all protests within 1km of Parliament Square require permission from the police – this permission was never sought by the campers. (The one possible exception to this is Brian Haw’s support camp. The legal battles continue but, because his camp predates SOCPA, he has been able to successfully argue that he is exempt from its provisions).
I for one fully expected the police to come and clear the camp way very quickly – they have been very heavy handed about enforcing SOCPA to this point. This did not happen and it suggests a sea change in the thinking of the police and the government. Indeed a recent article from The Times suggests that SOCPA may soon be repealed – a significant victory for freedom of speech.
Incidentally at one stage the police released a statement in which they stated that, as far as they were aware, permission had been sought for the camp. Don’t believe a word of it!
The second significant thing for me came out of a discussion amongst participants in the peace camp around the notion of “loving your enemies”. As I mentioned above the anti-war movement has (rightly) targeted Tony Blair as being personally responsible for the atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. My feeling is however that the structure of mainstream politics in this country is such that any prime minister would have made decisions within parameters that are utterly unacceptable. Perhaps a different prime minister would not have gone to war against Iraq but it is almost certain that any other prime minister would have continued the policy of sanctions and would have reserved the right to use military force to defend the elite’s economic interests.
So my gripe is with the system and culture of mainstream British politics and this is something on which I want to remain very focussed. I do not want to be distracted by personality politics (a constant preoccupation of the mainstream media) when there are much deeper issues to consider.
Thinking around this also caused me to reflect on my fundamental opposition to the two wars, in particular to the war on Iraq. There have been many arguments put against the war – people have pointed out that it is illegal due to the lack of a Security Council resolution, that Blair et al lied to the parliament and the people on a number of significant issues, that strategic planning for war was ill conceived etc etc. I suppose those opposing the war are well advised to put across all the arguments at their disposal. Nonetheless were none of the above true I would still oppose the war!
My objection to the war on Iraq (and the war on Afghanistan) is on moral and humanist grounds – I believe that we have no right to kill people for pretty much any reason whatsoever. I don’t believe in dropping exploding lumps of metal from the sky.
Perhaps it is conceivable that a people may be so dreadfully oppressed they feel compelled to take matters into their own hands (and in this case who am I to condemn?) but this is clearly not the situation of the UK government. For them the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan have been, from the start, wars of aggression. And they are wars which continue to destroy lives with every passing day. We must oppose them in every way we can.