smhwpf: (Sandman)
I am really struggling with what I think about violence and non-violence. For a long time I called myself a Pacifist. I'm not sure I would these days. What this clergyman who was at Charlottesville, and who also considers himself a Pacifist, said, resonates a lot.

"And so I come to this – white liberal Christian friends, I’m talking to you. I’ve seen a lot of condemnation of “violent response,” lots of selective quoting Dr. King, lots of disparagement of antifa and the so-called “alt-left,” a moral equivalency from the depths of Hell if I ever saw one. You want to be nonviolent? That is good and noble. I think…I think I do, too. But I want you to understand what you’re asking of the people who take this necessary stance against white supremacy, the people who go to look evil in the face. You’re asking them to be beaten with brass knuckles, with bats, with fists. To be pounded into the ground, stomped on, and smashed. You’re asking them to bleed on the pavement and the grass. Some of them are going to die. And you’re asking them to do that without defending themselves.

Are you willing to do that? Are you going to to go out when the Nazis come here, to the Bay Area, next week? Are you going to offer your body to them? No? Are you willing to take a bat to the head? To be surrounded by angry young men who want nothing more than to beat you unconscious, like they did Deandre Harris? Are you going to rely upon a different type of violence – that imposed by the state – to protect you – even knowing it is a danger to your neighbors? To outsource the violence your safety requires to someone else? Or are you just not going to show up, at the rally or afterward? To choose passivity over pacifism – because let’s be clear, nonviolence is still about showing up.

If you are unwilling to risk your bodily integrity to stand against literal Nazis, but you are willing to criticize the people out there who are taking this grave threat seriously but not in a way of which you approve….I just don’t know what to say to you. Truly. Your moral authority is bankrupt and you’re not helping. You’re a hypocrite."

In the end, in this situation, yes, I would rather defned myself, or others, or have others defend me, than be beaten into a pulp by Nazis. I cannot say that pure non-violence is the right answer all the time.

Here's where I still believe in non-violence though:

There is far, far, too much fucking violence in the world. Too many people, even those with good ultimate intentions, are too quick to resort to violence, or to support violence by others, as the solution to problems.

And there is far, far, too little non-violence. By which I mean, active non-violence. There is far too little thinking and praxis about opposing evil without using violence. Lots of people are willing to say "Fight hate with love", but very, very few actually have any clue or willingness about how to put that into practice beyong sharing memes on Facebook. There are people who do this, and who think about it and develop creative ideas, but there are far too few. I think there are a lot of situations where active, creative, large-scale non-violent methods could achieve an enormous amount, ultimately at less cost in lives and pain than violent methods.

You do not have to be a pacifist to engage in active non-violence. A non-violent approach says "I am going to confront you, but I am going to do so, as far as I possibly can, in a way that does not inflict harm and that does not succumb to hate". But one can do this and still say "But if this does not work I am not going to let you beat me or my neighbour to death if I can stop you by whatever means at my disposal".

It is not just about avoiding harm to the other side. It is not just about the state of your soul. It is about what comes next after you have beaten the immediate threat or got rid of the immediate tyranny. If the revolution is achieved by force of arms, then the people in charge after the revolution will not be the ones with the most popular support or the best ideas, but the ones with most firepower. And if the first against the wall are the old regime and their elite cronies, then the second against the wall will be the revolutionaries who are seen as a threat to the ones who gain power.

(The best case, though, is where one never actually faces this dilemma, 'cos you outnumber the fash 1000 to 1 like we did in Boston last weekend, and the fash have to be surrounded by a giant police cordon before being escorted away in a police van with their tails between their legs. Yes, I like that scenario.)

smhwpf: (Misbehave)
I was in New York last weekend, for the New York launch of the movie Shadow World, by Johann Grimonperez, based on the book, The Shadow World: inside the global arms trade, by Andrew Feinstein, who also worked extensively on the film. Andrew, as I've mentioned, is one of the people in the group I've been in, working with World Peace Foundation on their global arms project that I'm now running.

It was a very powerful film, extremely well put together. (It won Best Documentary at the Edinburgh Film Festival earlier this year). It is partly on the international arms trade, with some entertaining/revealing/horrifying interviews with a very candid arms broker (who apparently is now in prison in Portugal), but also, moreso than the book, on US wars and militarism more generally; but it manages to fuse these two elements together pretty well, with some apparopriate readings of his work by Eduardo Galeano interspersed. Not a whole lot that I wasn't aware of, though some things, but as I say well put together and effective in its impact.

Full disclosure: I am actually in it for about 15 seconds as a talking head. So now I am wondering if I have a Bacon Number. (I might already as I was in an episode of Mark Thomas Comedy Product). And if so if I have a Bacon-Erdos number, as I have co-authored one maths paper.

It is also a salient reminder that, for all that Obama has done that is praiseworthy, there is plenty on the foreign policy front that is pretty dismal, perhaps the drone wars in particular, and that he really only looks at all good when grading on a curve. And that Hillary promises to be worse. (Yes, still unimaginably better than the alternative).

There was a Q&A afterwards with Andrew and with Anna Macdonald of Control Arms, which went on way longer than scheduled, a lot of people with questions. And I was invited to give a brief spiel about the work we're doing at WPF and hand out fliers, to justify my train fare.

Anyway, the film is definitely recommended. It has apparently already had a 3-week run in London, don't know if it will be on anywhere else in the UK. We are still trying to organize a showing in Boston.
smhwpf: (Dr Who Tardis)
Well, it's sufficiently official and generally known by all concerned that I can make it public.

I will be moving to Boston, Massachusetts in the autumn (or fall as I should get used to calling it), to work at the World Peace Foundation, based at Tufts University, as Project Manager for their programme on corruption in the global arms industry and trade. I start there at the beginning of October. I was in Boston earlier this week to meet with them and discuss details and ideas.

I have in fact been involved in this project for the past few years, as part of an international group of academics and civil society people convened by WPF to discuss these issues and produce various materials on the subject (there's a book coming out fairly soon, plus various internet tools). The group includes South African anti-corruption campaigner Andrew Feinstein, whose book on the arms trade, The Shadow World, has recently been made into a movie, which everyone should totally see when it hits the cinemas.

The idea of the programme has been to take a rather broad perspective on the issue of corruption, looking not only at financial corruption, but at how the global arms industry and trade, and the militarist ideologies behind it, can undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Anyway, so this project by WPF has been edging forward for the past few years, but now they are able to hire someone full time, that someone being me.

The position is for 2 years initially, potentially longer if more funds are raised; however, I am taking a 2-year leave of absence from SIPRI, so I will have the option of returning at the end of this 2-year period. I am therefore not technically leaving SIPRI at the present time, but will at any rate be gone for at least 2 years. If anyone wants to apply for my position at SIPRI working on military expenditure (again, 2 years initially), or knows someone who might be interested, the ad is here.

As to whether or not I will return in 2 years, well, a lot can happen in two years, so who knows? But it is good to have the option.

I am very excited by this. It is a really interesting project, and a really good bunch of people I'll be working with, and from all I hear (and the little I've seen so far from the meetings there of our group), Boston is a fantastic city.

I am already a US (as well as UK) citizen, but this will be the first time I have lived in the US, or indeed been there for more than a week at a time. So that too will be an interesting new experience.

I will also be sad to leave SIPRI, and will miss a lot of people there, not least my team, who are also a great bunch to work with. After the storms of 2 years ago, SIPRI is now on what seems to be moving in a very positive direction, so in some ways a strange time to be leaving; but I have been crunching the military expenditure numbers for long enough, and feeling it's been time for a change for quite a while; and this definitely feels like the right move at the right time.

(Well, except that we might have President Trump a few months after I move. But since there are no shuttles to Mars Colony any time soon, there's nowhere to escape the consequences that may bring.)
smhwpf: (Homework)
Quick post, as I'm exhausted. Today was the big day of the year for my secret identity as Doctor Milex, when SIPRI released our new data on world military expenditure for 2015. Link is to the press release, which also has links to the fact sheet and the full database.

I also have an entry in the SIPRI blog discussing trends in military and health expenditure, and the costs of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in comparison to world military spending. Graphics, in particular the cool interactive line graph, courtesy of our new web editor.
smhwpf: (Warwick)
Our new Director, Dan Smith, has written an excellent blog piece, arguing for negotiated peace between Assad and his (non-ISIS) opponents - and, maybe even some time in the future, negotiations with elements of ISIS or other groups that are currently to extreme and absolute in their demands to have meaningful negotiations with.

He gives a long list of examples of nations and groups that have been in conflct, and that have ended up negotiating with each other (successfully or otherwise), despite one side or other having said for a long time that they would absolutely never negotiate with the other side. So, basically, get off your high horse about how you could never possibly negotiate with Assad or whoever because they are so evil, and grasp the nettle.

Which I completely agree with. But a rather pessimistic thought strikes me - while it very often is possible eventualy to find peace between apparently irreconcilable sides, can it be done when the fundamental point of contention is the ruler him or herself?

When the 'incompatibility' is, for example, regional or sub-national independence movements, or ethnic grievances, or visions of society (e.g. communist vs. capitalist), it may be possible to find compromises, half-way measures, ways in which different groups can live together, etc. But when it's about "Does this dictator (monarchical or presidential) get to stay in power?", where is the possibility for common ground? Maybe they stay in power with reforms, or power-sharing, or whatever, but the problem is always that the ruler, if they get to stay in power, has every incentive to renege once the rebels have demobilized. (And if they haven't demobilized, then renewed war is probably just round the corner).

So I'm trying to think of examples of conflicts - civil wars, revolutions, armed uprisings - with a goal of overthrowing a dictatorial ruler, where there has been a negotiated settlement that leaves that ruler in power. None of the cases on the list in Dan's essay fit the bill. The only example I could think of is Magna Carta, but that in fact is not an example - the Runnymede agreement broke down almost immediately, leading to the 1st Barons War; John himself died in the middle of it.

In the first phase of the Wars of the Roses, after the victory of the supporters of Richard of York, who claimed the throne against Knig Henry VI, a peace deal was achieved whereby Henry remained king, but Richard was named his heir. That broke down within 5 years.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 is another not-quite example - various reforms enacted in response to the demands of some of the rebels, but alongside the crushing of the more radical rebels. Not a negotiated settlement, and this didn't exactly stick.

Can anyone come up with any examples then? My criteria are as follows:

a) An uprising against a dictatorial ruler (including absolute or powerful monarchs), with a primary goal of unseating that dictator
b) A negotiated peace
c) That does not involve the swift departure of the ruler (which would in essence be a negotiated rebel victory)

Or does such an uprising inevitably end either in the crushing of the rebels or the departure of the ruler?

The western opponents of Assad effectively say that, while there could be negotiations, the result would have to involve Assad leaving, if not immediately then fairly soon. Which of course is not something that Assad or his supporters are willing to contemplate, and are not likely to unless his violent overthrow appears otherwise inevitable.

The only other possibility could be that Russia and Iran can be convinced that their interests can be safeguarded in a post-Assad Syria,and  that this is a better option than continuing war, and are thus persuaded to threaten to withdraw their support for the Syrian government unless Assad agrees to his negotiated departure.

Or, if there is some way round the fundamental problem with a peace deal that leaves a ruler in place, namely the incentive to renege?
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
I was delighted to learn today that Campaign Against Arms Trade has been awarded a Right Livelihood Award by the Foundation of that name.

The awards are sometimes known as the "alternative Nobel prizes", and tend to go to individuals and organizations working for peace, social justice, human rights, the environment, etc. This years other awards went to Hayretting Karaca, a Turkish environmental entrepreneur and activist, Sima Samar, an Afghan human rights (and especially women's rights) campaigner, and Gene Sharpe, an American academic who has massively developed the theory and strategy of non-violence.

Very well-deserved, in my highly non-objective opinion. :-) I know just how much work and creativity the staff and volunteers of CAAT put in on the back of very limited resources to make CAAT the sort of organization to even be considered for such a thing.

And yeah, very proud to have been an active part of it myself for many years. :-)

Hopefully see some of the CAAT folk in Stockholm in December, though only a few of them I know these days...
smhwpf: (No power)
And one to catch up a little...

Probably the place where I've been finding recently the most discussion of practical non-violence, and how people are doing it in various situations, is Sojourners, a progressive Evangelical community in the US. (I get the monthly print mag, and the weekly emails). They had a whole issue on the Arab Spring recently, for example, delving deeply into how the Egyptian non-violent movement had been built up for a long time before things actually broke out.

In the February issue, they had an article on Colombia, Standing up to death squads. (Free registration required). One thing the article does is to comprehensively demolish any notion that the right-wing paramilitaries are a thing of the past, all nicely disarmed and demobilized. Not so much. The other is to describe numerous creative non-violent ways in which groups that are victims of paramilitary violence (and that of the FARC) are fighting back.

Perhaps the most extraordinary story is that of the Nasa indigenous people, who have established a 5,000-strong non-violent army of men and women (armed only with ribbon-decorated ceremonial staffs), who intervene en masse where people or groups are at risk from paramilitaries, rebels, or the Colombian military. And they actually get results - in part because, brutal as the paramilitaries are, too many bodies all in one go would draw too much unwanted attention.

Ooh, here's another story about the Nasa Indigenous Guard, this one from 2006.
smhwpf: (No power)
Some of you might have heard of the extraordinary case of Khader Adnan - a Palestinian member of Islamic Jihad who was placed under Administrative Detention by Israel; a practice whereby Palestinian suspects may be detained for 6 months at a time - extendible indefinitely - without charge or trial, and without knowing the evidence against them. There are currently over 300 Palestinians in administrative detention. Once upon a time one could say that such a practice was otherwise unthinkable in a country that purports to be a democracy, but what with Guantanamo and the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 I guess that's old hat.

Anyway, so Khader Adnan went on hunger strike to protest his treatment, and refused food for 66 days, after which, under heavy international pressure, Israel agreed to release him and he ended his strike.

Now another Palestinian prisoner under administrative detention, Hana Shalabi is on hunger strike, having refused food now for 14 days.

Hana Shalabi had been in administrative detention before, for over two years, before being released last October under the prisoner exchange deal that freed Israeli solder Gilad Shalit. However, she was re-arrested on February 16th, and placed under an administrative detention order on the 23rd. She was allegedly beaten and maltreated on arrest. Her parents have now joined her in hunger strike in solidarity.

List of people to write to here, to urge for Hana Shalabi to be freed (or charged) and for an end to the practice of administrative detention.

The cases of Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, and their courage in resisting the violation of their human rights in this manner, stand a chance of shining a light on Israel's unjust practice of administrative detention. Who knows, maybe even ending it? In the case of Khader Adnan, Israel obviously learnt from the British experience that allowing prisoners on hunger strike to die does not do you any favours, however much you may crow at the time about standing up to terrorism.

As Uri Avenery has commented, it is ironic that Adnan, who had been openly and undenialy committed to violent resistance (though clearly not in a way that could provide any evidence for Israel to charge him with any significant crime), finally achieved such a victory through non-violent resistance. Though through an unimaginable sacrifice.

I was looking up, out of curiosity, the details of the 1981 Irish hunger strike. Turns out 66 days was exactly how long Bobby Sands was on hunger strike before his death. Two of the others who died continued for longer, while one, Laurence McKeown, was taken off hunger strike by his family after 70 days, and is apparently still alive now, and is an author, playright and screenwriter.

While the Irish Republican prisoners were not granted formal political status, as they had demanded, all their practical demands regarding prison conditions were granted either immediately after the ending of the hunger strike, or within a couple of years. The hunger strike set Sinn Fein on their increasingly successful electoral strategy, and thus played a key role in creating the conditions that eventually led to peace in Northern Ireland, though at the time the deaths of the hunger strikers led to an upsurge in violence.
smhwpf: (Sandman)
The other problem I have with the Just war approach is that it is so limited in imagination and ambition and, well, Christian hope. It's about negative peace. Placing limitations - very sensible and reasonable ones - around war, but not really exploring the positive possibilities of building peace. I mean, there's a few odd clauses hinting at that, but it's not explored. That's not to say that the theory is necessarily wrong, just limited.

I mean, as Christians we believe that Christ transformed the world by allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross, dying and rising. By meeting violence and hate with forgiveness and love and turning it upside down. It is the supreme example of non-violent resistance.

Now, that is not to say that Christians should be seeking to get themselves nailed to stuff all the time. That's the old martyrdom fallacy. There are many millions of Christians facing persecution worldwide - not always because they are Christians, still less for specifically theological reasons - very often it overlaps with ethnic or national questions. But anyhow, a great deal of the time the sensible response is not to bravely face martyrdom for the faith, which would usually achieve nothing, but simply to run like buggery. There's a large community of Iraqi Christians in nearby Södertälje, including some who go to my church, who are testimony to this.

But surely, in the light of the Gospel message, the Church should be at the forefront of looking for creative and unexpected non-violent ways of resisting evil. The key point is the second clause of the Just War criteria, namely all other means of putting an end to [the damage caused by the aggressor] must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. What are these "all other means"? Diplomacy. Blah. Economic sanctions. Blah.

There are of course many powerful examples of creative and effective non-violent resistance, and they are not limited to the old favourites of Gandhi and MLK. But, as far as Christian practice of non-violence is concerned, it has mostly been only from the margins of the church that such things have come.

What if churches were to actually put effort into thinking, developing, and organizing (across faith boundaries naturally) for non-violent forms of mediation, intervention, resistance? (Actually, on the traditional mediation front, the institutional church has sometimes stepped up. Pope Benedict XV tried to mediate peace during WWI, with both sides rejecting his efforts as biased to the other, and it was Vatican mediation that pulled Argentina and Chile back from the brink of war in 1978.)

Or never mind churches, what if governments or the so-called international community were to devote a fraction of the resources devoted to the military to active non-violent peacemaking?

Perhaps this is not possible. Perhaps, by its nature, non-violent conflict transformation has to come from the margins. I don't know. Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church is just far, far too set in the ways of institutional power for it to be reasonable to entertain any such hopes for it. (Now he realizes this, cries the crowd).

But back to my main point: the Just War theory does not really go beyond a traditional military, state-based view of what constitutes security and how it is achieved. It places limits on the exercise of military force, but does not really question the notion that military force is what gives a nation ultimate security.

I believe, or at least hope, that there are better ways. That is not to say that there might still not be cases where none of these creative non-violent alternatives can work, when armed force might really be the only way of preventing a far greater evil (like, if the French or UN forces that were stationed in Rwanda had intervened in 1994); but we - nations, communities, faith groups, could be doing far more not just to think about but to actively prepare for the non-violent alternatives, so as to minimize the occasions where none but the violent remain.
smhwpf: (Sandman)
We were privileged to welcome Dr. Izzeldein Abuelaish to SIPRI today to give a presentation. (and a few of us got to talk to him over lunch beforehand).

Dr. Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor, a gynaecologist. Growing up in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, he was both bright and fortunate enough to get a good education, succeed in all he did, become a doctor, go to Harvard, and become the first Palestinian doctor to work in an Israeli hospital.

Then in September 2008 his wife died of Leukemia, and then, exactly four months later, on January 16th 2009, shells from an Israeli army tank hit his house during Israel's winter assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, killing three of his daughters and a niece, and injuring other members of his family. He himself had left the room moments before the shells hit.

His story was not unusual from this brutal assault that claimed the lives of 1,400 Gazans. What was unusual is that he could tell it on Israeli television. Thanks to his Israeli connections, he had been contacted several times by an Israeli news channel to give an on-the-ground view, and to try to communicate a Palestinian perspective to an Israeli audience - part of a long-lasting goal of seeking to build bridges between the two peoples. So when tragedy struck, he called up his friend the newscaster and, between his tears, told the story live to an Israeli public, for one brief moment brought face to face with the human consequences of the war.

Since then Dr. Abuelaish has dedicated his life to both peace and medicine. He started a foundation, Daughters for Life, which provides scholarships for young women from the Middle East to study in the region or in the west. (He is a particuarly strong believer in promoting the education of women, and in the importance of involving women in building peace). He wrote a book published in 2010 called "I shall not hate", and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He now lives and teaches in Toronto. (I am now the owner of a signed copy).

One thing I was left pondering, not for the first time, is the relationship between seeking peace through political action, negotiations, campaigning, diplomatic pressure etc., and the more individual-led approach that says that peace starts in people's hearts, the refusal to hate, trying to get people from opposing communities to talk to each other and understand each other, etc. Sometimes I get rather cynical about the latter, especially if it's the sole focus. I've heard it said that there's any number of initiatives that seek to bring Palestinians and Israelis together and get them to talk and hug, but it doesn't change the politics of the situation, and most of the people who do those sorts of schemes are the ones who already believe in peace anyway.

It seems to me that working at both ends of the equation are necessary, and they are probably mutually re-inforcing, but I'm not quite sure how.

Like, Northern Ireland was clearly a case of both. There was a political deal between people who really, really did not love or trust each other, but there'd been a heck of a lot of groundwork at community level, with enough people who really believed in peace and enough more whose attitudes had been changed sufficiently to be willing to give it a try. Then you've got Bosnia, where peace came with the two sides still thoroughly hating each other, but where external powers did a bit of bonbing and then banged heads together till an agreement was reached. Except, the two halves of Bosnia are still barely keeping together and seem to have very little in common. (Though there's no sign of a resumption of actual armed conflict any time soon).

So I throw that out there as an unanswered question. But, when I hear a story like Dr. Abuelaish's face to face and see someone who has passed through such an unthinkable horror and come out with such obviously genuine faith, compassion and humanity, my cynicism kind of melts guiltily away.
smhwpf: (Sandman)
On a more positive note, trawling through the endless pile of half-read emails from one political group or another in my, check out this rather awesome declaration from "Young, Jewish and Proud", the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace.

It was posted there for Rosh Hashanah, but I hope it is not inappropriate for the end of/night after Yom Kippur. I hope those of you who have observed it have had a meaningful fast. (And for those further west, may the last hours go easy).
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
As those who follow me on FB or Twitter may have seen, we at SIPRI just released our military spending data for 2010.

The world total for 2010, according to our estimates, was $1,630 billion. This is certainly a conservative estimate. The figure is an increase of 1.3% in real terms over 2009, and 50% higher than in 2001, just before the surge in world - and especially US - military spending started following 9/11.

I could say a lot more but I need to go home and sleep following website updatyness and suchlike.

For now I will content myself with saying that it is A Lot. I will even go out on a limb and say that it is Too Much.
smhwpf: (Buffy fight)
The unfolding events in Libya raise all sorts of questions about the nature of revolutions, and the place of violence and non-violence in them.

In Tunisia and Egypt, like so many other places over recent decades - Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia etc. - apparently all-powerful tyrants were overthrown by mass unarmed uprisings. Not always purely non-violent, but where all the bullets were fired by the government forces, where the motive force behind revolution was the sheer massed power of ordinary people with only their own bodies as weapons (and the occasional stone or molotov cocktail).

In Libya, while, God willing, it looks like Ghaddafi's days are fairly seriously numbered, it has gone way beyond that. What started as another mass opular uprising is now quite clearly a civil war. The opposition controls large parts of the country, where the military have gone over to the side of the people, but Ghadaffi remains pretty clearly in control in Tripoli, and is still wreaking terror and carnage amongst any who still dare to protest. Maybe he will realise the game is up (unlikely), or maybe his remaining loyal forces will finally, even at the eleventh hour, abandon him, or maybe he will just run out of money to pay them; but it may well be that the only thing that will shift him is by the opposition forces marching on Tripoli, which they are already arming and preparing to do; and as already they have been having to fight off his forces to make and maintain the gains they have made thus far.

Of course, non-violent uprisings have frequently failed, far more absolutely, before. China in 1989, Myanmar, Iran just in 2009.

The key thing is how the security forces, the people with the guns, respond to the situation, to the call of the people to side with them and not with the regime. They do not, in general, need to actually start shooting at their leaders; it is enough for them to refuse to fire on the people. When they do so refuse, the regime is doomed. When, as in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Myanmar in 1990 and again in 2007, Iran in 2009, they obey orders, what usually happens is that the rebellion is crushed, and a sullen population retreats to their everyday lives, save for a few brave, lonely souls who try, at enormous cost, to keep a pilot light burning until another generation arises.

But then you have a case like Libya, where some of the armed forces turn, but some stay 'loyal'. What then? Can one maintain, in such a situation, a committment to non-violence? Insist that, even when some of the regime's forces are still shooting your people down, that those who have joined the revolution put down their guns and let it happen? It's a moot point, because it's not going to happen that way. People will fight back when they can. Of course they will.

Does that invalidate non-violence as a strategy, or make it a second-best choice for those with no viable armed option? I don't believe so. Non-violence - or at any rate a mass, unarmed, popular uprising, offers the possibility of peaceful change. It extends a hand of peace to those who have, up till now, acted as the agents of the regime, the forces of repression.

People die in unarmed revolutions. People who stand up without weapons in front of armed police and soldiers take an enormous risk. But usually, far, far more die in armed uprisings, in civil wars. Most of them not 'nobly' on the battlefield or the front line of the demonstration, but bombed and raped and torn to piece in their homes and villages by the ugly reprisals of the regime - or even the excesses of the rebels.

Moreover, armed rebellions often fail even in success - if the original goal is a more just and peaceful society. Revolutions won primarily by armed force generally end with armed men in power, with their assumptions and agenda driving the destiny of the nation, with the people following meekly behind their liberating heroes. Algeria following liberation from the French being an obvious example, but there are plenty. In contrast, mass popular uprisings, not dependant on an elire force of fighting heroes, offers at least the possibility of real revolutionary change, of people organizing themselves and taking charge. The comparison between the 1st Palestinian Intifada, which was essentially an unarmed rising, and the disastrous, militarized second, presents perhaps the starkest contrast.

So I would argue that non-violence should not be seen as merely the 'poor (wo)man's option', when armed opposition is not feasible, but as the weapon of choice.

But when that is not enough? When you have a Libyan scenario? I really can't see an alternative [1] to people doing what they have to to defend themselves and rescue themselves and their compatriots from a deluded sociopath like Ghadaffi - and those who, in spite of everything, continue to fight for him. So I think that, for example, for European nations to impose a no-fly zone against Ghaddafi's forces - not, by any stretch of the imagination, send in troops on the ground, and please for fuck's sake keep the Americans away from the scene; but the no-fly zone is something the opposition is clearly asking for, and who knows maybe it just might be a final straw that would convince Ghadaffi - or his remaining commanders - that the game is up. Even if not, it would reduce the amount of harm Ghadaffi could do before he goes.

None of these arguments have any direct bearing on how 'we' in the west relate to and employ armed force, or the notion that the only way for us to have security is to build up larger and more powerful war machines than 'them', whoever the current them might be. Such militarist logic remains one of the principle sources of the world's ills, IMHO. But I'll have to leave that for another day.


[1] Well, of course there are two other alternatives. Accepting that you've failed this time and going home, or continuing to try with th unarmed approach and getting shot. I just don't think they're better alternatives.

Palestine

Jul. 25th, 2010 10:13 pm
smhwpf: (Misbehave)
I will be travelling, insh'allah, to Israel and Palestine on Thursday, for just over three weeks. I will be meeting up with a friend there, and we will be doing stuff with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). I was with them on both my previous trips there, in 2004 and 2005. My travelling companion, L., I met out there last time and also know from Bristol.

What ISM does )

On the situation in the West Bank )

That sort of thing is the reason I am going. Whether I - whether ISM, can make any difference, only God knows. At the moment, to be honest, I think the situation for the Paletsinians in the medium term is bleak in the extreme, with little prospect of improvement. Fundamentally, a major change in policy by the west, especially the US but also Europe, is required. I think public opinion is slowly shifting though, and if those of us who go there and tell what we see can contribute to that, that is something. The other side of the coin is that I think mass non-violent resistance[1] is the best shot the Palestinians have at making a difference at their end; I don't say it has a very good chance of success, but more than anything else IMO. That movement is still far smaller than it needs to be to have a major impact, but is growing, and needs and deserves all the support it can get. Mustapha Barghouti, leader of the Palestine National Initiative, PLA legislator, former Presidential candidate and Nobel Peace Prize nominee for 2010, is very impressive in seeking to build this.

Anyway, I am due to arrive the early hours of Friday morning, though ISM have shifted the training to Wednesday-Thursday, so I'll just be in Jerusalem till then, though hoepfully I can find worthwhile things to do. I will be posting reguarly to LJ of course. I've even bought a new camera for the purposes, my old one having broken, although cameras hate me. I will probably be tweeting too. (@smhwpf).

All this is assuming I get in of course, which is far from a given.

[1]Violent and non-violent resistance, and privilege )
smhwpf: (Handala)
As I have already discussed in f-locked posts, I will be joining the Gaza Freedom March organized by a coalition of peace, human rights, faith and other groups that together form the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza, which seeks to do what it says on the label.

Attendees meet in Cairo for a briefing on the 27th December. We will then travel to Gaza on the 29th through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt[1]. We will stay in Gaza, meeting with various people and groups, witnessing the situation from 1st hand, and delivering humanitarian aid. On the 1st January there will be a mile-long march to the border with Israel, co-ordinated with a parallel march by Israeli peace activists from the Israeli side. We return to Cairo on the 2nd, and I will return home on the 5th (possibly via a pyramid if I can arrange it).

The bloackade and its effects )

Israel's allies in the US, Europe and elsewhere have, while occasionally making critical noises, remained effectively silent in the face of this inhuman siege, taking no concrete measures to bring about an end to it.

Ending the siege of Gaza is not something that is going to happen quickly or easily, and one event is unlikely to have any dramatic immediate effect. But I consider that events such as the Gaza Freedom March are essential in seeking to keep Gaza in the international eye, challenging the shameful policies of Israel and the west, and showing the isolated people of Gaza that they are not alone.

I aim to do some fundraising to support the work of the Coalition in Gaza and elsewhere. One of my concerns about going was the question of whether, given that I have the money for the air fare, I might not do more good simply donating it to them directly. I don't know the answer to that. But my goal will therefore be, if possible, to raise the equivalent of my air fare to donate. I think I will split money raised between the coalition (which will spend it on things to do with the march itself in Gaza and overseas, lobbying activities in Washington and humanitarian aid to Gaza) and a Palestinian NGO, perhaps the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights.

I shall post further about this later, and will probably set up some sort of Paypal thing and maybe a Facebook Cause thing or something like that. In the meantime, if you want to donate to the work of the Coalition (through Code Pink), you can do that here. If you do so in response to this, please let me know (email in my user profile).


[1] )
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
Squee! The launch of the SIPRI Yearbook 2009 is currently the second item on the BBC News front page. And I'm quoted! They've also directly quoted large chunks of our press release sections on military expenditure and on arms production, the parts of the yearbook I was involved in.

Launch press conference was this morning. Some very good presentations by members of our staff and governing board - including new board member Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi; my talk also seemed to go down well. I will probably be appearing on Swedish TV channel 4 this evening, as I had an interview with them afterwards.
smhwpf: (Buffy fire)
Well, I have to say I was rather impressed by President Obama's 'reaching out to Muslims' speech in Cairo today.

It is, of course, only a speech, and we already know he's good at those. There's also lots of things one could justifiably criticize about the speech from a progressive perspective, things he said, more particularly things he didn't say - for example:

The less good )

The mood music )

Israel/Palestine )

There was also some nice practical stuff about education exchanges, economic co-operation, microfinance and so forth.

And the ending, well it was pretty magnificent, again all easy stuff to say, but rather good that the President of the US does say that sort of thing, rather than the lanaguage of Bush. And the way he says it does bring out the goose bumps.

Obama's speech did not present much by way of new policies, not on the big issues. It was just a speech. In the end it may yet turn out to be no more than warm words. It remains to be seen whether he actually means it. Or rather, whether there will be enough of a tide of opinion to make him follow through.

Critically on Israel/Palestine, the question is whether he will actually use the levers at his disposal (such as ending the automatic veto on Israel's behalf in the UN Security Council or cutting military aid) to pressure Israel to follow what he's advocating.

But one thing's for sure, if he doesn't follow through, if it does all just turn out to be warm words, he's going to look bloody stupid a few years down the line. That in itself - that he should put his credibility on the line to such an extent - is an encouraging sign.

Five things

Mar. 1st, 2009 10:58 pm
smhwpf: (Samwise)
So as I am trying to post daily for Lent, I thought I'd try going for that 5 things meme! These from [livejournal.com profile] the_lady_lily. Comment to be given five things of your own.

political awareness )
Deeds, not words )
Peregrination )
Peacemakers )

Bardcamp! )
smhwpf: (No power)
Israeli politics are pretty depressing. With the right wing Kadima-led coalition (who, while imposing hunger and disease on the people of Gaza are beginning to vaguely talk about the need to do a sensible deal at some point) looking like they're going to lose the next election to the even more right wing Likud. No more mister nice guy, I guess.

Then you get reminded once in a while that there are still the 7,000 who have not bowed their knees to Baal. Amongst them are the Shministim. The term just means "Twelfth grader" in Hebrew, but in this case it refers to a group of Shministim who have signed a letter refusing to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces, and declaring their opposition to the Occupation and Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, and as a result these very brave young people, upon graduation from high school, have gone on not to work or college, but to prison. The way it works is that when you refuse your call-up you get sentenced for a few weeks in jail, then released, then called up again. If you refuse again you go back to prison. In principle there is no limit to this, though eventually they usually discharge you. Quite a few of the Shministim are in their 3rd term in jail.

What is more, if you refuse to wear your military uniform in jail, you get put in the Isolation Ward. One such is Tamar Katz, who is reportedly being subjected to extra special treatment, forbidden to receive family phone calls, change her clothes or brush her teeth.

Letters of support are being solicited for the Shministim, and will be handed in to the Israeli MoD on December 18th. There's also a Facebook group where one can express support.
smhwpf: (Me)
For those in London who may be interested, there will be a presentation and discussion of the findings of the SIPRI Yearbook 2008 at the LSE on Tuesday at 6.45, entitled Trends in War, Peace and Arms? SIPRI Yearbook 2008: international security, regional conflict, armament and disarmament in review.

In the chair is Mary Kaldor, who is one of the leading academics in the field of defence & peace economics and conflict research. The speakers are SIPRI's Director Bates Gill, FCO Minister and former UN Deputy Secretary General Lord Mark Malloch-Brown (a strong critic of the Iraq war while at the UN, later appointed to the UK govt. by Gordon Brown), and - decidedly honored to speak alongside such distinguished company - your humble correspondent.

The event is free and open to all, and requires no ticket. Entry first come first served.

Will probably have meetings in London during the day, so not really available for meeting up, I'm afraid.

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