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Peace News log archive: July 2011

Articles from the Peace News log.
For archive articles from the whole site, look here

Milan Rai on the origins of "al-Qaeda"

I’m doing a talk about al-Qa’eda for Peace News Summer Camp which is in two weeks. (Really looking forward to seeing Tracy Curtis perform – I’ve heard Seize the Day and the Carbon Town Cryer before – they’re fantastic.)

I’m marvelling once again that the name al-Qa’eda was invented by the FBI.

The FBI led the investigations into the August 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa, when over 230 people were killed near the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They used their normal Mafia-style-organisational model, with a hierarchical pyramid and a supreme leader, and they looked for the name of the organisation, and ‘members’ of the organisation, to help secure convictions.

The CIA had used the title ‘al-Qa’eda’ for the network around bin Laden, probably tracing it back to an article by Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet occupation – the FBI picked it up and it became the US term for the bin Laden grouping. (Jason Burke explains all of this well in the first pages of his excellent study Al-Qaeda.)

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PN contributor and peace activist Maya Evans gets visited by the bailiffs…

The second historic Peace News podcast.

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Pippa Bartolotti writes about the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

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Pippa saying goodbye to the van she used on a previous trip to carry goods to Gaza from Wales

Going to Gaza

As September approaches, a potentially momentous political event looms before us: the admission – or not – of Palestine as a member state of the UN. There are diverse opinions on whether this is a good or bad thing, but the discussion must be held, and quickly. Those of us concerned with the upholding of human rights and fair play in this world know that we cannot ignore this complicated issue which deserves serious and detailed consideration. The fate of the Middle East, so long confused and befuddled by meddling outside powers is on the brink of a breakthrough.

The latest Freedom Flotilla, fifteen boats carrying activists from more than twenty countries, will attempt to break the illegal Israeli siege of Gaza. The last flotilla ended with 9 deaths and many injuries. Six young men were summarily executed by gunshots to the head at point blank range. The event was grossly manipulated by the news press and Israeli propaganda, to the point that the BBC eventually had to make a public apology for breaches of accuracy and impartiality in their report “Death in the Med”. The Israeli government has already called on the UN and the international community to stop the current flotilla despite the fact that it is carrying badly needed humanitarian aid.

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Malcolm Pittock uses PN's 75th birthday as an opportunity to reflect on a lifetime of peace activism

ImageKeep on keeping on

I have been a peace campaigner more or less continuously since I was imprisoned as an unconditionalist conscientious objector from September 1954 to January 1955, and over nearly 60 years have learned the necessity of keeping on keeping on. Many in the peace movement fall by the wayside. Some – and this is particularly true of politicians – end up as enemies of the movement they once supported; others, perhaps even more inexplicably, without any change of belief, after a period of activity suddenly decide they have had enough, and are never seen again.

To ensure that this does not happen in your own case, you must pace yourself, decide what volume of activity you can sustain while still leading a normal life, and stick to it over decades. Otherwise you are likely to burn out.

Brian Haw, whose death has saddened me and, I am sure, many others as well, was unique in that only death could end his total commitment to working for peace no matter what the personal cost. That is why he was a great man.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

Looking back, looking forward

So Peace News was first published on 6th June 1936.  6th June was also, as it happens,  the date of  other momentous events – the D-day landings in 1944, the publication of  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, the bombing of Haiphong during the Vietnam War in 1972.

2011 seems to be a year of  significant anniversaries: 75 years of Peace News… 50 Years of Amnesty International…  and good grief, very nearly 10 years  of our local peace group,  Bangor & Ynys Môn Peace & Justice.  Still meeting every week, still attracting new members, and most importantly still part of a lively network of independent groups campaigning across Wales for peace and justice, many of them set up during the tumultuous autumn of 2001.

On the agenda for our Bangor meeting on 6 June 2011 were plans for a poetry reading for the Shaker Aamer campaign, as well as options for a public meeting to consider the Arab Spring in relation to the situation in Palestine.  There were discussions about Bradley Manning, about the use of depleted uranium weapons and about the next Gaza flotilla.  Also discussed was an inspiring letter from Bustan Qaraaqa, a community permaculture project established in Palestine by former Bangor Students.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

ImagePeace News is 75. Happy birthday! Today is another anniversary; it’s two years  since my Mum’s death so I’m feeling somber, remembering the failings in the hospital care she received and our struggle to get her home so she could die as well as she had lived: in peace, with her family, in familiar surroundings. Time was short, and when some of the things that should have happened to facilitate this did not and our questions met with poor excuses, we blew the whistle to get things moving. Although this had the desired effect and there was soon a proper package of support in place, we were treated with suspicion and downright hostility by some of the professionals involved and we know that their displeasure was communicated to Mum, causing her a lot of distress. It helps that the ultimate outcome was three months of excellent care at home before she died, but I’m still upset about the way it was dealt with.

I’m also reflecting today on the recent revelations of abuse at a Bristol care home, exposed last week in a BBC Panorama programme. The authorities had simply ignored the concerns raised by the care worker, which allowed the abuse to continue. I wonder about this unidentified whistle-blower’s future career prospects. I had a conversation about whistle-blowing recently with a work colleague who has been working in learning disability services for years. She said that in almost all whistle-blowing cases she was aware of, the person exposing the abuse had subsequently found themselves investigated: either fabricated allegations or a big fuss made about a small transgression. Without exception, they had been bullied, victimised, ostracised, made ill and eventually hounded out of their jobs, giving the lie to workplace whistle-blowing policies and ‘protection of vulnerable adults’ training which imply that the authorities will be grateful to have these matters, which workers have a duty to report, brought to their attention.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June.

Arrested for Attempted Street Theatre

It was 5.30 pm on the eve of the royal wedding. “The Government of the Dead” street theatre troupe had just built a 12-foot high guillotine, topped with the banner headline “Some Cuts Are Necessary”.

We’d added an effigy of Prince Andrew with a rather long neck – easier to chop through. We’d pinned on him the knight grand cross of the royal victorian order, the bauble his mum had given him four weeks earlier. And then there were Andrew’s friends – cardboard cut-outs of a whole bunch of arms dealers, dictators and torturers on the guest list for the joyful occasion. Our banner read: “‘BAE Systems: Exporters of blood across the globe, by Royal Appointment”.

These theatrical props had been packed away in our van, but we were so ahead of time we decided to celebrate with a drink at our local pub. On returning a little later, we noticed someone loitering around: evidently a plain-clothes cop.

I was just getting my keys out ready to drive off, when 25 uniformed officers swooped on us from five vehicles. A woman police officer announced: “You are under arrest!” “Why?”, I asked. “For conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.”

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

ImageOn 5 June 2011, the day after a Peace News 75th anniversary celebration was held nearby in North London, I attended a panel discussion at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. It was 90 minutes on “The Age of Dissent”, featuring Laurie Penny, Dan Hind and Dan Hancox. Despite the overarching title of the festival, the panel had practically no literary content (other than that the panel were writers and journalists), and only the most tenuous of connections to Stoke Newington.

In the seventeenth century, Stoke Newington was a village sufficiently beyond the bounds of the city of London so that nonconformists could legally worship (under the Five Mile Act, 1665), and thus later a home of Defoe and Quakerism. There is currently a quarter-of-a-million-pound campaign to erect a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft there. So I wondered: is it only in Stoke Newington you would get 150 random locals turn up on a wet Sunday afternoon to listen to a talk about the state of activism?

But the “age” it focussed on was very much the present, in particular the anti-cuts march of 26 March. The first Dan (Hancox) spoke about “kettling” [holding demonstrators in a pen for hours], and the effect of police tactics in stopping many people with families (or weak bladders) from demonstrating, but radicalising those who could afford to be less cautious.

I wasn’t convinced by his idea of turning kettles into “autonomous spaces”, feeling it could ignore the illegality of disproportionate detention and deprivation. (He also mentioned an attempt to start a local group via megaphone.)

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

The week of 6 June 2011

It’s mostly been a week of paper. Those who try and marginalise us as only interested in “action” have no idea just how much paper NVDA (nonviolent direct action) can generate!

I start the week helping Brian with preparing his international law defence for his court case for blockading the Trident refit area of Devonport in November last year. So it’s copying, collating, stapling and labelling new information found on the internet, while out of the cupboard come piles of documents used in past cases. And with them the memories of many days in court supporting people attempting to use the very strange process we have for judging what is right from wrong to explain that if murder is considered wrong then threatening mass murder must surely be very wrong. It’s amazing how many bits of paper that takes.

While Brian is off in Plymouth, I haul out more boxes of paper. The revived Faslane Peace Camp are having a week-end gathering to celebrate their  29th birthday and I have promised to bring some old photos etc as some of them weren’t even born when the camp started!

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