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Articles from the Peace News log: Reportage

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Peace News' co-editor Milan Rai photographed some of the participants at the "International Symposium on Nonviolence Movements and the Barrier of Fear", held 10-12 April at Coventry University.

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Who can you spot?

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A thirteen-day prison sentence poses an odd problem for peace campaigner Maya Evans and her supporters.

Up betimes at 5.30am, to catch the 6.08am tube to Vauxhall and thence the 6.32am overland train, arriving at Ashford (Surrey) station at 7.03am. From there, a short walk brought me to Her Majesty’s Prison Bronzefield.

I’d been there once before - to see Susan Clarkson out of jail - and the reception assured me that Maya would be released shortly. They were just dealing with her property.

So began a chilly wait outside in a strong wind – positioned far enough from the main entrance not to freak out the prison authorities.

At first I tried reading Andrew Cornell’s excellent little book on the Movement for a New Society - a radical, nonviolent US group, active in the 70s and 80s - but before long my hands were too cold to hold it, and I fell back on listening to Hubert Dreyfus’ equally wonderful – but very different – lectures on Existentialism in Literature and Film on my mp3 player, hands thrust deeply into my coat pockets.

Struggling to get my head round the notions of lower and higher immediacy whilst reducing the wind chill to an absolute minimum (neither an easy job without a hat), I hadn’t spotted the approach of Martin Birdseye, anti-nuclear activist extraordinaire. Formerly an engineer, he’d cycled 8 miles against the wind to be there.

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Gabriel Carlyle reports on the jailing of Hastings anti-war activist Maya Evans.

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At 9.15am, I was the first one to arrive at the Court.

Maya had told us that she'd been asked to get there for 9.30am. At 9.35am there was still no sign of her, though veteran peace activist John Lynes showed up with some home-made "rollable" banners, which we proceeded to display outside the court, much to the bemusement of the local citizenry.

"Thank you Maya for speaking out bravely for victims of war in Afghanistan" read one of them. "I don't know even who that is", one woman told us as she wheezed her way up the steps and into the court, not pausing to find out.

Maya had been ordered to appear regarding the non-payment of £355 in fines and costs dating back to a 2009 court case. In November of that year, at a two-day trial at Watford Magistrates Court, six of us had been tried and found guilty of "obstructing the highway" for our role in a demonstration outside Britain's military HQ at Northwood.

Since then the whole process had dragged out interminably, with three of us serving brief spells in police custody for failing to make a pointless trip to Watford (we'd all written to the court, asking for the case to transferred to our local areas), and several of us had faced repeated attempts by bailiffs (only one of them successful!) to seize our property.

In December 2011, Maya had appeared in court again and this time was sentenced to 2 weeks imprisonment, suspended so long as she paid the court £5 a week. As she was about to travel to Afghanistan with Voices for Creative Nonviolence [LINK: http://peacenews.info/node/6515/maya-evans-returns-first-british-peace-delegation-afghanistan] she paid the fine for the first couple of weeks (to ensure that she wouldn't be arrested before she left) and then stopped.

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Maya Evans is in Kabul with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Photos by Guy Smallman.

Maya Evans at a refugee camp in KabulAs we approached a cluster of ramshackle mud huts on the side of a motorway, our driver (a friend of a friend) warned us to be careful as two foreign journalists had been kidnapped in a refugee camp in Kabul only last year. I asked my friend (a young man and member of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers) if he was comfortable with accompanying me into the camp, he agreed that he was as we both stepped out of the car with Kiwi journalist Jon Stevenson.

The refugee camp near the Crystal Hotel in Karte Parwan Kabul is home to around 300 families each consisting on average of 9 people per family. The camp is separated from a motorway by a large ditch which judging from the strong smell of Sulphur contained raw sewage. We were directed over a rickety bridge to see the last sack of aid being carried away.

A gift of supplies from Peace News readers and Financial Times NUJ chapter had just been delivered (with the help of the camp elders). £2,175 worth of aid consisting of a lorry full of fire wood, 3 tones of sugar, tea and bread making flour which had been bought from a local wholesale market only a few hours before.

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Maya Evans is in Kabul with Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

We were lucky enough to receive an invitation to visit a self run community on the edge of Kabul, Chelsitun in Wasalabad; it’s a mixed Tajik and Pashtun community split into 8 sections, consisting of 2,000 households each having its own representative which implements Government initiatives and also manages security in the area.

We were told that the community practices religious and ethnic tolerance and has one of the only Mosques which welcomes joint worship by both Sunni’s and Shia’s with the two Muslim groups sharing funerals and ceremonies. When we arrived in Chelsitun the pathway were unusually set with concrete; an independent initiative by the community (paid for by the people within the area) as a move towards installing proper infrastructure.

Our group was directed into a compound and then into the office of the community elders. It was like stepping back in time into what I imagined pre war Afghanistan to be like; exquisite prayer mats hung on the war, the traditional ornate Afghan rugs; a greenhouse conservatory made of improvised plastic sheeting with the lushest greenery I have seen since leaving the UK.

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Maya Evans gives eye witness report from Kabul where she is on a delegation with the US group Voices for Creative Nonviolence

My first morning in Kabul, I went with Momajan and Roz Mohammed for my first real taste of the outside, a walk to the shops to change my money and top-up an internet dongle. I stepped out into the bright cold streets of Kabul. Initially I was blinded by the brightness of the sun and then choked by the pollution. My immediate thought was that I had stepped into Dickensian London only far worse, piles of rubbish on the street, open sewers running alongside the dirt pavements (also containing rubbish), bric-a-brac junk shops made out of dilapidated shacks, beggars every few yards, the number of people with disabilities is extreme. Air thick with pollution, nothing like anything I’ve experienced during my 18 years of growing up in East London. Pavements are improvised or sometimes non existent; there are no traffic regulations, no zebra crossings or traffic lights. To cross a road you take your life into your own hands zigzagging cars, motorbikes and bicycles. Perhaps the most worrying is the number of people with guns, guards stationed outside buildings, shops, banks all carry a gun slung over their shoulder.

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Maya Evans gives eye witness report from Kabul where she is on a delegation with the US group Voices for Creative Nonviolence

The Sun was setting as my plane approached to land in Kabul. My first sights of Afghanistan were the snow capped hills and gigantic mountain ranges which seemed to stretch forever. From the plane I could see meandering roads snaking round the endless mountain passes. It had just turned to dusk as I exited off the plane and onto the runway; I walked a few feet and onto a bus. The airport seems to double up as a military bay as the number of helicopters and fighter jets are also stationed there. As I got off the bus I was greeted by a large sign “Welcome to Afghanistan, land of the brave”.

I stepped into the immigration hall, basic and dated was my immediate impression. The pale blue uniform of the police looked like something out of a 1970s James Bond movie with pants pulled high up the waist, big belts and flat station master type caps. At a guess the airport interior dated back to the 60s, I later learnt it doesn’t even have a toilet. I immediately headed for a queue with some other women in it. My pious Islamic outfit purchased from Whitechapel Market only a week before hand was probably too authentic as all the other Afghani women wore western jeans and tops with scarves loosely tied round their heads. It’s likely that Afghans on the flight were from middle class backgrounds which may explain their taste in western style.

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The freebies given away at DSEi arms fair in London are so extraordinary they need to be seen to be believed. Jill Gibbon has drawn and photographed a selection.

Air Boss Defense condoms given free to arms dealers

Air Boss Defense condoms given free to arms dealers

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Natalia Grana reflects on the circumstances of her involvement with Occupy Manchester

Wednesday 9th November: Having started what I describe as my first full-time “proper adult job” I become even more aware of the enormous and important job we “peace makers” have to do. I can fit in my peace-making activities around the hours of work which are school hours, and the children I help are primary age and mainly Muslim in my particular school so the Peace issue raises to an even higher profile (for me).

The teachers are very positive and in the main swinging to the left politically and I had passing thoughts and conversations about the idea that if all these very well-meaning but highly busy and work-a-day professional folk could join some sort of no-taxes-for-war scheme we could have a lot of power.  Most people if made aware of the capitalist scams – who they benefit in the main, how wars and oppression is all set up and the general seedy goings on of the mega-rich and power megalomaniacs – would all be up for a complete overhaul of the system.  I feel it in my bones we are ripe as a society for MAJOR changes.

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Claire Poyner reports from this year's huge feminist gathering in London

UK Feminsta was founded in 2010 and Fem11, the national conference held on 12 November at Friends House, London was a gathering of over 1000 feminists. Mostly women with a smattering of men, and for the most part, women who don’t appear to meet the stereotype which may be responsible for some, particularly younger women, to proclaim: “I’m not a feminist”.

The keynote speaker was a very popular Sandy Toksvig who bemoaned the lack of suitable role model in children’s literature – “If Rapunzel had hair long enough for a prince to climb up, couldn’t she have fashioned a rope out of her hair to escape?” Also criticised: the way female role models were re-fashioned to make them more ‘respectable’. Did you know that Florence Nightingale was known amongst the injured soldiers as the “Lady with the hammer” (NOT the lamp) because she smashed open a cupboard containing drugs meant for the senior military only?

Other speakers included Roxanne Halsey of UK Uncut – cuts is a feminist issue after all – Bjorn Sttka from the Anti-Porn Men Project, Isabella Woolford Diaz from Camden School for Girls Feminist Group (“my school made me a feminist”!) who told of getting Tesco to put the “men’s mags” out of sight, and Cllr Rania Khan, a science teacher and independent councillor in Tower Hamlets who campaigns against lap dancing clubs in her area, especially after she was sexually harassed by a group of men leaving such a club.

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