100,000 bells for Iraq

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
News by Maya Evans

To mark the first anniversary of the Lancet report on war-related deaths in Iraq, and to raise awareness about the Iraq body count, Voices for Creative nonviolence (USA) teamed up with Justice not Vengeance (UK) for an international bell-ringing ceremony in late October. Bell ringings also took place at impromptu times and locations throughout November.

The aim was to get 100 groups involved and for each group to ring a bell 1000 times to make 100,000 rings: The figure is taken from the Lancet report, which was published in October 2004 (see below). The ceremonies were solemn, as groups rang a bell on the minute and read the name of an Iraqi. Some groups read out additional information such as the age, location and cause of death (see http://www.iraqbodycount.org).

Marking the loss

Merry Conway from the group Mouths Wide Open (USA) read the names of Iraqi academics; she said, “I felt the weight of all the years of study that each person had made, all the thought they had developed and then passed along, and of all the collective loss of their contribution to Iraqi society.”

Edinburgh students, numbering over 50, held their bell-ringing ceremony with a six-metre dummy missile with “WMD” written on the side. After the ceremony the group marched through the town handing out flyers. They headed for the US consulate in Edinburgh where they blocked the entrance with the dummy missile. They held a two-minute die-in during which one member of the group attached the Lancet report and the list of names to the consulate door. The blockade lasted almost an hour.

People matter

Justice not Vengeance (JNV) decided to hold part of their bell ringing ceremony outside Downing Street despite the introduction of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which meant immediate arrest for demonstrating in a restricted zone. Milan Rai was arrested for organising, and Maya Evans arrested for participating in, an unauthorised demonstration. Milan is still awaiting charge while Maya was due to appear at Bow Street Magistrates as PN went to press. Two women bell-ringers were also arrested outside parliament in late November. Both were released without charge.

Milan Rai, reflecting about his participation in the ceremony, wrote, “Reading the names of the dead, marking their passing with each ring of a bell, has been a meditation on the reason why we campaign about Iraq. It has been a way of insisting that these people matter, that they have not blown away in the wind, that they deserve and will receive respect from those of us who come after.”

Many other ceremonies took place, accounts can be read at http://www.iraqmortality.org.