Kevin Gillan, Jenny Pickerill and Frank Webster, 'Anti-War Activism: New Media and Protest in the Information Age'

IssueJune 2009
Review by Ian Sinclair

Written by three British-based scholars – a political scientist, a human geographer and a sociologist – Anti-War Activism is the first book-length academic analysis of the post 9/11 anti-war movement in the UK.

Focusing on six organisations – Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Faslane 365, Muslim networks, the Quakers and Justice Not Vengeance – the study is based on 60 interviews with activists, including Peace News editor Milan Rai and columnist Maya Evans.

It includes a thorough exploration of a variety of issues, including the evolving media landscape, alliances and fractures within the movement, the use of new media and how activists deal with information overload. Particularly interesting is the authors’ examination of the heightened Muslim participation in anti-war activism, which they see both as a positive development and a missed opportunity, pointing out that the interaction and debate between Muslim networks and the rest of the movement has actually been very limited. In addition the book has a useful list of abbreviations, extensive bibliography and a large directory of active anti-war and peace groups.

The problem is that while the book may induce nods of recognition among activists, these same people will learn little, having already encountered and overcome – by trial and error no doubt – most of the issues described. Frustratingly the authors also have a tendency to make blindingly obvious statements as if they were profound utterances of great importance. Just who hadn‘t thought that “the ways in which a group represents campaign messages can be vital to its success“ or that “there is a continuum of anti-war activism ranging from the person full-time devoted to the cause to the onlooker who is moved to do little more than sign a petition”?

On top of all this the book is written in extremely dry, controlled academic language, which at best makes reading it something of a chore and at worst produces a study that is effectively inaccessible to all but the most persistent.

Considering its enormous size and influence on the political and social landscape, sadly there has been relatively little written about the anti-war protest that has sprung up against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can’t help thinking this mass outpouring of public concern deserves an accessible, passionate and stirring history to mirror the enthusiasm, inspiring characters and fascinating stories undoubtedly found in all the organisations mentioned in this survey. Unfortunately, Anti-War Activism is not this book (and to be fair doesn’t pretend to be), and is unlikely to inspire anyone to become more involved in anti-war groups. For research purposes only.

Topics: History, Media
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