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Ozgur Hezgar Cinar and Coskun Usterci (eds), 'Conscientious Objection: Resisting Militarized Society'

Zed Books, 2009; ISBN 978 1 848132 78 8; 272pp; £19.99

“At last a book on conscientious objection to military service from the point of view of contemporary objectors. It expresses the critique objection poses to patriarchy and social militarization and firmly places objection in the context of struggle for social transformation” – that’s my enthusiastic and heartfelt endorsement on the back cover of this book.

It is absolutely genuine – and not just because I’m friendly with one of the editors and some of the contributors, or because I was appalled by a certain anthology that I couldn’t bring myself to review!

Outside anti-militarist circles, there is a tendency to discuss conscientious objection in terms of human rights. Even some of the most influential institutions of pacifism – such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) – have often been more concerned with finding an accommodation for people with “tender consciences” than with posing a question about dominant social norms.

I had a different introduction to CO when I met a lifelong Peace News subscriber, Albert Strange, who during the Second World War was not called up for military service because he was in a “reserved occupation” as an engineer. He nevertheless decided to make his objection public, following which his workmates successfully demanded his dismissal and he and his family braved social ostracism. I don’t know what influence he had at the time but more than 40 years later when his daughter told me about this, his example opened my mind in a way no pacifist tract had managed to do.

This book is grounded in the subjective experiences of those who feel themselves objectors, and in particular in the Turkish CO groups.

There are myriad ways to avoid conscription in Turkey, but a few people decided that they did not want just to avoid military service but to challenge the social structures that enforce military conscription and the social attitudes that underlie it.

The book contains several chapters analysing the history of conscription and its role in constructing not just the institution of the state but also concepts of citizenship, patriotism and masculinity – yes, masculinity: the second section of the book is devoted to CO “as a critique of patriarchy, sexism and heterosexism”.

A third section recounts the experience of conscientious objection in other parts of the world, in particular showing the role of objectors in broader movements for peace and social justice, while the final section deals with the legal situation of conscientious objection, both under international law and in Turkey.

At last – a contemporary book on CO that I can recommend!