Sue Hampton writes about why she wants to do peace witness at an arms fair.
I am sixty years old. I am shy by nature and I have never broken the law. For the last couple of years I have been attending Berkhamsted Quaker Meeting, where I have felt a sense of homecoming. I am also a trustee for People Not Borders, a charity that supports refugees and other homeless people, and a member of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). A lifelong pacifist, I was involved in a protest against arms to Saudi Arabia, during which we heard heartrending statements from people in the Yemen.
I have blocked out my diary for the week beginning 4 September in order to stop the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair at the ExCeL exhibition centre in the Docklands district of the capital. I am doing this because I believe it is an abomination that shames Britain. On Tuesday 5 September the focus will be devoted to the subject of ‘No Faith in War’. It will be a multi-faith day of peaceful action, worship in many different forms, a piece of theatre, sacred songs across many faith traditions and shared food, with props and banners and a dove of peace.
The DSEI arms fairs is one of the world’s biggest and will take place later this year on 12-15 September. The DSEI arms fair was last held in September 2015, and featured 1,500 exhibitors from around the world, displaying arms ranging from sniper rifles to tanks, and from combat aircraft to warships. They were joined by ‘trade visitors’ and military delegations, including those from human rights abusing regimes and countries involved in conflict.
DSEI is organised by Clarion Events and the Department for International Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation (DSO). The DSO’s support is crucial to the success of the DSEI and its continued existence. The DSEI arms fair takes place in secret, behind heavily protected security fences and police lines, designed to allow arms dealers to trade their wares unhindered by transparency or public protest. It is subsidised by the UK taxpayer.
Recently, Britain became the second biggest arms dealer in the world, behind the United States. In spite of regulations, we arm over two-thirds of the countries on our government’s human rights watch list. The war and oppression from which we profit is a major contributor to the present refugee crisis. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s claim that if we didn’t sell these weapons then someone else would, is inconsistent with the way of Jesus, the prince of peace who represents love not the business of war.
Our objective this September will be to block the way so that the warships, tanks, missiles, drones and other technological wizardry cannot be installed in the ExCeL building ready for deals to be struck the following week. Is it achievable? We think so, heartened by just such success in New Zealand and, in three successive years, Australia. It will not halt sales for long, but it will be a powerful symbol. Christians often talk of their calling; this, now, is mine. My question to Friends is: can you join us?
This article was originally published in The Friend on 6th July 2017. Reproduced with kind permission.