COMMENT by Sharmila Sengupta

India’s 9/11

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed
And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

As the last of the gutted rooms are ‘sanitised’ in Mumbai’s two top hotels and Jewish centre, a devastated people are demanding answers from what they have come to regard as a corrupt, supine Establishment. Intelligence warnings as recent as 24 hours prior to the attacks were ignored. It took three hours for the first set of firefighters to arrive, even though they were stationed less than a mile away in one case. Anti-terror squad officers were sent in with equipment half a century old to tackle highly trained individuals armed with the latest technology and weaponry. It is not that either the technology or weaponry were unavailable — it just so happens that they are meant exclusively to keep the politicians safe. The latter felt too vulnerable without them to want to requisition them to all and sundry at the drop of a grenade.

Echoing Donald Rumsfeld’s immortal “stuff happens” statement, the Chief Minister of the region announced that “these things” were common in a big city like Mumbai and it really was not all that bad. He has, since, been forced to resign, as has the Home Secretary. Mumbai is no stranger to acts of terrorism. In 1993, the entire Stock Exchange was reduced to rubble. In 2006, two commuter trains blew up during rush hour. Both times, hundreds died, and yet more hundreds died in the communal riots that followed. Hindus marched into Muslim neighbourhoods and vice versa, killing and maiming one another in an orgy of hatred and violence. Political capital was harvested by the sackful and polarisation prevailed. And life went on.

This time, however, something new and unprecedented is happening. For perhaps the first time in the history of post-Independence India, the people have come out on the streets and challenged the powers-that-be. They have demanded answers, they have refused to be swayed by inflammatory rhetoric and the politics of hatred to turn on one another in blind fury. Perhaps it is a nation awakening to a new political consciousness — only time will tell. However, if that indeed proves to be the case, hundreds of innocent people will not have died in vain, and hundreds more may not have to.

"No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
John Donne, Meditations

‘Spirit of Christmas’

The annual Christmas Fair at Earls Court is promoted by Clarion Events — the Baby Show owners who have recently purchased the DSEI arms fair from academic publishers Reed Elsevier, who you will remember sold their interest in DSEI last year after a sustained campaign coordinated by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). CAAT supporters (among whom was Sam of the Wimbledon Vigil for Peace) dressed as Santa Claus and his elves and canvassed visitors to the Christmas Fair and stallholders: “Did you enjoy the Spirit of Christmas Fair, sir/madam? Can we take this opportunity to tell you about some of our other fairs? We have recently purchased the DSEI arms fair, where you can fulfil all your munitions needs... all the money you have spent today goes straight into this new venture, so as a thank-you, this voucher gets you in free to the next fair. Same company, different product, same great shopping experience....”

Security guards protested and the organiser eventually called the police but although two police cars eventually arrived they declined to take action. “After a little chat they left us to it and we flyered and cross-promoted merrily for a while longer, handing out hundreds of leaflets and informing lots and lots of people about the existence of the Arms Fair and Clarion’s connection to it, as well as the pressure Reed Elsevier was put under causing them to sell it off in the first place.” Well done Sam and colleagues!

Clarion boss Simon Kimble is rapidly being proved wrong in his assertion that public opinion is not against the arms industry. CAAT suggests that you visit to e-mail him and point out that the arms trade is no longer an option for any business that cares about its reputation.

No to NATO

CND has been warning against the dangers of NATO, its expansion and its nuclear policies at least since the 1980s. NATO is a military alliance with a nuclear ‘First Strike’ policy, originally founded during the Cold War in 1949 as a defensive organisation. Although the rival Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991 NATO continued, and in 1999 protocols were changed to allow for offensive action across Europe and Asia.

Expansion of NATO since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact has taken it right up to the borders of Russia, and European NATO bases provide handy cover for hundreds of intermediate-range US nuclear weapons. All of which is unsurprisingly seen by Russia as territorially offensive.

Every NATO member state signs up to ‘nuclear sharing’ and the NATO doctrine of ‘interoperability’ means that all pilots must be able to fly the same plane and know how to drop the same bombs. Thus all new member states have to buy the same (usually American) hardware. Radar and interceptor bases are to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of US Missile Defence, and this together with the US communiction bases in the UK (Fylingdales and Menwith) has turned modern NATO into a vast US-dominated military machine with no qualms about acting ‘out of area’. NATO now conducts exercises and pursues relationships as far afield as Israel, South Korea and Japan.

When NATO celebrates its 60th anniversary with a congratulatory conference in Strasbourg next April we must make sure that the comfortable picture presented by the mainstream media is vigorously challenged. The public is led to believe that NATO is the bedrock of Western safety and security. No-one pauses to ask how we might feel if Russia or China had nuclear-armed bases in Western Europe.

Campaign Skills Share Day

Anna and Joanna recently spent an interesting Saturday discussing campaigning aims and tactics with CND activists from all over the country, and we returned with a sharper focus to our ideas for Wimbledon. In the following article you will see a plea for a WDC/CND Press Officer — and is anyone interested in developing a bit of street theatre? This could be as simple as walking up and down in front of the Peace Table dressed in costume with our message on a large sign, or perhaps the artistic amongst you could construct a ‘missile’ for us from a large cardboard tube.

In her introductory talk CND Chair Kate Hudson summarised where the campaign is at, and outlined priorities for the coming year. We should be encouraged by many signs of shifting attitudes on nuclear disarmament: the Kissinger initiative in the USA and statements by all the Presidential candidates, initiatives by the Australian government, public opinion polls in this country and speeches (since Blair’s departure) by Margaret Beckett and Des Browne about the need for multilateral initiatives. These are all “good noises” but it remains to be seen how they will translate into policy.

“Negatives” include the fact that “actions contradict words” and all the nuclear weapons states are developing new generation nuclear weapons in defiance of their Non Proliferation Treaty obligations, while NATO expansion and US Missile Defence (a Bush initiative fully backed by the UK government) are provoking confrontation with Russia.

CND’s rôle is to increase popular opposition to nuclear weapons and help to create the political conditions for change to UK policy. 2009 will bring two major campaigning opportunities: the 60th anniversary of NATO in April and the launch of the next phase of the Trident replacement programme in the autumn. It is essential that we use the next few months to raise the profile of all the issues involved.

Press and Publicity Officer Required

We are looking for a volunteer to take over the job of liaising with the local media and making sure the public knows about our campaigning. There is not much point in doing things if no-one knows we are doing them.

We have traditionally relied on putting out the occasional press release and writing the occasional letter to the local paper, but nowadays this is not enough. We are failing to reach the vast majority of young people, for example, because young people communicate via the Internet or listen to radio rather than read newspapers. WDC/CND urgently needs a Press/Publicity Officer who has the skills to research all these alternative media outlets. Please think about it, and also think laterally: maybe you know a young person who would be prepared to give us some help on a temporary basis?

Concepts of Peace

Our workshop on November 11th led by Marianne Zeck was very well attended and proved a thought-provoking and constructive way to mark the passage of yet another Armistice Day anniversary with the public mind briefly focused on the savageries of the European Great War.

Most of the twenty or so people engaged in discussion at the Community Centre were involved in ‘peace making’ in its broadest sense; professionals dealing with troubled young people, community activists, environmentalists, members of the local Quaker Meeting, the United Nations Association, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and Movement for the Abolition of War, as well as those of us campaigning for nuclear disarmament. We explored the links between personal unhappiness, domestic violence and community breakdown, and tried to understand how a career in the military can offer the stability and structure craved by vulnerable young people.

Somewhere there is a lack of logic in the message that we get from our politicians that state-sanctioned military intervention in defiance of international law is in a different moral league from the aggressive behaviour of those tempted into taking the law into their own violent hands in their own communities. We are asked to educate young people in one set of values and then expose them to an adult world where might is right on the international stage. And then we wonder why there is widespread cynicism and confusion.

To meet all those people working so hard for a better future in their different ways was wonderfully encouraging and left us all feeling slightly more hopeful.

Report by Joanna Bazley

Film Show

The next film in our winter season will be “Viva Zapatero” (2006) on Sunday January 25th, the punchy and funny story of one woman’s battle for freedom of expression in the face of the Berlusconi régime, as Sabina Guzzanti attempts to present a satirical TV show. (“Roughly between Rory Bremner and Michael Moore” writes Anna who is responsible for this month’s choice). The venue is 34 Meadow Close SW20 (163 bus route: Greenway bus stop) and the time 4pm.

The Campaign to Make Wars History

WDC/CND member Chris Coverdale is co-founder of this recently-launched campaign of non-violent direct action attempting to enforce adherence to the laws of war by the judiciary. politicians and police: “By enforcing the rule of law and reforming the outdated traditions, conventions, assumptions and structures that drive us to war, we will eliminate violence and return to the path of peaceful democratic government practised by states such as Costa Rica and Switzerland.... The day that a powerful leader such as Bush or Blair is convicted of war crimes will be the day that we end war once and for all. No future political, civil or military leader will be willing to engage in armed conflict if they know there is a good chance that they will be arrested, tried and convicted as a war criminal.”

See or tel: 020 8245 3698

Call Back the Fire

On Remembrance Sunday a new CD of songs about peacemaking and conflict was launched at the Imperial War Museum by the Movement for the Abolition of War. It brings together eighteen songs from some of the finest songwriters in Britain, America and Australia and includes tracks about peace activist Norman Kember and about composer George Butterworth, who was killed on the Somme in WWI. Each CD costs £12 plus £1·60 p&p, and orders including cheques (made payable to ‘Movement for the Abolition of War’) can be sent to MAW Orders, 1 Thesiger Rd, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 2DY.

Our Treasurer Julie Higgins writes:

“I have just listened to all the tracks on the excellent CD Call back the fire: songs against war, songs for peacemaking. There were some old favourites, wonderfully rendered: ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ by Eric Bogle and ‘Old Men Sing Love Songs’ by John Connolly, but some new ones (to me) were excellent. I was asked to pick my favourite, and I beg your indulgence to pick two — second best, to my mind, was ‘Mothers, Daughters, Wives’ by Judy Small, but the one which still haunts me is James Blunt’s ‘No Bravery’. Absolutely stunning. I highly recommend this CD for you, your friends, your children.”

CND Return to Newsletter index