In September 2001, 19 young men from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, funded by the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Sudan, executed plans to destroy New York’s World Trade Centre with hijacked planes. An astonished world proffered fulsome support and the US launched a vicious vengeful bombing attack on Afghanistan where a domestically organised plan to oust the fanatical Taliban regime was already brewing. ‘Saints’ Bush and Blair promised to feed the starving and cure the sick but in reality cosied up to notorious bloodthirsty criminals and shoehorned one of history’s most corrupt governments into power.
A sinister part of the post 9/11 complot was to round up, at random, Muslims from around the world, often without evidence, and pin the blame on them for 9/11 and any anti-western terrorism plots suspected or imagined.
Shaker Aamer is not unlike most of the Muslims I regularly encounter at Mosques. A charming, friendly, considerate, generous man who learnt his faith at ‘his mother’s knee’, he sees endless possibilities for good. Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, is an admonition to be charitable and considerate towards humanity that motivates many committed Muslims to travel overseas to do charity work. Persuading his close friend, Moazzam Begg, the men set out to dig wells and build schools in Afghanistan, with their wives and families in 2001. Along comes the Bush/Blair juggernaut bulldozing ‘crusade’ which kidnaps the men and brutally drags them off to Guantanamo. Wives and children escaped back to Britain to await developments.
To say New Labour was unhelpful is the grossest understatement. New Labour didn’t want their prisoners back and, as Shaker hadn’t completed application for full UK citizenship, he was arbitrarily dropped from the list to be considered when government’s view softened. UK spooks provided ‘intelligence’ and support to the US which now entangles our state in a host of dilemmas about secrecy, culpability, illegality, costly claims and embarrassment: poor Cameron & Clegg are caught up in a web of international conspiracies. Much worse for poor innocent men like charity worker Shaker Aamer, stranded by the wrangle as governments and secret services tussle for control; raising doubts about who really runs things, the people’s representatives or the spooks.
Shaker Aamer’s innocent wife and family await his return to home in Battersea 11 years on. The family’s anguish has been cripplingly painful as stories emerge of the gratuitous brutality and torture of the mostly entirely innocent victims, threatening their physical and mental health with techniques drawn from a scientific programme called Kubark, developed by the CIA in the 1950s, designed for destroying mental capacity.
Jane Ellison, Conservative MP for Battersea, to her great credit, has vigorously taken up the challenge to free Shaker against a tide of tardy UK government action and US inaction. Why Shaker and why does he remain in Guantanamo despite being ‘cleared for release’ regularly since 2007?
Lawyers advise that popular pressure can succeed where law and ritual diplomacy doesn’t. There has been a heroic local campaign fighting to SAVE SHAKER AAMER since 2007 and there is a GOVERNMENT EPETITION, No 33133 which expires in March 3013, aiming for 100,000 signatures. Please sign!
Contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Facebook:All Roads Lead To Guantanamo; Twitter:@allroadsleadG11; http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com
ICAN (the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons) has put out a call for film extras on Sunday February 3rd: a hundred people are needed at noon in Trafalgar Square to help make a short video on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, to be presented at the Red Cross Conference in Oslo at the beginning of March and then shared as widely as possible with the scoial media.
Please get in touch with Rebecca on firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest and availability. “We promise not to blow you up — you’ll be showing the happy ending of a world without nukes,” she says.
The 30th Anniversary Fête will be upon us in a very few months’ time and we need to start planning now. Please clear out books and bric-à-brac and sow seed and split garden plants as soon as the weather starts to warm up. Above all put May 18th into your diaries, offer transport and KEEP THE DATE FREE!
I feel very privileged to be writing this tribute to Muriel Wood, who will celebrate her 90th birthday on 11th February. Muriel has a lifelong commitment to peace and justice, and was active in the peace movement long before CND was founded, despite a busy professional career as a research scientist (working with geneticist Professor Haldane) and later as a secondary school teacher.
Along with many others, she joined Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the early eighties, when the danger posed by cruise missiles brought an upsurge in CND activity nationally. For many years since then, Muriel and her husband, Don, were the mainstay of WDC/CND, doing everything from the production and distribution of newsletters, staffing the monthly peace table, helping to organise the annual Fete of the Earth and Hiroshima Day events, distributing leaflets, taking part in every local and national demonstration, including the weekly Peace Vigil, until she was in her mid eighties, when health problems forced her to ease up. The last national demonstration she took part in, accompanied by Helen, was the big Climate Change March, and she has attended every Hiroshima Day event up to and including 2011.
In addition to the public campaigning, Muriel was very involved in behind the scenes work for CND. She was WDC/CND Membership Secretary and then Chairperson for many years and she travelled once a week to the National CND office, where she did voluntary work, including, among other things, writing the column in Campaign called “Muriel’s Grapevine” which was her own original idea and still bears her signature.
Muriel has been supported in every way by her daughters, Helen, Kate and Judith, all of whom accompanied her on countless occasions to take part in national and local demonstrations, from the time they were in pushchairs. They remember and were themselves infected by their mother’s enthusiasm and commitment to peace. As Helen put it, “She was always on the case like a terrier!”
We wish Muriel a very happy birthday and many happy returns.
(See our photo page: http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Photos/Muriel/index.html)
Jeremy Corbyn gave the Keynote Address, emphasising how important it was to get our message across to young people. (He had encountered sixth-formers unaware of the existence of UK nuclear weapons.) We have to realise that debate only goes on amongst a small proportion of the population. [In this context it is encouraging the the Sun ran an article in favour of scrapping Trident on 4/11/2012: http://tinyurl.com/csqsgzd] In order to reach out as widely as possible it is important that all peace organisations work together: Stop the War Coalition and CND are not competitors! The parliamentary debate which was to take place on January 17th would be the first opportunity to debate nuclear issues since the vote in 2007.
It is important to counter the dishonest argument circulating in some circles that CND does not care about jobs in the defence industry. The Barrow Alternatives Report is the product of a half-day conference including CND speakers and the (pro-nuclear) local MP and it concludes that Barrow is over-dependent on the defence industry. There must be serious debate about alternative development using the skills at Barrow, Aldermaston etc. These people are indeed highly-skilled — but these skills could be employed to make anything!
There is an active parliamentary CND group putting pressure on Ed Miliband, but what is really needed is constituency pressure and wider public debate. (The case against Trident should be made at all anti-cuts meetings.) Jeremy also had some scathing things to say about the arms industry: “Hypocritical foreign policy decisions are often based on the desire to sell arms”. Arms sale personnel accompanying the Prime Minister’s recent visits to India, Pakistan, the Gulf Region etc. contrast with the absence of a UK voice on human rights abuses, “demeaning the UK moral case around the world”.
Afternoon workshops covered New Nukes, US foreign policy after the election, Iran’s nuclear programme and Fukushima. In addition to the Fukushima workshop, I chose to go to Jim Brann’s expert analysis of US politics. US military spending is currently greater in real terms than at the height of the Cold War and close to half the world total.
Permission for this nuclear debate was granted on the basis of a joint application by Jeremy Corbyn and veteran pro-nuclear advocate Julian Lewis, each promising “fundamental disagreement”! The full debate can be read in Hansard http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130117/debtext/130117-0003.htm#13011761000005 and provides an interesting summary of entrenched positions amongst the current generation of politicians with some such as former minister Nick Harvey having changed sides and others such as Gerald Kaufman adopting strange intellectual contortions to maintain that because “history has bestowed [nuclear weapons] on us” and “we are prisoners of history”, we have a duty to retain them as a negotiating card.
The eventual decision to go ahead with Trident renewal is scheduled for 2016 which places it the other side of the next General Election. This decision will be made in the context of a wage freeze and austerity, and if a new Labour government were in power it would be facing huge demands and expectations. “Is it credible that Parliament would vote to spend a huge sum of money on nuclear weapons in this context?” asked Jeremy Corbyn rhetorically at London Region Conference, adding that (knowing the inflexibility of his colleagues) he could well imagine them doing just that — and on the basis of this debate one can but agree with him.
The Fukushima workshop at London Region Conference was presented by young students from Japanese Against Nuclear, responsible for the regular Friday morning vigil outside the Japanese Embassy “in solidarity with Japanese nuclear power protesters”. (Big protests are planned for the second Fukushima anniversary in March.) It was striking to hear how intensely the accident had affected the whole of East Japan and how emotionally stressful it continues to be because of lack of reliable information and distrust of authority (seen as having a vested interest). One of the speakers spoke movingly about how her fear of contamination had kept her away from her family for 18 months. Whatever the long-term physical consequences turn out to be, this was vivid evidence of the psychological damage to the population here and now.
There was a suggestion that diplomatic and military considerations are involved, with the US government keen for the Japanese to continue to generate plutonium.
Hard facts were few in this presentation but the latest ‘Fukushima update’ describes the accumulation of radioactive water beneath the three melted reactors. “Tepco is drawing out this water, trying to filter it, squirting some of it back into the reactor and storing the rest on site. So far there is 240,000 tons of this lethal water.... A field is filling up with container-loads of deadly filter discs.” Fish within 50km of Fukushima in 2012 were as radioactive as in 2011 (24,500 becquerels/kilo), implying that contaminated groundwater is leaking out into the sea. Wild pigs in the forests north of Fukushima had registered 37,000 bqs/kg because of their taste for mushrooms (which tend to concentrate radiation). And “if spent fuel pool Number Four drains... the fuel in it will burn and they will lose Tokyo.... Crazy risk to take just to boil water.” http://fukushima-diary.com
Keiji Nakazawa, Hiroshima survivor and creator of the Japanese manga (comic book) about the experience and hopes for peace of Barefoot Gen, died recently. “I’m a cartoonist and so cartoons are my only weapon,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Doubt is extremely strong, but we have to feel that change is possible.” [see article in the Los Angeles Times, Jan 6th 2013: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/07/local/la-me-keiji-nakazawa-20130107]
Perhaps we might arrange to show the animated film adaptation at a WDC/CND meeting later in the year?
Walter Wolfgang: a political life by Carol Turner is a well-written illustrated pamphlet published by Labour CND at the modest price of £2: “Walter’s activities offer a vivid record of the uneasy relationship between the peace movement and the Labour Party over the past 60 years”.
This is an account of how one honest and dedicated left-wing activist experienced and interpreted the political events of the last half of the 20th century. “I have never known him deviate from his principles or abandon his goals,” writes Carol.
[Copies available from 162 Holloway Rd, N7 8BR]