Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to be touched by the carnage in Manchester. The bombing was a shameful, heartless and cruel crime. To target children in this way is so counterintuitive that I can’t think of anyone who could possibly think it a good idea, let alone condone it. Yet someone did deliberately plan it and made secret extensive preparations to achieve an intended result.
The question everyone must want answered is why? Indications are that the bombing of Manchester children was an act of Islamist terrorism, but as an explanation that falls far short. For centuries people of Islamic faiths have disagreed about interpretations of Holy texts. Disagreement has from time to time spilled over into violent confrontation yet historically violence has more typically been used in wars of conquest and avarice. So why now is internal disputation about interpretation of Islam seemingly turning on the children of Manchester? My own conclusion is that it is not a movement but a trend and a trend that appears only to affect a very select few. Vast worldwide Muslim populations have as much difficulty trying to make sense of it as we.
The attacks are often as isolated, as in a different context with the killing of Jo Cox who was innocently doing her work for the betterment of her constituents. Her assailant was deranged. He targeted an imaginary hate figure but since suicide bombing is a haphazard attack upon innocent people, unconnected to the bombers’ preoccupations, it can never logically be claimed to be in aid of any cause. Logically it can only be explained as a hate crime, committed to satisfy some irrational need inside the head of the perpetrator. Is that need about revenge and retribution?
People point to a history of Western plunder and exploitation, of callousness and connivance in order to obtain advantage. There is much truth in that but it was not exclusively Muslim lands that were targeted. Looking around the globe it is clear that indigenous people and their faiths have come under pressure from European expansionism and exploitation such that it would not be surprising that there is some resentment and distrust. Yet, despite numerous atrocities committed in the past, most people are content to let bygones be bygones; a very noble and sensible attitude.
Before 2001 it was fair to say that differences of interpretation of Islam were largely confined to Muslim-majority countries. Osama bin Laden and a small group of fanatics wanted to persuade those countries to adopt more rigid practices and interpretations of Islam. They began committing violence in order to destabilise sitting governments. By assassinating President Sadat in Egypt, for example, they hoped to provoke public clamour for more observant Islamic practices. They failed but undeterred they concluded that Western influence was to blame. Dubious governments, they decided, were being sustained in power by their real adversary, the West.
A tiny band of fanatics hatched a successful plan to fly planes into New York buildings. It was a crime. There was no global conspiracy. Most of the perpetrators died. A small handful of conspirators boasted of responsibility and sought refuge in Afghanistan. What followed was the wholesale bombing and invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the brutal treatment of their civilians, none of whom had any connection to the World Trade Centre attacks. Around 800 Muslim men were forcibly removed to Guantanamo. Only around 1% of the 800 had any compromising evidence against them and most were bought, many from countries other than Afghanistan. Western troops remain in both Afghanistan and Iraq where resentment festers. The internet is used to disseminate hate messages and some young men are persuaded to commit atrocities in Europe, though slaughter and bloodshed are more common, and less reported, in Muslim majority countries.
It would be very neat to blame Blair and Bush but this is too glib. No one forces the perpetrators to commit atrocities. They do so of their own free will and that is the heart of the problem which, for all its military might, the West lacks the wit to address.
I noticed Ahmadiyya banners at recent demonstrations: “Love of All — Hatred of None”. It is regrettable that Salman Abedi had not had opportunity to learn and understand this lesson and himself live a constructive and fulfilling life, instead of dying young whilst randomly murdering children, dishonourably in ignominy.
If war and violence brought peace, stability, prosperity, freedom and enlightenment, it would have done so by now. It hasn’t and rejecting it is long overdue.
[edited version of a longer essay]
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) held a planning meeting on Monday 22nd May at SOAS which I attended as a representative of Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND. ICAN is a broad, inclusive campaign, based on mobilising civil society around the world to support the specific objective of negotiating a global nuclear weapons ban treaty.
The objective of the meeting was to discuss UK strategic issues and the international state of play within the ban treaty. Coincidentally the UN panel working on the Nuclear Ban Treaty decided to livestream the draft treaty text from Geneva on the same day which gave the meeting the opportunity to share in this very exciting international development which will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons, which have long been outlawed.
The draft was developed on the basis of discussions and input received during the first round of negotiations, held at the UN headquarters in New York from 27 to 31 March 2017 with the participation of 132 nations. The negotiations will resume on 15 June and continue until 7 July, with the draft as the basis.
The meeting was generally extremely pleased with the wording of the draft treaty and the fact that it was rooted in humanitarian principles which are at the heart of the UN charter. ICAN later released a press release welcoming the draft as an important milestone in the years-long effort to ban these indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction. Once adopted, the treaty will constitute a major step towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. ICAN expects further constructive debate on certain provisions as the process moves forward, and will be campaigning to ensure the strongest possible treaty. They are confident that the treaty can be agreed by 7 July.
As ever the UK government, along with the other nuclear states and their satellites, has boycotted the negotiations. While they will be able to join the treaty once it has been agreed, failure to participate in the negotiations undermines their claims to be committed to a world without nuclear weapons. During this election period it is important for us to bring this very important international agreement to the attention of all the candidates.
Max Tegmark, MIT professor of physics, blogging for Scientific American:
“We scientists like to geek out about probabilities, megatons and impact calculations, so we see the nuclear situation differently than many politicians and pundits.”
“The fact that nuclear powers are taking the liberty to endanger everybody else without asking their permission has led to growing consternation in the world’s non-nuclear nations. This has been exacerbated by a seemingly endless series of near-misses in which nuclear war has come close to starting by accident, and leaders of many non-nuclear nations feel less than thrilled by the idea of being destroyed by something as banal as a malfunctioning early warning system....
“A ban obviously wouldn’t persuade the nuclear ‘haves’ to eliminate their nukes the next morning, so what’s the point of it? The way I see it, most governments are frustrated that a small group of countries with a minority of the world’s population insist in retaining the right to ruin life on Earth for everyone else.... Such ‘might makes right’ policy has precedent. In South Africa, for example, the minority in control of the unethical Apartheid system didn’t give it up spontaneously.... Similarly, the minority in control of unethical nuclear weapons won’t give up on their own initiative but only if they are pressured into doing so by the majority of the world’s nations and citizens.”
“Nuclear ban supporters draw inspiration from the 1997 Ottawa treaty banning landmines. Although the superpowers still refuse to sign it, it created enough stigma that many people now associate mines not with national security but with images of children who have had limbs blown off while playing in peace-time.... In 2014, the Pentagon announced that it was halting landmine use outside of the Korean peninsula. Today, the global landmine market has nearly collapsed with merely a single manufacturer (South Korean Hamwa) remaining.
“The ‘have-not’ negotiators hope that a nuclear ban treaty will similarly stigmatize nuclear weapons, persuading us that we’re all less safe with more nukes — even if they are our own.”
On June 15th we welcome CND vice chair and chair of Labour CND Carol Turner, author of a recent book “Corbyn and Trident”, who will analyse the facts and political issues around the replacement of the UK Trident nuclear weapons system and lead discussion.
June 15th 7·30pm, William Morris Halls, 267 The Broadway SW19 1SD.
Our annual Fête on May 13th was a huge success with a record number of attendees and record profits: £2,175.35 was taken on the day, so with expenses in the region of £475 we made £1,700. Thank you to everyone who gave of their time and energies so generously, not just the stalholders but also lorry-driver Mick, van-driver Bob and the team who loaded and unloaded (arriving three hours before the start and only departing three hours after the hall had been cleared) and all those stalwarts who helped by sorting and labelling in advance and dumping rubbish afterwards.
Our visiting musicians gave the whole event an extra lift and we shall certainly be inviting them again next year. Perhaps you can think of other sideshows we might introduce? I am reminded that many years ago Dave Bezkorwajny used to come with a ‘magic bicycle’ which chewed up missiles and produced vegeburgers — anyone else remember this? (My son tells me he used to love watching it.)
Aden deserves a special mention for not only cooking and serving delicious food but also for generously donating the cost of the ingredients, as does Edwin, who handed out more leaflets than everybody else put together, both in advance and on the day.
A very sensitive and beautiful new film: bilingual French/German with English subtitles and a strong pacifist message conveyed via an intensely moving human story. “A richly evocative period piece set in the aftermath of WW1”, according to the blurb, but the sentiments are universal. Young men are persuaded that it is their patriotic duty to fight. Does this make them murderers or is it their elders who are responsible for the slaughter?
As well as mercilessly demolishing nationalism, “Frantz” explores the boundaries between truth, fantasy, lies and concealment. Even the grave of the heroine’s fiancé on which she tenderly lays flowers is a charade (he was in fact buried in an unmarked battlefield grave), and this becomes symbolic of a complex of misunderstandings and deception as the young people and their parents come to terms with the past and strive to work out a future. Small-town Germany is set against the sophistication of Paris, but it is common humanity which shines through: love and loyalty, kindness, poetry and music. Rilke or Verlaine?
“Frantz” is a French-German production directed by Francois Ozon and inspired by a 1930 play by Maurice Rostand, who was later a founder member of the French Pacifist Union. I find it remarkable that it has been released in the UK. Catch it if you can!
Review by Joanna
We are determined to keep CND and our campaign against the expensive pointlessness of Trident in the public eye, so we have booked stalls at Mitcham Carnival on Saturday June 10th and at Morden Family Fun Day on Sunday July 16th, even though there is a distinct lack of cars on the WDC/CND Steering Committee. (Last year we gave both events a miss because of transport problems).
So this is an appeal to car owners. If enough people volunteer it would mean just one trip for each driver on each occasion: one to set up the stall and one to rescue the weary stall-holders at the end of the day.
Please contact Joanna if you can help: email@example.com or 020 8543 0362.