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Peace News log archive: October 2015

Articles from the Peace News log.
For archive articles from the whole site, look here

A tribute to Peace News's ground-breaking drama critic 


Albert Hunt, critic, playwright and educator, and former staff member and drama critic of Peace News, was part of the wave of innovators that transformed the British theatrical scene in the 1960s and 1970s and pioneered an approach to adult education based on the active participation of students in games and creative improvisation.

Born in Burnley in 1928 to a working-class Pentecostal family, with a radical pacifist tradition, he was a conscientious objector to military service in the 1940s. When a nurse hesitatingly informed his mother at his birth that he had a deformed right hand with no fingers and only two stumps where his thumb and little finger should have been she responded: ‘Well at least he’ll never have to go to war.

Much of his theatrical and educational work reflected his enduring political concerns but also, crucially, his commitment to raising them in a way which was both entertaining and encouraging of open debate. Brecht provided the model, and, among contemporary playwrights, John Arden, a study of whose plays he published in 1974 (Arden: A Study of His Plays, Eyre Methuen).

After graduating from Oxford, he taught at a grammar school at Swaffham in Norfolk. I first met him at that time when he and others provided invaluable local support to those of us in the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War, campaigning against the construction of a US nuclear missile base in nearby North Pickenham. In 1960, he became adult tutor to Shropshire and in 1965 took up the post of head of Complementary Studies at Bradford Regional College of Art where he formed the Bradford College Theatre Group, which staged some of his best productions.

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A father and son escape from the violence and chaos of Iraq and seek refuge in Europe.


24 October 2015

When I can’t sleep at night I have the bad habit of listening to world news on the radio. This seems to be a family trait that I inherited from my father. The wave of refugees trying to find safety in European countries continues unabated. The numbers are staggering. As someone from the US, I am shamed by our lack of response and indifference, as well as our inability to acknowledge our responsibility in unleashing the chaos and violence in the Middle East through our war making.

My thoughts go to the recent perilous journey of a close Iraqi friend (I will call him Mohammed) and his son (whom I will call Omar). Already the survivor of an assassination attempt, this trusted translator, driver, guide and confidant received a death threat on his gate in early August. He fled under cover of the night, taking Omar with him. On that same day, 15 men were kidnapped in his village. He left a wife and six other children.

Having lived with this dear family, I too felt as if I were on the hazardous exhausting, 42-day journey with them.

From Baghdad they fled to Kurdistan. From Kurdistan they went to Turkey. Next, they boarded a boat from Turkey to a Greek island, just miles from the Turkish shore. From there they went to another Greek island, and finally to a third island. Much to their relief, they were at last able to get on a ferry to Athens.

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A young Afghan peace activist sets out his hopes for the future.

Afghan peace activist Esmatullah

24 October 2015

Kabul - Tall, lanky, cheerful and confident, Esmatullah easily engages his young students at the Street Kids School, a project of Kabul’s “Afghan Peace Volunteers,” an anti-war community with a focus on service to the poor. Esmatullah teaches child laborers to read. He feels particularly motivated to teach at the Street Kids School because, as he puts it, “I was once one of these children.” Esmatullah began working to support his family when he was nine years old. Now, at age 18, he is catching up: he has reached the tenth grade, takes pride in having learned English well enough to teach a course in a local academy, and knows that his family appreciates his dedicated, hard work.

When Esmatullah was nine, the Taliban came to his house looking for his older brother. Esmatullah’s father wouldn’t divulge information they wanted. The Taliban then tortured his father by beating his feet so severely that he has never walked since. Esmatullah’s dad, now 48, had never learned to read or write; there are no jobs for him. For the past decade, Esmatullah has been the family’s main breadwinner, having begun to work, at age nine, in a mechanics workshop. He would attend school in the early morning hours, but at 11am, he would start his workday with the mechanics, continuing to work until nightfall. During winter months, he worked full time, earning 50 Afghanis each week, a sum he always gave his mother to buy bread.

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The G8 summit in 2005, praised for 'Making Poverty History', was a cynical sham. How can we prevent the Paris climate talks following the same path?

ImageThe climate negotiations in Paris in December are shaping up to be an orgy of self-congratulation for the great powers, as they trumpet pledges to reduce their carbon emissions. There's a real risk that an inadequate - and non-binding - deal will nevertheless be represented as ʻsolvingʼ the problem of climate change.

Thereʼs an ominous parallel here with the 'Make Poverty History' campaign 10 years ago. The mass media projected the impression that global poverty was on the way out, because of pledges made at a G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. This picture of the G8 agreements was reinforced by some figures at the centre of the Make Poverty History campaign itself, and even more by British rock star Bob Geldof, who organised a series of 'Live 8' concerts in support of the campaign.

The Make Poverty History campaign officially demanded: the cancellation of the debt of the poorest 62 developing countries; the doubling of aid, with G8 countries committing 0.7% of national income; and trade justice between the North and the Global South.

Debt cancellation was the most successful area. As is well-known, the G8 cancelled the World Bank and IMF debts of 18 of the world's poorest countries (the number grew after the summit).

What is less-well-known is that the debt cancellation came with a neoliberal agenda. Only countries which completed the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative qualified for debt cancellation under the Gleneagles agreement.

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Older feminists gather in London at the end of November.


WERE YOU ACTIVE IN THE 1970s, 1960s, 1980s?

Join the 70s-sisters’ network, and start the Feminist Forum to express our vision in politics.

For the past five years the 70s-sisters have been meeting in small consciousness raising groups to address the issues that face us in our own lives, in our generation and at this moment in history.

Now we are also launching the Feminist Forum, a new political think-and-do-tank.

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A long-time anti-war activist has been jailed for six weeks for refusing to pay his council tax on the grounds that the UK government is engaged in terrorism

ImageOn 7 October, Chris Coverdale of Rye, East Sussex, was imprisoned for 42 days by Hastings magistrate court, for refusing to pay over £1,800 in council tax to Rother district council.

According to the Hastings & St Leonards Observer, Chris said he believed it would be a criminal offence under the Terrorism Act 2000 to pay taxes for the government to use in illegal foreign warfare.

The background to the case is explained on the Campaign to Make Wars History website, in a July 2014 document which Chris used in trying to appeal against his conviction and sentencing. Chris writes:

The legal action that forms the basis for this case commenced in 2013 when I moved to Rye in Sussex and informed Rother District Council [RDC] that I would withhold payments of council tax until the illegal wars had ended, HM Forces had returned to their bases in the UK and criminal proceedings had begun against UK citizens responsible for war crimes. RDC then commenced proceedings against me and in October 2013 Justices at Hastings Magistrates Court granted a liability order ordering me to pay council tax.

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Turning the Tide is recruiting trainers to join its volunteer training team. 

ImageTurning the Tide supports people at the grassroots to work effectively for social change. The trainers deliver workshops and events and are supported by the community of trainers and Turning the Tide staff.

The opportunity is open to anyone sympathetic to Quakers with facilitation skills and experience of working at the grassroots for social change. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please go to the Turning the Tide site for further details. The deadline for applications is Monday 2 November and successful applicants will be invited to our annual trainers’ meeting 5 December 2015.

We’d be grateful if you could pass this on to anyone you think might be interested.

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Sometimes something like a public therapy session, a feminist performance about the female body that got stronger and more daring as it went on

Imagehoo:ha bills itself as 'comic performance art that cleverly pits funniness against sexiness in a knock-down, drag-out fight for control of the female body'. It was definitely funny, and it was often funny about sexiness, but there wasn't much of a battle between funniness and sexiness, and if control of the female body was explored, that was never explicit beyond the promotional material.

In terms of the cleverness of the show, some of the jokes definitely were clever; my personal favourite was the sung monologue between the show's lead, Hannah Balou, and her glove puppet, conveying the message that 'nobody wins in a feminist fist fight'. However, a lot of the show's laughs hinged on a child's definition of clever: the ability to shock.

I certainly was shocked to see a dog eat Hannah's mother's ashes, for example (it would take a lot of explaining to account for how the show ended up going there). I was also shocked, and amused, the first time Hannah got naked, but it would have been a lot cleverer had there actually been a reason for the costume change which provided the conceit for the nudity.

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A disturbing play about guns, male violence against women and sex

ImageThis was one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time. The audience was promised gun-twirlin', play-actin', and Nancy-Sinatra-dancin'. We got all those things, and we didn't get any strong swear words, explicit sexual references, nudity, or actual bloodshed. Technically, it was a show you could have taken your children to, but it was also much more sexual, and certainly more violent and disturbing, than the show I went on to watch later that evening, which actually featured two naked women, some whipped cream, and a dog.

A Girl and a Gun is a dark and deeply uncomfortable exploration of the continuum between what's sexy and what's violent, more specifically the continuum between male violence against women and what's considered inherently sexual. You don't need to read between the lines to know that a woman on her knees with a man holding a gun in her mouth is 'a scene of a sexual nature', but that particular scene is just spelling out what's been happening throughout the show.

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A new Trident Ploughshares project to involve local magistrates' courts throughout Britain in the struggle against the Trident nuclear weapon system

Trident Ploughshares has today, 1 October 2015, launched a project to encourage groups around England and Wales to go to their local magistrates court to try and initiate a citizen's prosecution against the secretary of state for defence for conspiring to commit a war crime.

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