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Peace News log archive: June 2017

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

Blending theatre, art and politics, the Peace History Conferences go from strength to strength

Michael Mears performs This evil thing

The Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW), organiser of the series of Peace History Conferences, has a strong and creative relationship with the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. This works because, on MAW’s side, there is an attitude not of dogmatic pacifism but of reasoned opposition to the legitimacy of war; and on the Museum’s side, war is not glamorised but commemorated in all its aspects. This makes it a fitting venue for a conference like the one on 10 June, especially as the IWM in London is also currently running a major exhibition on the history of the peace movement.

The previous evening, actor and writer Michael Mears presented his one-man play This evil thing at the nearby Oasis Hub. The story of conscientious objectors in the First World War, and especially of CO Bert Brocklesby, was brought to life by Mr Mears as he rearranged the wooden crates which served as props to suggest platforms, trenches or rooms. He also played every role, putting on a jacket to indicate a new character, and switching accents and mannerisms with ease. The play, which first won praise at the Edinburgh Fringe, is accessible to all, a riveting story for those with no prior knowledge of the subject, and one that will probably shed new light on this topic even for seasoned peace campaigners.

The day which followed illustrated both the diversity and the consistency to be found in those working for peace.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writer and screenwriter famed for his opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, read extracts from a work written in 1517 by Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace, in which Peace, personified, wonders why humanity persists in the use of violence. Both the issues and the wit with which they are described are surprisingly relevant for a modern audience.

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How the mainstream media self-censored 'revenge' for western foreign policy from their reporting on the Manchester attacks

Fallujah

In the month since the attack on the Manchester Arena on 22 May, commentators have offered a number of different motivations that could have led a Manchester-born-and-raised 22-year-old to massacre dozens of teenage girls and parents as they left a pop concert.

While there has been a lot of confident speculation by people who never met Salman Abedi, there is one person who has spoken up who definitely knew Abedi well, and who suggested quite a different kind of motivation for his appalling actions:

'Abedi’s sister, Jomana Abedi, said her brother was kind and loving and that she was surprised by what he did this week. She said she thought he was driven by what he saw as injustices. "I think he saw children - Muslim children - dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge,” she said. “Whether he got that is between him and God."'

This quote was given to the Wall St Journal and published on 25 May: 'Manchester Bomber Believed Muslims Were Mistreated, Sought Revenge'.

It's possible that Jomana Abedi is wrong about what motivated her brother. What is not in doubt is that her testimony is the single best piece of publicly-available evidence about Salman Abedi's state of mind prior to his act of mass murder at the Manchester Arena.

We'll consider exactly what her comment might mean in a later article. Right now, let's examine the way that the British mainstream media handled this important piece of information about the Manchester attack.

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Britain's wars abroad increase the risk of attacks at home: the public knows it, Conservatives know it, and the police and security services know it

Haditha

After dozens of civilians are killed by suicide bombing in a large British city, a major opposition politician speaks up linking the atrocity to British foreign policy. There is a short-lived storm of controversy.

This sequence describes not only the aftermath of the Manchester Arena atrocity on 22 May 2017, but also events after the four suicide bombings that killed 52 people in London on 7 July 2005 (an attack also referred to as '7/7').

The major opposition figure who spoke up in 2005 was not Jeremy Corbyn, now leader of the Labour party, but former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer and former home secretary Ken Clarke, as he began his bid to become leader of the Conservative party. In a bold move, Clarke devoted his leadership campaign launch speech on 1 September 2005 to a long and thoughtful consideration of terrorism and what could be done about it. He began by making the connection between the threat of al-Qa'eda-style terrorism in the UK and British foreign policy:

'The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place. The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. However the decision by the UK government to become the leading ally of president Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists.'

This insight, that aggressive British foreign policy has increased the risk of terror attacks in the UK, could be called 'foreign policy realism'. Realism in this sense does not justify or excuse the use of violence, or the targeting of civilians. It's about understanding, not condoning. Realism is a recognition of a risk factor that affects how vulnerable some young Muslims are to jihadist propaganda and recruitment.

Realism has been expressed, as we shall see below, by top British counter-terror police and intelligence experts, by the home office and foreign office in a joint secret report on the subject, and by official government advisers. Foreign policy realism is also the view of most British people, as polls have repeatedly shown - seven are given below, from 2005, 2006 and 2017. The link with foreign policy has also been stated clearly by two of the suicide attackers who have killed civilians in Britain.

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How the British mass media exploded with outrage over Jeremy Corbyn's speech linking terrorism with British foreign policy - and then pretended the speech never happened

The Haditha massacre, Iraq, 2005

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made an extraordinary speech just days after a suicide bomber killed 22 people, nine of them teenagers, one an eight-year-old, at the end of a pop concert in Manchester on 22 May.

In his speech on 25 May, Jeremy Corbyn linked the Manchester attack to British foreign policy, breaking a deeply-held taboo in British politics. (The taboo was also broken in the aftermath of the 7/7 attacks in 2005 by a number of Conservatives, including current foreign secretary Boris Johnson.) Despite a torrent of abuse from the media, Corbyn emerged unscathed politically, and went on to run the Conservatives a close second in the general election on 8 June.

Here are some key passages from Corbyn's speech:

'Our approach will involve change at home and change abroad.... At home, we will reverse the cuts to our emergency services and police....

'We will also change what we do abroad. Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.

'That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions. But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.

'Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.

'Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform. And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre. But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.'

Without justifying what had just happened, or previous terrorist attacks, the leader of the Labour party connected 'foreign policy decisions' by the British government with the increased risk of terrorism.

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