Brian Haw: a witness to inconvenient truth
It is in the nature of authority to desire order, predictability and control. It is the nature of truth to refuse to be so confined.
Brian Haw, the Christian peace campaigner who died yesterday (18 June 2011) maintained a spectacularly untidy one-man peace demonstration in Parliament Square Gardens for 10 years. His tent, hand-made placards and gaunt bearded face beneath a battered hat held together by badges, had become a familiar sight during those years.
Despite a High Court ruling obtained in March by London Mayor Boris Johnson which forced the removal of the camp from the square to a nearby pavement (it was not considered a suitable image to be captured by the world's TV cameras during the Royal wedding celebrations), Haw's decade long presence, unbroken until the last weeks of his illness, served as a powerful witness outside the seat of our legislature.
MPs, lobbyists, generals and the representatives of corporate power going about their business in the Palace of Westminster were subject to a constant reminder that the use of armed force as the first and only response to areas of conflict which their own policies and interests had done much to create, should not expect to go unchallenged in a democracy.
Brian Haw's passionate and unflinching presence also bore witness to the human cost of UK foreign policy.. His placards frequently reminded passers-by that for every heartbroken mother, wife or child of a British soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, there are grieving families in those countries whose suffering is compounded by the devastation which war has wrought on the infrastructure of their communities.
It was not difficult for those whose vested interests depend upon the orderliness and quiescence of conventional behaviour to harrumph and jeer at Brian Haw. But the single minded commitment to that which he believed to be right left Haw no room for worrying about being singular or eccentric.
In speaking truth to power, both he and his family paid a heavy price. The physical hardships resultant on his choice of witness and the emotional strain of his constant harassment by the authorities for “obstruction” and “unlawful advertising” must have played some part in the decline of his health.
The inconvenient truths which Brian Haw kept in the daily view of our legislators for so many years must never be permitted to slip from sight. His way might not be the choice of most, but it demands our gratitude and admiration.
The words in which he expressed both his belief in the value of all victims of war and his love for his own family, stand as a memorial and inspiration: “ [they are] every bit as valuable and worthy of love as my precious wife and children. I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again, knowing that I've done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government's unjust, amoral, fear- and money-driven policies.”
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen
Select the newsletter(s) to which you want to subscribe or unsubscribe.