Christian groups back direct action to disrupt London arms fair

By staff writers
August 21, 2013

Six national Christian organisations have said that nonviolent direct action to disrupt the London arms fair would be a moral response to the evil of the arms trade.

They spoke out three weeks before the beginning of the fair, which will take place at Excel Centre in east London from 10-13 September. The arms fair is known formally as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi).

Christians will join with people of other religions and none in protesting at the Excel Centre and elsewhere. Churches are encouraged to mark Stop the Arms Trade Day of Prayer on the Sunday before the arms fair, 8 September.

The organisations include the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, the Student Christian Movement (SCM), the anti-capitalist network Christianity Uncut and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (England). They are joined by the Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is the Christian wing of CND.

These six Christian groups back many lawful protests that are planned against the arms fair, but they also insist that direct action is a moral response to what they call a “sinful trade”.

The Christian groups say that direct action should be nonviolent and carried out in a spirit of love for humanity rather than hatred for any of those involved. They encourage Christians taking direct action to do so only after careful thought and prayer, and to be prepared to accept the consequences.

"Real, systemic and ethical change has always been sparked by prophetic witness, usually at some personal cost to the compassionate activist,” said the Rev Dr Keith Hebden, a Church of England priest and Ekklesia associate, who is currently awaiting trial for an anti-drones protest at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Critics of the fair have hit out at the cost involved at a time of austerity. The arms fair is owned by Clarion Events and run with help from UK Trade and Investment, a wing of Vince Cable's Department for Business. DSEi is subsidised with UK taxpayers' money and will be guarded by British police.

Many of the exhibitors at DSEi will gain financially from the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system and will be lobbying in favour of its replacement.

Christian disability rights campaigner Nicola Sleap contrasted spending on arms with cuts to services for disabled people.

"The government is slashing support for disabled people, cutting public services and reducing benefits for people struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “Despite the cuts, ministers are putting billions into military spending and subsidising an arms fair. I believe my Christian faith compels me to speak out against this injustice."

DSEi, which takes place every two years, is one of the world's largest arms fairs. Representatives of governments around the globe attend the fair at the invitation of UK ministers.

Regular guests include regimes accused of tyranny and aggression, such as Bahrain, Colombia, Indonesia, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is not yet known whether the new military regime in Egypt will be invited.

Christian CND said that they hoped the arms fair would lead Christians to consider the words of Catholic writer Henri Nouwen, who said "The thought that human beings are considering saving lives by killing millions of their fellow human beings is so preposterous that the words 'saving life' have lost all of their meaning. One of the most tragic facts of our century is that this 'No' to nuclear weapons has been spoken so seldom, so softly, and by so few."

More information about the arms fair and protests against it can be found at the websites of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (http://www.caat.org.uk) and the Stop the Arms Fair coalition (http://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk).

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