Olympic medals, arms sales and national 'greatness'

By Jill Segger
August 19, 2016

Great Britain's success at the Olympics seems to be in danger of becoming a proxy for national 'greatness'.There are questions to be asked about this field of view.

I will admit to having enjoyed those parts of the Games which I have seen – largely because I am in awe of the dedication of young people who have given over so much of their lives to preparing themselves for a once-in-four-years international challenge to be the best they can possibly be. But I am far less impressed by the level of shriek and scarcely veiled nationalism coming from commentators and by the now accepted custom of winning competitors literally wrapping themselves in the Union Flag.

While the nation and large sections of the media hyperventilate over events in Rio, two horrifying war crimes – and our country's complicity in making them possible – have received little attention.

On 13 August 2016, 10 children between eight and fifteen years of age were killed in a Saudi Arabian led airstrike on a school in Yemen. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that a further 28 children were injured in the attack.

Two days later, another airstrike took place, this time on a hospital supported by MSF, killing 11 people and injuring 19 more (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23350)

A coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia has been bombing targets in Yemen since 2015 in support of the country's government in its conflict with a Houthi rebel group aligned with Iran. The coalition has been accused of bombing indiscriminately and the UN says around 2,000 civilians have died as a result.

In case we are tempted to dismiss this as “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”, we need to remind ourselves that the missiles and aircraft used in these appalling attacks which breach international humanitarian law, are very likely to have been made in, and exported by, the UK.

Since the bombing began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi government. These include £2.2 billion worth of aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1 billion worth of grenades, bombs, missiles and counter-measures and £430,000 worth of armoured vehicles and tanks.

These sales are currently subject to a judicial review, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade. This calls on the government to suspend all extant licences and to stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while a full review is held to examine whether exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. A three day review will take place in front of two judges, no later than 1 February 2017.

Parliament is in recess until 5 September and, allowing for the party conference season, will not return to uninterrupted sittings until 10 October. Only two MPs, the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, and the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, have spoken out, calling on the government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Our MPs have email and postal addresses. Most of us do not have consciences blinded by Team GB's place in the medal table. Now is the time to act


© 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, Reform 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.co/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.