The American satirist Tom Lehrer said that satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize “for bombing Cambodia”. I had a similar feeling yesterday when reading an email sent to Ekklesia by Clarion Events, the owners of the DSEi arms fair which took place in London last week.
Clarion's marketing director Julian Graves accuses Ekklesia of “inaccurate allegations” regarding the arms fair. I experienced similar claims from Clarion when I was on the staff of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). However, even I was taken by surprise by Graves' most staggering statement:
"Your spokesman Symon Hill also talks about 'doing deals in the heart of London with despotic regimes'. As he well knows, no 'despotic regimes' attend the show."
No despotic regimes? The official list of delegations includes representatives of Libya, China and Saudi Arabia. The notion that such governments are not despotic would come as a surprise to Chinese prisoners of conscience and the religious minorities of Saudi Arabia. Rizana Nafeek, the Sri Lankan teenager sentenced to death by beheading in Saudi Arabia without a fair trial, does not regard her abusers as devotees of democracy. The invitation of these regimes to the London arms fair implies endorsement of their human rights abuses, or at least indifference to them. In this way, the arms trade does harm to the cause of human rights even before the weapons have been used.
Julian Graves writes with apparent bewilderment that:
"We also find it strange that, as a Christian think tank, you feel that you are able to endorse criminal damage."
He is referring (I think) to our coverage of the three Catholic peace activists who took nonviolent direct action against DSEi this week. Being accused of supporting “damage” by the owners of an arms fair is surely beyond parody.
While I'm disappointed that anyone regards Christianity as incompatible with direct action, we all bear some responsibility for the way Christianity is often seen – our faith is still affected by centuries of collusion with power and wealth. The vast majority of people – whatever their views on the arms trade or anything else – understand that there is more to questions of right and wrong than simply obeying the law. Arms dealers often seem to be unaware of this. Earlier this week, a DSEi spokesperson insisted that the arms fair's customers were only “going about their lawful business”.
I can only imagine the sort of statements that might have appeared had Julian Graves and his colleagues been around in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago:
"'The moneychangers were only going about their lawful business,' said a spokesperson for Temple Events, 'We find it strange that a religious group should engage in criminal damage'".