When silence is evil: praying and protesting against the arms fair

At the beginning of September, some of the world’s most oppressive regimes will be sending representatives to London. They will be there to meet arms dealers, ready to profit from war and oppression.

Their meetings will not be illegal. They will be actively encouraged by the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Mayor of London.

The London arms fair, which runs from 10th-13th September, marks a key date in the calendar of arms-dealing corporations such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. It regularly welcomes oppressive and aggressive regimes such as Saudia Arabia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Israel and Bahrain.

Christians from across the UK and beyond will join with people of many religions and none to take nonviolent action against the arms fair. An important date is 8th September, the Sunday before the fair, which will be Stop the Arms Trade Day of Prayer.

The London arms fair is one of the largest in the world. It is subsidised by taxpayers’ money and the regimes that turn up are invited by the UK government. But it is euphemistically entitled Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi). This is misleading. The arms trade is not about defence and security.

David Cameron and his allies like to promote the arms industry by arguing that democratic countries have a right to defend themselves. But there are no arms companies that sell weapons only to democracies to use for self-defence.

Arms trade apologists also speak of the number of British jobs that arms exports supposedly provide. This argument was also central to supporters of the slave trade over 200 years ago. Not only are the figures generally exaggerated, but arms companies have themselves been rapidly moving jobs out of the UK in recent years. Engineering skills could be put to better use through government investment in socially useful projects such as renewable energy.

The sins of war and economic injustice are brought together in a trade that ensures that war is profitable for a few. Every UK minister who signs off on an arms deal to a dictator is weakening anything the government might say in defence of human rights. Every pound spent on bombs and bullets is a pound less for vaccines and school books. The arms trade kills before a gun has been fired or an aeroplane left the ground. And it thrives on the lie that violence is the answer to conflict.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.” Let’s speak up, pray and protest in the week beginning on Sunday 8th September.

We will pray – at church, at home, in the street, outside the arms fair. We will protest – in our communities, in universities, at the headquarters of local arms firms and of course at the arms fair. We will speak out – to our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues, our politicians, the media and the arms dealers.

Prayer and action cannot be separated. Let’s pray that we will speak out sincerely, in love and not in hate, acknowledging our own collusion with injustice, celebrating what’s already been achieved and seeking transformation for ourselves, others and society. May God guide us to take effective and radical action so that we are – as Jesus put it – “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”.

The prayers and actions will continue throughout the week of DSEi and beyond.

There are many people resisting DSEi. Most of the groups involved, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), have a firm commitment to active nonviolence.

Of course, we are all different. We can speak out in different ways. Not everyone can, or should, travel to the arms fair to pray and protest in person. Below are a few suggested actions. Your choice may depend on your time, personality or other considerations. Please feel free to suggest others.

* Ask your church if they will mark the Day of Prayer. They can include the arms fair and the protests in their prayers of intercession – or go further and have a special service or themed sermon. CAAT’s Christian Network have produced some suggested resources.

* Pray for all those involved in the arms fair and all those resisting it.

* Tell at least one friend or colleague about the arms fair and why you’re against it. You can find out more about DSEi here.

* Find out whether there will be any actions in your local area at the time of the arms fair. If not, how about organising one?

* Write to your local paper, national paper or Christian publication about the arms fair. You can find out more about DSEi here.

* Write to your MP, MEP, MSP or AM, challenging him/her to oppose the arms fair in public.

* Come along to DSEi. There will be a massive protest on Sunday 8th September, two days before the arms fair begins. A strong Christian presence, in solidarity with people of other religions and none, will be great.

* Join in the multifaith vigil at the arms fair on the evening of Monday 9th September.

* Read more at the Campaign Against Arms Trade, the Stop the Arms Fair coalition or Christianity Uncut.

The power of love, the power of justice, the power of the crucified God is a subtler, stranger but ultimately stronger power than the power of money, markets and military might. As the apostle Paul said, God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

Focused on that power, let’s pray and protest against the arms fair. The arms industry, like all sinful structures, will one day be defeated. This is an important step along the way.

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The above article formed my latest column on the website of the Ekklesia thinktank.

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