This week over 50 people - including many Christians - were arrested for blocking the roads around London's ExCel centre, where the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition (DESi) was taking place. One Christian protester, writing anonymously, explains why they were willing to be arrested for the cause
Every two years, DSEi, one of the world’s biggest weapons exhibitions, comes to the ExCel centre in London. Arms companies come from all over the world and it’s also the opportunity for British arms companies to be showcased and for the government to wine and dine potential clients.
Unfortunately, these clients include Saudi Arabia (who have committed war crimes in Yemen with British weapons), Hong Kong (currently tear gassing democracy demonstrators with British made teargas), and Bahrain (whose embassy in the UK was broken into by the police to protect a human rights activist from possible torture and death). The list goes on and at every single DESi event, illegal weapons are found on display. It’s a murky business which our government consistently and whole-heartedly supports.
As a Christian, I believe that promoting or facilitating the sale of weapons is not something that can be justified.
What was the greatest commandment? Jesus was clear. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13). And in the Old Testament we are told what is required of us: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8).
Still, it’s not easy as the day approaches when you have decided to put your body on the line and risk arrest. Even two days before our protests, I was getting anxious and making excuses, thinking, “This day I’ve taken off work, I’d rather just relax. Maybe enough of my friends will be there and I can back out” but I picked up a Bible and flicked through some passages that I am so familiar with now: Ezekiel 22:23-31, Isaiah 52:7 and 58. It’s amazing how just a cursory glance can remind me of how seriously our God takes peace and justice. Our mandate is clear.
I've been taking part in the Stop the Arms Fair protests since 2011. In recent years we've focused our protests on the week of DSEI setting up and attempted to delay and disrupt lorries getting inside the exhibition centre, in the hope that it won’t be able to take place.
The protests last for a week and each day has a theme. Our theme is ‘No Faith in War’ when people of all faiths and none use their traditions and spiritual practices to try to #stopdsei. This year hundreds of Quakers, Anglicans, Quakers, Catholics, Reformed churches, Buddhists, Muslims and many others processed to the gates of the arms fair keeping the road occupied and praying for peace.
Some of us planned to make ourselves unmovable. We spent the evening beforehand planning, encouraging each other and upholding each other in prayer. Then we got up early and used ‘lock-on’ tubes to make it impossible for us to be moved without being cut out. It might seem extreme but the police are instructed to keep the road clear, even if it means allowing criminal activity to happen at DSEi.
I am British, I am white and well-educated, mobile, healthy, so in the grand scheme of things very privileged. That security and safety brings with it, in my mind, responsibility to use it for good. This is something I can do without the consequences being too damaging. I have already been charged with other offences for similar actions so this is unlikely to affect my employment and some colleagues are actively supportive. My family and local church understand too. So practically speaking, I have little to fear.
But I have little to fear as a child of God too. People shout ‘get a job’, ‘idiots’ and worse, but Jesus said, "blessed are the peacemakers" and "blessed are those who are persecuted". Jesus also called out Pharisees and others for their hypocrisy when they looked down their noses at Jesus consorting with outcasts. Many people in this country are maligned for their criminal record and if I end up identifying with them, more than the middle-class church, then I am in good company.
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