Tag Archives: Peace

Saving Syria’s Aleppo from War Crimes & Humanitarian Crisis, Norwich Rally

Save Aleppo, Syria – Norwich Rally

Lotty Clare, Save Aleppo, Norwich demo
Lotty Clare, Save Aleppo, Norwich demo

Movement for Justice and UEA student, Lotty Clare led a rally outside City Hall Norwich for Aleppo Syria with Tim Hughes of Stop the War Coalition, activist and writer Katy Jon Went, Norwich-based Syrian refugee Anas, and John Cowan. Cllrs Alan Waters and James Wright of Norwich City Council were among the gathered crowd to offer support and hear what could be done. Alan Waters said that the city’s MPs, Chloe Smith and Clive Lewis, would be written to.

What can you do?

One of the hardest things is feeling so powerless in the face of the humanitarian disaster, but there are actions that can be taken:

  • Writing to MPs
  • Writing to international embassies about the United Nations Responsibility to Protect to which all member nations signed up in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity
  • Writing to Syria’s embassy as responsible for the wellbeing of its own people and to uphold the 16 UN resolutions regarding atrocities and human rights abuses in Syria
  • Supporting Syrian and international aid charities
  • Helping Médecins Sans Frontières as a medic or with money
  • Joining Amnesty International
  • Welcoming Syrian refugees – offering spare rooms. Half of Syria have been forced out of their homes, the biggest refugee and displacement crisis since the Second World War, 11 million people
  • Keeping yourself informed to maintain international pressure on the parties responsible for perpetuating the situation
  • Attending rallies to keep Syria in the public and media eye
Norwich Save Aleppo Rally
Norwich Save Aleppo Rally

My own contribution evolved out of a facebook rant I wrote earlier in the day about the escalation of terror and atrocities in the weeks before Christmas, the supposed season of goodwill and peace to all mankind.

Text of my speech

We hear you Aleppo
“We hear you Aleppo”, placard by Laure Ollivier-Minns

A year ago, as the UK Parliament was considering joining the by then year long US & 13 nation coalition of bombing Syria, I attended a Don’t Bomb Syria rally. A year later and the situation is worse, not only in Syria but also in surrounding nations. 15 years of invasions, interference, and increased radicalisation by bombing the bombers, has not stopped or solved a single middle eastern crisis.

Christmas sees no let up in world chaos and terror, no salam, shalom, peace toward all men…an Advent calendar of death mostly meted out on non-combatants, mother and child, drone strike “collateral damage”, innocent victims of men’s rush to conquer and dominate, or to solve problems with swords rather than ploughshares, bombs rather than words.

Use your power for peace, Save AleppoOn Sunday, IS killed 25, mainly women, in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral, the same day Boko Haram forced two 7-year-old girls to act as suicide bombers in a Nigerian market. In the first 2 weeks of December alone, IS have executed 100 people, so have Syrian pro-government forces, and suicide bombs have gone off in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Turkey, Yemen.

Meantime the humanitarian disaster that is Syria and Aleppo continues to escalate with over 450,000 killed, and some 4.8 million refugees (along with 6.6m internally displaced, that’s half of Syria’s 22m population forced out of their homes), cities flattened, hospitals destroyed, children killed (up to 50,000). The current raids on Aleppo have been called by the UN this afternoon, in all probability a war crime. If the battle for Aleppo is over, then for Assad the victory is Pyrrhic as the city is demolished and its people dead and devastated.

Great progress world, congratulations on continuing to be a right royal fuck up 2016 years after baby Jesus/Yeshua/Isa was apparently born. Extremist and fundamentalist religious interpretations, repressive political regimes, and “proxy wars” are not on my Xmas card list, Syrian refugees are – an airdrop of aid, peaceful passage out of conflict zones, a welcome in the West, but better still – stop the bombing so they can stay, live and rebuild their land.

Save Aleppo not inactionInstead, we continue the bombing, and breaking of ceasefires 2 hours after they are put into effect – even bombing the very roads the evacuations were due to take place on. Bombing escalates terror, and is a failed strategy, that even Donald Trump now admits! Indeed, Boris Johnson, against political and Tory party advice, has called a spade a spade, and for an end to proxy wars of geopolitical games carried out by Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also: Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US.

Each religion or political cause can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith or ideology per se. Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness. At this time of year, and every day, we need to be encouraging community, compromise and communication, not escalating conflicts creating mass casualties as the collateral toll of other people’s battles.

Save Aleppo

Save Aleppo

“Save us, people. Save us, people, world, anyone who has even a bit of humanity,” said one doctor in a voice message from a besieged district. “We beg you, we beg you, the dead and wounded are in the streets and people’s homes have collapsed on top of them. Save us. Save us.”

Postscript

Shortly after the rally, it was announced that the ceasefire had been restored, but for how long? By Friday morning it was off again. A UN official says the evacuation is “redolent of the Nazi evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto” as thousands are bussed out down the 21km corridor, 6km of which is controlled by Government forces. 

"We hear you Aleppo", placard by Laure Ollivier-Minns
Supporters at the #SaveAleppo rally in Norwich. More photos here and also pics by Emma Pamplin here.

 

Gandhi, Rustin, Tolstoy, Civil Rights & MLK, Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day, celebrated on the third Monday in January since 1986 (Reagan agreed it in 1983), his birthday was on the 15th. Born in 1929 to a pastor and a schoolteacher, he himself became a Baptist minister and advocate for African American equality and social justice from the 1950s through to his 1968 assassination. He was instrumental in the bringing in of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Mahatma Gandhi & Non-Violence

King was inspired by the Hindu lawyer and campaigner for rights in South Africa and India, Mahatma Gandhi, and his principles of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience over and against armed uprising. Gandhi was also an advocate of religious tolerance but was in the end also assassinated, in 1948, by a Hindu nationalist. King managed to visit India in 1959.

Gandhi had succeeded in the 1920s in uniting Muslims and Hindus against the common enemy of the British empire. Yet by the 1940s an independent Muslim nationalism led to the eventual division of India and creation of a separate Pakistan.

Some of Gandhi’s more extreme pacifist views included recommending that Britain openly yield to Hitler rather than defend itself, and that the Jews should have willingly surrendered to the Holocaust as an act of collective suicide. He did not support the idea of the state of Israel gained through violence or Zionism, but only as something within the gift of the Arabs to bring about peacefully.

Gandhi’s principles meshed with King’s own Christian principles, as he said, “Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Another early source that energized King was the Christian anarchist and novelist Leo Tolstoy, who was also an influence on Gandhi.

Bayard Rustin, Gay Communist

Bayard Rustin was a sometime adviser to Martin Luther King and had also visited India, in 1948, not long after Gandhi’s assassination. He shared both Gandhi and King’s principles of non-violence. King’s involvement with him was discouraged by others due to Rustin’s former membership of the Communist Party and his homosexuality, which King had little problem with.

Rustin later became a gay rights activist, in addition to his earlier civil rights campaigning. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rustin.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The journey towards civil rights was more of a bus route, with lots of stops and delays. Rustin had been beaten and arrested back in 1942 for sitting in the second row of a segregated bus.

Thirteen years later, in March 1955, 15 year-old school girl, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on a in Montgomery bus. Due to Colvin’s unmarried and pregnant status the civil rights activists waited for a better test case and were rewarded with the defiance of the now famous Rosa Parks who was arrested later that year, in December, for also refusing to give up her seat.

The 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott ensued, which whilst planned by others was publicly led by King, and resulted in his house being firebombed.

“All men are created equal”

The path to equality culminated in the quarter-million strong 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, predominantly organised by Rustin. Despite its being unprecedented in size and diversity, it was boycotted itself by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam for being too soft and sanitised, promoting peaceful harmony and integration rather than strength and independent identity.

The iconic “I have a dream” speech, much of which may have been improvised on the spot, includes the famous and inspirational line:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”

Whilst King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and indeed the Nation of Islam, fought for black equal rights, the case for full civil equal rights for “all men” continues. LGBTI equality, for example, has been the focus of the last decade of legal progress in the USA, something that Rustin fought for until his death in 1987.

King’s Assassination and Death

King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta: “This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.” Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate.

Black Lives Matter

Despite all the progress, the reality on the ground, is that black lives are still not considered equal. The last year or two has seen so many cases of unarmed black men being shot dead by American police officers that it is clear that stereotypes persist in the minds of many. 980 US citizens were shot dead in 2015 by police, 91 were unarmed and a disproportionate 37 of them were black.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The laws may have changed half a century ago, but it is hearts and minds that still need to be won, in this generation and in every one that succeeds it. King may have been a pacifist, but he was not passive about change, and how it was to be accomplished:

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”

JeSuisCharlie vigil honours freedom of expression and Charlie Hebdo victims

Norwich #JeSuisCharlie Peace Vigil

Around 200 people gathered in the rain and cold outside the Norwich Forum to stand with the #JeSuisCharlie victims in a poignant and peaceful vigil marked by respect for all beliefs, but especially of freedom of expression.

JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015
JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015

This was Norfolk’s small but inclusive contribution after nearly 4 million people assembled in France at the weekend, 1.5m in Paris alone, only tarnished by the presence of leaders and foreign ministers from around the world, many of whom shackle freedom of speech and belief in their home countries.

The Norfolk crowd, with a a few dozen French nationals studying or living here, assembled calmly outside the Forum, candles were lit to spell out “Charlie”, after an introduction by French organiser Clémentine Pellegrino – in which she quoted Albert Camus, there was a minute’s silence during which pens and pencils were raised aloft.

There followed an invitation to those present for anyone to say or share something, some came with prepared words others seemed inspired with spontaneous speeches, each leading on from the last.

People of varying backgrounds, political and religious beliefs, were represented. Several began their speeches in French. A woman from the local Liberal Jewish synagogue asked for raised hands from members of other faiths – Jews, Christians, Buddhists, not that I spotted anyone noticeably Muslim by any stereotypic dress.

JeSuisCharlie en Arabe photo by Ann Nicholls
JeSuisCharlie en Arabe photo by Ann Nicholls

When I felt moved to speak, I spoke up for the hundreds of journalists around the world imprisoned or killed for publishing political or religious comment that may not agree with everyone. I mentioned the Al Jazeera journalists locked up in Egypt currently awaiting appeal against their sentence.

I noted how many Arab papers and cartoonists had also drawn cartoons of support but also how the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat had been beaten for criticising and caricaturing President Assad.

I raised the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia sending condolences and criticisms of the criminality of the terrorist attack whilst locking up and carrying out a sentence of a 1000 lashes upon Raif Badawi for setting up a Liberal political website.

I mentioned the view against polarising this as a clash between civilisations, but instead one of a clash within them. By far the majority of extreme Islamist victims have been Arabs and Africans, Muslims and Christians, not Western writers and commentators satirising religious figures.

I also drew attention to the dozens of Arab and Muslim countries and organisations who did condemn the Parisienne atrocity as “Not in my name” and nothing to do with the tenets of Islam. Because of this I carried not only #JeSuisCharlie placards but the same sign written in Arabic, along with #JeSuisAhmed – the Muslim policeman who died protecting the rights of others to criticise his religion, #JeSuisRaifBadawi; #JeSuisJuif for the Jews in the Kosher store who were also targeted – if anything that *was* a racist attack; #JeSuisMusulman to say I stand with peaceful Muslims, like the Australian #IllRideWithYou hashtag that trended after the Sydney cafe siege.

Whilst I had also made a sign #JeSuisNigerian to remember the 2000 massacred in Baga a few days ago, as if African lives mattered less, I did not remember to mention it, but my omission was more than made up for when the local Police head of diversity, Abraham Eshetu, spoke about what had happened in Nigeria.

JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015
JeSuisCharlie Norwich Forum Vigil 12 Jan 2015

There was no racism, or Islamophobia, at the event, no far right hijack as was feared by some, indeed quite the contrary, these were condemned amidst the solidarity against fear and violence, and for freedom of expression, belief, and speech. This was echoed by the organiser’s intent for a peaceful demonstration. It was sad that some did stay away as “Je ne suis pas Charlie”, because this movement of people, galvanised over social media, need not be hijacked by world leaders for their political ends, nor used by racists to rant against immigration, instead it should be an opportunity to stand up for diversity of belief and the rights to express them. It is probably forgotten that Charlie Hebdo also ran cartoons satirising the far right, Marie le Pen, not just the icons of all the major faiths and political leaders of all hues.

Clémentine, originally from Nice and a Norwich resident for two years, was reported in the local EDP newspaper, as saying:

“My French friends and I felt like it would be good for the freedom of speech and to show the outside world that people do not want to surrender to these attacks. There is a chance that the people in France see what we have done and we want to show our support. This is a message of peace, and a chance to show the Muslim community that we support them.”

Despite, therefore, the very non black-and-white world of the #JeSuisCharlie stand for freedom, I was and am willing to be counted among the millions voicing their support, ensuring that all beliefs are free to be expressed, albeit with respect, yet open to criticism and humour. The right to insult, does not mean the need to do so. Challenging power structures and ideologies – religious or political, that oppress rather than attacking individuals or faiths in an ignorant blanket manner, is my preferred approach.