Wednesday, 20 June 2007



"prospects in the Middle East [are] much healthier than they were five years ago."

Who says so? Looking at news headlines over the past month, you'd be hard pushed to find many people who would agree. But, it all depends on your perspective. The sentence above is quoted from a news item about the booming UK arms export business.

And just in case you thought enough was enough, (best year in almost a decade apparently, at $10 billion in 2006 and second only the US) we read that ...

"Britain [is] looking to Asia to grow its export footprint".

Not the kind of impression that many of us would like to see our country making in the world, I feel.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Murder in the cathedral

An interesting piece on the Ekklesia website following up the problem of the computer game and Manchester Cathedral. Ekklesia's Simon Barrow urges a different approach to the legal one currently being pursued by the cathedral and also makes the observation that many Anglican churches already have plenty of military flags etc. ... "so they cannot claim that being associated with war and violence is entirely alien – though arguably it should be." I heard very similar sentiments from the mouth of a 16 year old boy last week and tended to share his sense of mild puzzlement at the mixed messages. No doubt Quakers are just as good at conveying confusion at times... But we should try to be consistent.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Mind boggling

With the publication yesterday of this year's SIPRI yearbook comes a press item reporting that global military expenditure has reached 1.2 trillion US dollars. Not sure what that looks like, but it's apparently 3.5% more than the previous year's. Two ironic responses to the press item ...
"If only we can get that number up to 1.5 trillion, the world might be safe again!", followed by "1.2 trillion could buy alotta solar panels.".
That last sentence summing up the futility of throwing resources and ingenuity at something so destructive when the could be used to such good effect elsewhere. The mind boggles!

David Gee at QPSW has done a helpful job at sifting through some of the facts and figures - read it here.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Whose ethics?

I was intrigued to hear mention on the news ofglobal arms-trader BAE systems wanting to set up an ethics committee. I could nominate a few people to serve on that, but the company might find that, actually, nearly all their activies are unethical. I suspect they are more interested in the rather more limited sphere of ethics, those that relate to business-transactions rather than the actual goods being traded - shame really! Campaign Against Arms Trade's briefing on them - BAE: a company out of control might be of interest here...

Also mildly encouraging is the Church of England's decision to raise its voice about the use of Manchester Cathedral as a back drop of a Sony computer game that depicts animated violence. But again, some might wish to take this a lot further. Isn't human life sacred wherever it is, and having its destruction as a form of entertainment sickening regardless of the visual context in which it is supposed to be happening?

The important thing in both these cases is to take encouragement that the kind of concerns we have are shared by many others. Raising them in public can often be dispiriting, but occasionally it just seems to catch the media's attention and some shift in what is and what isn't ethically acceptable (Or at least a discussion about it) can happen.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The new 'the other'?

I can't be alone in my sense of alarm and dismay at the US / Russia big-power posturing that has suddenly come to the fore, after a very welcome long break. This was where I came into peace work, with growing East-West tensions in the early 1980s. But at the same time, those of us who have been trying to persuade the UK government that support for the US missile defence system was unhelpful have been saying for a long time that a shield is more often than not accompanied by a sword. This is obviously what some people in Russia feel, whether or not there is any foundation to their fears. What is clear is that Russia has been wounded over the last 15 or so years, and now wishes to assert itself again on the World stage. An ever expanding US sphere of influence pushes all the wrong buttons in that context. And UK adherence to the US policy agenda (including the request earlier this year to host some of their missile defence interceptors) does nothing to promote the possibility that the US is mistaken in its conviction that this military policy is dangerously provocative.

21 years ago, Mary Lou Leavitt gave a talk to Northern Friends Peace Board on the spiritual challenge of SDI/ 'Star Wars' , as the earlier envisaged missile defence programme was nicknamed. We published this as a booklet from which I quote...

"In answer to the proud vision of SDI - that impermeable shield for the good guys at the expense of the bad guys (or the third world guys who don't count) - Friends have a vision of a world where all are equally valued: a world where I am as valuable as the most powerful, most wise, most expert person I can name; a world where all others - the least of these my brothers and sisters - are as valuable as I; a world where, together, we can learn to trust the Seed of the Spirit in one another. In place of a process which trusts technology and mistrusts humanity, we must learn and live out a process that builds trust between people and their institutions."

The splendid OpenDemocracy website has this week published a series of articles arising from the Nobel Women's Initiative, in the latest of which Ann Carr concludes:

"I believe that honest dialogue, no matter how difficult, is the cement that holds societies together. By hearing one another we create new possibilities. We share, we learn, we realise that the creation of a shared society, where we can all belong, is possible. ... There comes a time when people lose their fear and things are never the same again. That is the moment when the foundations of a brighter future have been secured - and the real work can begin."

I don't imagine the G8 summit will produce a lot of reasons for optimism, but there are enough people now who do know that another way is not only possible, but also necessary and effective in building lasting peace. It may not be present at big summits, but its implementation by small groups and individuals throughout the world can make a difference. Let us hope.