Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A visit to London’s Arms Fair

by Chris Cole

On, September 13, 2011, the morning of the opening of the DSEi (Defence & Security Equipment International) arms fair in London, I left early from my bed, grateful for the hospitality of Giuseppe Conlon House, and made my way to the centre of London. At Tower Hill station there was a large queue of business men (they were all men) buying tickets to the Excel Centre where the fair is being held. I mingled with them and asked some of them – with BAE Systems badges on the lapels – whether they were buying or selling. It turned out that they were from Saudi Arabia and their minder did not want me to talk to them – or them to talk to me.I reminded him we were not in Saudi and democracy meant that we could happily converse with each other.

The Excel Centre is in the east end of London – what used to be called the docklands – not far from the other London Catholic Worker –Dorothy Day House. I had vigiled and prayed the night before with about 150 locals from East London Against the Arms Fair outside the centre. Many of the elder ones at the vigil would be able to recall the devastation and loss of life visited upon the docks and surrounding areas by German bombing in the Second World War. None of us wanted such devastation and death rained on others with weapons traded at the arms fair.

Alighting at the station exit for the arms fair there was intense security and I looked around in vain for other protestors – there had been a call out to meet together on the platform at 10.00am. As there was seemingly no one else there I mingled with the crowds of business men and made my way up to the entrance of the fair. There were large glossy display boards all around extolling the virtues of various weapons systems and arms companies. The closer I got to the entrance the heavier the security was getting and it was clear I would not get into the fair itself. Weighing up my option I got out a spray can from my bag and quickly sprayed “DSEi Kills” and “Stop the Arms Trade” on two of the glossy arms displays before being quickly grabbed by the police. I did not however, go quietly. I spoke loud and clearly to the long line of arms dealers shuffling slowing towards the entrance –urging them to reconsider their actions and speaking about the misery and death their mornings work will surely bring. I run out of words pretty quick and end by asking them repeatedly, to simply go home to their families and to think about what they were doing. All of them avoided eye contact.

I spent a few hours in the cells and have been charged with criminal damage and have a plea hearing date next month. There were many other actions against the arms fair that day and in the days following. Investigators from human rights groups who did manage to gain entry into the fair found cluster bombs and torture equipment on sale despite specific promises from the organisation that such equipment was banned.

Arms fairs such as DSEi – are the public face of the arms trade – the mere visible tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of the work goes on hidden beneath the surface, outside of the spotlight. Our task as Christian peacemakers is to expose this rotten underbelly which is responsible each and every day for visiting yet more death and destruction upon the world – especially upon the poor.

Photos : 

Chris Cole

Ciaron O'Reilly
London CW

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