HUNDREDS of people of faith gathered to “oppose and block” the setting-up of the largest arms fair in Europe, organised by Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), on Tuesday.
Among those supporting the protest was the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, who described the arms trade as a “blot on the global moral landscape”.
The DSEI fair, which is held every other year at the Excel Centre, is attended by more than 35,000 people, and “showcases the best of British defence technology and innovation on the world stage”, the Minister for Defence Procurement, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said. More than 60 countries are invited to attend by the Department for International Trade, which supports the event alongside the Ministry of Defence. It will run for four days next week.
The “No Faith in War” demonstration, held on Tuesday, was attended by about 400 representatives of the main faiths, who joined to “oppose and block” the set-up of the conference, one of the organisers, the Revd Matt Harbage, Assistant Curate of St Mark’s, Regent’s Park, in London, said this week. Anglicans, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Sufis, and Quakers were among them.
For the Anglicans present, the gathering began with a morning service at Ascension Church, Victoria Docks, which was attended by the Bishops of Barking and Colchester. Words from the Book of Micah were read out (“They shall beat their swords into plowshares”). Other services were held by people of other faiths during the day, and in the evening a wreath of white poppies was laid “in remembrance of all those who have died or been wounded by conflict around the world”.
In a statement, Lord Williams said: “The way much of the arms trade currently works continues to be a blot on the global moral landscape. . .The principles of ethics and international law need to be defended more robustly than ever in a world where local wars of great savagery are fuelled by what often seems to be wilfully irresponsible attitudes, and I welcome this fresh effort to alert citizens to the cost of indiscriminate, profit-driven trading in weapons of death and mutilation.”
Other bishops also spoke out in support of the protest. “I have no faith in war,” the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said. “Glamorising and commercialising the instruments of death is not the Jesus way.”
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said: “Tensions both between and within nations will not be resolved by simply manufacturing ever more complex and deadly weaponry.”
Mr Harbage said that Saudi Arabia had been invited by the Government despite a Court Appeal ruling that led to the suspension of new export licences for the country (News, 28 June).
Asked about the Church of England’s covenant with the armed forces, he replied: “Today’s protest is about the commodification of arms and the commercialisation that is putting profit before people, and that is a crime and a sin. . .
“There will be Anglicans who are very supportive of the military, but we must ask questions about how our faith must come into play; and the question I would want to ask is: Who would Jesus bomb?”
While “faithfulness to Jesus Christ” had led him to pacifism, he emphasised that “being passive is always morally wrong. In the face of evil, in the face of oppression, our response can never be passivity. The question is: What means do we use to engage with conflict?”