Taxes for Peace Rally – Hear what our speakers had to say!

by Shaughan Dolan ~ March 2nd, 2017. Filed under: News.

We were very excited to see so many people come out on a cold and damp Monday evening to hear about the Taxes for Peace Bill – one even flew in from Scotland just for the event! Thank you again to everyone who attended.

Our campaign manager Shaughan Dolan opened the evening by reminding us that the landscape of war has changed significantly over the past century. Technology has brought us into an era where money means more than manpower on the battlefield. We can conscientiously object to military service relatively easily in the United Kingdom, but we cannot object to the £500 in taxes that each of us pay to the military every single year. The Peace Tax Bill seeks to change that.

Conscience staff were particularly pleased to be able to unveil Oscar, BAFTA and Tony award winning actor Mark Rylance’s statement of conscience, which he has been good enough to provide for us on film as well as on paper. The short film contains Mark’s reasons for being a conscientious objector, and he urges viewers to join our campaign and stand up for peace and justice. His words are so heartfelt and powerful that they gave this writer goosebumps. Watch this space for an opportunity to see it for yourself!

Symon Hill, co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union, and our first speaker of the evening, opened by reminding us that we have just come to the end of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, which still holds the record for the largest number of British military casualties in one day (57,470 on the First of July 1916). This slaughter, which gained only three miles of territory, was only made possible by conscription. Although conscription in World War One did not begin until 1916, its existence left the military strategists secure in the knowledge that, no matter how many lives were lost on the battlefield, there would be plenty more young, eager soldiers coming to replace them. As if a human life is replaceable. This is no longer the way that war works. While human life is still considered expendable, at least on ‘The Other’ side, the technology developed since the beginning of the Cold War was supposed to make war less likely. It hasn’t.

Twenty-First century conscientious objectors have faced similar treatment. Michael Lyons, a British Royal Navy medic serving in Afghanistan, became concerned in 2010 about the fact that he was being told to prioritise military over civilian casualties regardless of clinical need. After the WikiLeaks revelations, he became so strongly opposed to the war in Afghanistan that he applied to be a CO, but was repeatedly turned down. He was transferred to a training course where he was ordered to train with an SA80 assault rifle but refused, for which he was court-martialled and sentenced to seven months in prison. During his sentence, Michael concluded that not only was he against the war in Afghanistan, but he was against all war.

Symon gave us these examples to show us what it means to be an active resister to injustice and war. Pacifism is not passive – it is active. Today, we are still conscripted. Every time our wages are paid, we buy petrol, or do the weekly shop, we contribute to the treasury, and thus the war machine. Our culture, our language, our very mindsets are conscripted by the militaristic society we inhabit. Even peace-builders can slip into the bad habits of calling warfare and the preparations for it “defence”. Using the word conflict instead of the phrase “violence conflict” is another – there is plenty of conflict in the world every day that never turns violent. We must remind ourselves that conflict is part of the human condition, but violence need not be.

Symon stated firmly that he is not going to applaud militarism, nor is he going to pay for it. He urges that paying for non-military security is the way forward for our world. He is not begging the government for this right. While many of us can’t withhold our taxes like PAYE and VAT, we can stand up and object. He will not be passive because he’s a pacifist.
Conciliation Resources’ executive director Jonathan Cohen took a different approach to explaining why supporting the Peace Tax Bill is some important. 1.5 billion people are affected by violent conflict, 1% of the world’s population is displaced from their homes. Violent conflict costs the world’s economy £11 trillion a year. Peace-building and development to counter the effects of war are woefully underfunded. Yet there is a current rhetoric in the UK that we spend too much on international development assistance aka foreign aid, despite it being only 0.7% of our GDP (as recommended by international standards – however we are the only G20 nation to stick to it). Peace-building funding is being consumed into the anti-development aid rhetoric.

Jonathan mentioned the work of the Ammerdown group, a group of NGOs, academics and peace-building practitioners who have been working together to rethink international peace and security practices, and communicate their discussions to politicians. There is a serious gap between the values of peace-building organisations, United Nations Values and political agendas. Terrorism, extremism and mass migration are tempting politicians to move towards even more militarism in our society. We must initiate a counter-trend. The Peace Tax Bill is an important part of starting this counter-trend.

When explaining conscientious objection to others, personal conscience is a good starting point. However, many people will remain unconvinced by the conscience argument as their conscience does not reflect ours. Fortunately, there are many other arguments for non-violent methods of conflict resolution. It is effective, it is cheap, and it can be part of a long-term strategy to stabilise a region – this argument is often far more accessible. We have seen negotiated peace agreements work in South Africa, Northern Ireland, the Philippines and Columbia. The capacity of people affected by violent conflict to help resolve that conflict peacefully is almost always underestimated; they are astute analysts of conflict. Jonathan urges that we support their voices, without romanticising them. When asked what peace-building means to them, most people will give an answer unique to their experience.

The legacy of the past must be dealt with and we cannot impose solutions. As Jonathan so eruditely put it. ‘peace-building allows solutions to grow out of communities.’
Our last speaker was chairperson of Stop the War, Murad Qureshi. He began by telling us that Muhammed Ali is a personal hero for his stance and determination to be recognised as a conscientious objector. Stop the War began as a reaction to the ‘War on Terror’, when the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets in protest could see the gross injustice of it all, but parliamentarians couldn’t. Unilateral action by the United States military in the name of ending terrorism and extremism has drawn us, and to a lesser extent the rest of NATO, into war after war without making a single one of us any safer. Yet that pattern to Twenty-First century warfare has continued; Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, is Yemen next? The grossly over-funded United States’ military-industrial complex will continue to push for more overseas military intervention, as they have done so far.

The Chilcot report gave us the hard figures we need to argue against this trend in Twenty-First century war, although it was impossible for the report to convey the human costs of the war in Iraq. £12 billion on the war in Iraq. £350 million in Libya. But these numbers are dwarfed by the £205 billion estimated cost of replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Replacing Trident was made out to be a ‘do or die’ situation, needed both for national pride and national security. What parliamentarians didn’t seem to listen to was the fact that even many in the military itself did not wish the system to be replaced. Conflict analysts are keenly aware of the fact that terrorism and cyber-warfare are far more likely in the Twenty-First century than nuclear war. Yet that information has not been taken on board by politicians. All while a continuing programme of austerity is being imposed on the British people; we can’t afford to look after our disabled and elderly folk, but we can afford a weapon system that is designed to never be used, and if the reports are to be believed, doesn’t even work. Murad concluded by noting that this is why it is more important than ever now to be a CO publicly as well as privately, to affect government policy and create real change.

When asked during the question and answer session ‘what can we do to bring more people to our cause?’ the panel had some excellent points. Jonathan told us that the mission and mandate of peace-building organisations must be clear. We must communicate with armed groups – you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. If you make armed groups illegal, you simply drive them further underground, away from the negotiating table and away from the formation of a lasting peace. Symon warned us of the dangers of complacency within the peace movement – we shouldn’t be surprised when we have a victory, despite the constant losses many of us experience. He also urged us to link peace movements to anti-austerity movements, resist militarism in everyday life (try counting the war memorials you see on the average journey through central London, you’ll be shocked), and reclaim our language.

We need to call war war, not conflict, as conflict is not inherently violent. Likewise, the military and defence are not the same thing. Murad also highlighted the importance of working together and using the right language. He pointed out that the impression of people removed from a context may be completely different to the opinions of those on the ground, due to their different perspectives. He also counselled us to remember the local cultural and historical aspects relevant to conflicts and mentioned the legacy of British imperialism in Kashmir and the Middle East. Appreciation of local viewpoints can make all the difference when it comes to creating lasting and just peace.


Thank you to everyone involved in helping put on this event.

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