Photos: Festival of Resistance Against the DSEI Arms Fair in London’s Docklands, Sept. 9, 2017
Yesterday (September 9, 2017), the Campaign Against Arms Trade and Stop the Arms Fair organised a Festival of Resistance against the bi-annual international arms fair that takes place in London’s Docklands at the ExCeL exhibition centre, which I visited, played at, and took photos of. See my photos here.
This UK government-backed orgy of trade in weapons of war and weapons of mass destruction tries to disguise itself by calling itself DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International), but anyone perceptive can see through the PR-speak. As the festival’s Facebook page explains,
“As one of the world’s largest arms fairs, DSEI brings together over 1,500 arms companies and military delegations from over 100 countries. On display will be everything from crowd control equipment to machine guns, tanks, drones and even battleships.”
Countries invited to take part, all with dire human rights records, include Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The resistance to the DSEI has involved protests all week in advance of the arms fair itself, which runs from September 12-15. Throughout the week, dozens of protestors were arrested stopping arms-laden vehicles arriving at ExCeL, and this pattern continued during the festival, as protestors locked on to each other in the road or locked on to vehicles. Protests are also continuing throughout the coming week — see here for further details.
My band The Four Fathers played at the festival, along with other performers (the Commie Faggots and the Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir, to name just two), and I was honoured to have been able to take part. I can think of few things more exhilarating than playing a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ as an arms-laden lorry drives up, protestors block its passage, the police start swarming, and a helicopter swoops down low and menacing. Despite the moments of tension, there was, in general, a very positive atmosphere all day, with hundreds of activists of all ages and from all walks of life taking the time to protest against the disgusting and disgraceful international arms trade, and its facilitators here in the UK.
Unfortunately, although the passion on display yesterday reminded me of how, at heart, much of my activism is directed against war, and not just, as my work on Guantánamo has demonstrated over the last eleven and a half years, on illegal imprisonment and torture, it’s sadly true that the mainstream media in this country generally walks hand-in-hand with the government and the establishment as a whole when it comes to supporting our disgusting involvement in the international arms trade, and our general bellicosity and warmongering. Why else would Jeremy Corbyn — a lifelong CND member and opponent of the insanely expensive and ethically unacceptable Trident nuclear missile programme — have attracted so much hostility from the establishment as a whole after his election as Labour leader in September 2015?
Most of the British establishment supports Trident, and supports the arms trade, despite our business clearly contributing to murder and torture in the countries mentioned above, and in numerous other countries that are serial abusers of human rights.
As a timely article in the Guardian yesterday, ‘British arms sales to repressive regimes soar to £5bn since election’, explained, Campaign Against Arms Trade “found that of the 49 countries that are classed as ‘not free’ by Freedom House, the independent organisation that promotes democracy, 36 have bought British-made weapons under the current government.”
As the Guardian article proceeded to explain:
Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has agreed orders for more than £3.75bn worth of British defence equipment – mainly bombs and fighter aircraft – up from £160m in the 22 months leading up to the election. Even when Saudi’s massive order book is stripped out, arms exports to repressive regimes have almost doubled since the Tory government was elected: orders to such countries, excluding Saudi, amount to almost £1.2bn, compared with £680m in the 22 months before the election.
Among the major buyers were: Algeria, which agreed a military helicopter deal in September 2015, worth £195m; Qatar, which is buying military support aircraft worth £120m; and China, which is subject to an arms embargo. Despite the embargo, the UK agreed a £16m deal to export components for military radar. One notable new customer is Azerbaijan, which bought £500,000 of “targeting equipment.”
As the Guardian also explained, following the Brexit referendum last June, “the Defence & Security Organisation, the government body that promotes arms manufacturers to overseas buyers, was moved from UK Trade & Investment to the Department for International Trade,” where, soon after, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox (a corrupt right-wing fanatic so untrustworthy that he had to resign as defence secretary under David Cameron, after it was revealed that he had given his friend, the lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the MoD and had allowed him to join official British government trips abroad), would “spearhead the push to promote the country’s military and security industries exports.”
The Guardian described how “charities and other organisations that campaign against the arms trade fear that a post-Brexit Britain will see an increase in weapons sold to countries with poor human rights records,” and this is indeed what can be expected to happen without concerted action to prevent it — by, most logically, everyone with a shred of decency working assiduously to prevent Brexit from happening.
Speaking to the Guardian, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said, “The UK has consistently armed many of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes in the world, and a number have been invited to London to buy weapons. These arms sales aren’t morally neutral, they are a clear sign of political and military support for the regimes they are being sold to. The government has played an absolutely central role, and has consistently put arms exports to despots and dictators ahead of human rights.”
For further coverage — proving an exception to the general desert of coverage, in both the broadcast and print media — see ‘Bahrain is buying arms in London – and my family is paying the price’ by Bahraini activist Sayed Alwadaei, who spoke at the event yesterday, and this Guardian article last week as the protests began.
Also see the album here:
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp).
He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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