What a week it has been after the PAGE Festival. Yesterday students from my Theories of Peace class shared their excellent presentations on the various speakers with me and our new staff member, Dr Jess Gifkins.
What was startling is that even a week later the politics had changed.
All the hand-wringing about ‘to bomb or not to bomb’ had been decided by a parliamentary vote for the UK to get busy. The vote which was preceded by a ten hour debate in which one of last week’s key note speakers, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, spoke with such eloquence in favour of bombing, that he drew Tory cheers. I wonder what his father would have said? Was the case so compelling? Did the attacks on Paris bounce it in favour? Was the £12 billion re-armament and security expenditure decision already made? For sure there was enough confidence this was a done deal for the UK’s bomb dropping mission to leave an hour later. Ready and prepared in advance then.
In a week which saw the Security Expenditure Review authorize the purchase of new planes, there must have been a huge sigh of relief since we had new aircraft carriers ordered but no planes. So now despite the austerity, there will be bombers aplenty. We are also going to have two 5000 strong rapid Strike brigades, but only in 2025, such is the urgency. Does it all make sense in making us all feel more secure? I doubt anyone of us now believes that.
The headlines today warn of years of war to come in Syria. The sessions we heard on human rights at PAGEfest come into sharper focus as we take in the reality of bombing of targets where ISIS is hiding amongst all those civilians with faces like those refugees now on the run at our borders. I remember what Ben Hayes said whilst promoting his new book on the Secure and the Dispossessed and the Securitization of Climate Change…And the Climate Change demonstrations long planned in Paris are banned because of the security clamp down. The students yesterday also covered Dr Michael Crowley and Alistair Hayes talks on Chemical Control. It had seemed theoretical but then now we have news that European police forces are tear gassing the Syrian refugees in Calais and on the Serbian/Greek Border.
As I write this, the wind is howling in and for the most part the plight of hundreds of thousands of Syrians in a new version of Exodus, have left our headlines. But they are there tonight shivering in the streets and borderscapes of an ever more paranoid Europe. How will this be dealt with in the months and years which now lie ahead, of war without end. Dr Crowley sent me another paper yesterday which gave a clue – its on remote control mass teargassing and you can read it here.
Courtesy of the University of Bradford, 2015.
None of us knows what the long term fall out of this weeks decision to bomb will be. I remember previous times when government spokespersons with weasel words reassured us of the wisdom of bombing, at UN microphones placed in front of a copy of Picasso’s magnificent Guernica. They had to ask for the image to be covered up since its capacity to break through the spell was too powerful -600,000 corpses later, we know who was more accurately telling the truth.
Another group of our students reported on Rex Bloomstein’s lecture, Does Anyone care about human rights? Rex had very powerful clips. Previously unseen footage of Nazi court cases before executions; in another, torturers who recanted when asked to torture children. There are echoes today somehow, like we know we are entering a darker time. If barely 20 guys bearing guns supplied by member states of the UN Security Council can facilitate the lockdown of one of Europe’s capital cities, we know that none of the military solutions proferred, will make a long term solution. More such swarm attacks are inevitable. The counter attacks are likely to kill many more.
But our students eloquently answer Rex’s question – they do care about Human rights……passionately so.
Dr Steve Wright is a Reader in Politics and Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett University.