SPEAK, along with numerous other organisations, have been campaigning against the UK government's support of the arms trade, specifically through the Defence Export Services Organisation. The DESO is a government department dedicated to building relationships with international weapons customers, supporting industry-led overseas marketing, and organising arms fairs such as DSEi. SPEAK have been calling for the closure of this department, and most recently, have been calling for further investigation and debate about the use of 'drones', which were promoted heavily at DSEi this year.
Questioning the State of Things
But the five protestors who were arrested were not only taking a stand against private arms companies and the individuals who choose to work in the arms trade, but the state itself, which actively supports the sale of arms for private profit. The protestors now stand accused of 'aggravated trespass', because according to the state, they were disrupting the 'lawful' activity of the DSEi event.
There is a strong argument to be made that not everything that goes on at DSEi is always legal. It came to light last week that two exhibitors at the DSEi were illegally marketing torture instruments. Last time round, in 2011, exhibitors were found to be illegally marketing cluster munitions. Basically, for all their alleged intentions to remain within UK law, DSEi are not trying hard enough. You can read more about their repeated failure to sell strictly legal weapons here.
But whether DSEi stay strictly within the law or not is almost beside the point (although it would be interesting to know in what way, if any, they are penalised when they host exhibitors that market illegal instruments). As the arrest of the five protestors makes clear, the law is conducive to those who wish to build, buy, sell, and make themselves rich from the sale of killing machines. The law is problematic to those who wish to physically stand in the way of this process, as the five protestors did last week.
Jesus sent his disciples out as 'sheep in the midst of wolves' (Matt 10:16). Can we see a more clear example of this than the protestors who sat down in a stream of warmongers, in the hope that their getting-in-the-way would mean that a few less weapons deals would be secured? Jesus continued to warn his disciples that they would 'be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them' (Matt 10:18); as these protestors will be brought before a magistrate in the coming days.
The actions of these five Christians raise a lot of questions. Do the laws of the state always lead towards peace and justice? We remember that when the Israelites first asked for a King, God understood it as a personal rejection (1 Sam 8:7). Samuel predicted that a king would 'take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen' and appoint people 'to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots' (1 Sam 8:11-12). But God conceded to the Israelites' wishes for what would become the basis of the state structure, against God's better judgement.
Some Points to Ponder
Do you think that the judgement of the state is always correct? Is it possible that God may instil in some humans a love for all creation which refuses to stand by and watch weapons deals take place? To what extent have these protestors succeeded in challenging, and preventing violence?
Why not hold a discussion or debate about the protest in your SPEAK group, church group, or with another activist society?
For more information and photos about other actions surrounding the DSEi arms fair see here.