Still Protesting this Shit

Speech for CND demo against bombing Syria, 4 April 2018.

At one of my first demonstrations, back in 2002, there was an old woman with a placard that said, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” We were talking about invading Afghanistan at that point, and I remember thinking, ‘I hope when I’m her age I won’t need a sign like that.’

Well, I’m not an old lady yet, but I’m already sick of protesting this shit.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. The US and the UK are obsessed with bombing countries that most of their citizens would struggle to find on a map.

This time, the pretext is that Assad used chemical weapons in Douma, which may or may not be true. Some doctors are saying it was a conventional bombing, that the people in the famous video were suffering from smoke inhalation or from the lack of oxygen in the tunnels under the city.

But let’s give our leaders the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say there was a chemical attack on civilians. So they respond by bombing a chemical weapons plant in a civilian area.

Are they insane? Bombing a chemical weapons plant is going to spread deadly chemicals far and wide.
So we’re gassing civilians to punish Assad for gassing civilians. We’re committing human rights abuses to punish Assad for human rights abuses.

Don’t get me wrong, there are no good guys in this story. I am not standing up for Assad.

But it’s déjà vu. It’s Iraq all over again. Remember how concerned they were about chemical and biological weapons? Remember how they wanted to free Iraqi civilians from the shackles of a terrible dictator?

So we invaded, murdering thousands of civilians with bombs and snipers and white phosphorus. ‘Mission Accomplished’ within a couple of months. Sowing the seeds for the chaos and destruction that persist to this day, fifteen years later.

In Syria last week, there was no chemical plant, thankfully. We only killed the people in the immediate area without gassing the whole city.

But funnily enough, it’s been wall-to-wall news coverage about Syria and Russia, dictators and spies, intrigue and assassination and drama. Much more interesting than the tedious car crash of Brexit.

I’m not saying they’re manufacturing a drama to distract us. It’s just very convenient.

It’s also rank hypocrisy. We hear about human rights abuses across the world. Yemen. Gaza. Myanmar. Libya. Congo. And countless other places. But we only intervene when it suits the domestic news cycle.

If our leaders really cared about civilians in Syria, they might start by restricting weapons sales to the region. The EU has banned arms sales to Syria, but weapons cross borders much more easily than people.

Two-thirds of the bombs and guns and fighter planes produced in the UK are sold to the middle east, for billions of pounds in profit. Arms manufacturers aren’t picky about where their products are used – and it seems like our government isn’t too picky either. In 2015, Amnesty International found that Daesh uses weapons made in the US and UK, among other places.

We criticise Russia for sending weapons to the Syrian government, but we know that Saudi Arabia supplies weapons to the rebels – when they’re not needed for the slaughter in Yemen. The UK is a top supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
But now it looks like we’re cutting out the middle man and bombing Syria directly. They say it’s to protect civilians.

But you can’t protect civilians if they’re dead. You can’t bomb your way to peace, especially in a complicated civil war that we’ve helped to create. UK intervention is only adding to the chaos and destruction.

Maybe it’s for the sake of our weapons industry, or to feel like an important global power, or just kissing up to Trump. But it’s not for the sake of the people in that famous video.

And so we stand here today, like we’ve stood here so many times before, to oppose the bombing of civilians, to the endless production of weapons, to oppose the UK government’s fanning the flames of civil war.

Someday I hope we’ll see the end of the UK weapons industry, with its ties to the morally corrupt UK government. But until that day comes, we will keep on protesting this shit.

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