Monday, 30 July 2007

Remember the hostages by Virginia

Yet again, we have seen that those bringing aid into a war torn country have been taken hostage. The Taliban captured 23 South Korean aid workers last week, threatening to kill them all. Sadly they have already killed one person, Bae Hyung-kyu on his 42nd birthday, but it is not too late for the others. The campaign group avaaz.org are running a petition to save the others. They are appealing to the Taliban to recognise that kidnapping foreigners is against the Afghan Pashtunwali code, a principle requiring 'hospitality to all, especially guests and strangers'. Please go to http//www.avaaz.org/en, if you wish to support.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the hostages, their families and their kidnappers and we pray for their speedy release

Resisting the natural impulse by Virginia

I made the mistake of looking at the route of the half marathon yesterday, oops it looks a bit hillier than I thought. So I hope my hill run last week will help when it comes to the day. I ran to the mantra, "Run on Peacemakers" which was a great rhythm for going down and up, down and up. The coming up was really hard on some occasions, I got tired, not getting as far as I had at first; I got distracted and overshot my time for turning back. But once or twice I put some welly in it and got further than I meant to. The running down was an essential part of it, helping me restore my energies for the upward climb. And it felt like a good metaphor for our campaigning work, we need the downhill to keep us going to the top. Sometimes it feels more difficult & we feel like we have failed;sometimes we get distracted from the task; and every now and then we get a whole lot further than we ever thought possible.

I didn't manage 3 runs this week but did get out again for 90 minutes on Saturday. "Run on you Poor" and "Run on those who Mourn" were background thoughts. As I ran, I reflected that we cannot be physically present to comfort those who mourn, or to build the justice of kingdom of heaven for the poor. However we can help by our prayers, our solidarity actions and of course by our fundraising. At the end of the run I had a nasty encounter with 2 young lads on a motorbike who were zooming up and down the cycle path, nearly knocking me and two children flying. I was so furious I shouted angrily at them. They shouted back and deliberately tried to frighten me when they turned round and passed me the other way. I think I was right to confront them, but I realised afterwards being so angry could have created a more dangerous situation. It made me think that an angry violent response,so often a natural impulse, is one that leads us to worse trouble in the end.

That's why we need projects like Wi'am in Palestine, a small beacon of hope, suggesting that violence is not the only answer. There is an alternative way to live in the face of great oppression. We were privileged to have the Director of Wi'am, Zoughbi Zoughbi, as a guest in our home last night. Listening to his stories of life in Palestine reminded us how much easier it is to be a peacemaker in the tranquillity and safety of England. The hills of that half marathon feel a little less daunting when I think of the good work Wi'am is doing. If you feel equally inspired to donate to this sponsored run, please contact nick@for.org.uk for more details.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

The DESO Backlash Starts Here- by Chris

The Daily Telegraph (suprise, suprise) leads the backlash against the closure of DESO. A tad too late boys!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

PM Announces Closure of DESO by Chris

After recent leaks from the Treasury, Gordon Brown today announced the closure of the governments arms promotion unit, DESO. The news came as something of a shock as we were not expecting any news until the autumn. It was obviously a shock to BAE Systems and SBAC according to Defencenews! FoR has been running a specific campaign on DESO for the past 12 months but arms trade campaigners have been working on the issue for - well, decades. I think tonight particularly of our old friend Mary Ann Ebert who vigiled outside DESO's offices in Soho Square for many years until her death.

Of course this doesn't mean the end of the arms trade - the work of promoting UK arms exports is being moved to the UK Trade and Industy body but it is hugely signifcant. Perhaps one could say the beginning of the end?

Monday, 23 July 2007

Run on Peacemakers by Virginia

Well I have just completed my first month's training. The upside has been that the runs I have done have sort of achieved what they were supposed to do. I am trying to follow a programme that I can squeeze in with work and childcare, of 1 long run, 1 hilly run, and 1 changing the tempo run. I managed this 2 weeks out of the 4, and have pretty much enjoyed the experience. The hill runs are probably the hardest as they consist of running up and down a stretch of hill as fast as you can for a set period, having a recovery period then starting again. The gruelling thing is that you increase both the time going uphill and the number of sessions each week, so what started out quite comfortably is now making me puff and sweat. The idea of this is to increase my body's ability to breathe more efficiently helping me eventually run faster. The same can be said of the runs that change the tempo which are slightly easier because we tend to do that at my running club. The long runs are supposed to be taken slow to build up stamina. I am trying to be disciplined about this as when I trained for the Marathon I did them too fast and kept getting colds as a result. But now I think I have been doing them a bit too slow as it took me ages to get anywhere the day I ran for 75 minutes. (And if you are wondering why I a nice non-competitive peace activist want to run faster, well it's just one of those running things. I don't want to beat anyone else, I want to beat myself.)

The difficult bit has been the toll on my body. I suffer from sciatica which means I have to be careful to do lots of back and stomach exercises, and I don't do them enough. I am used to managing this but now seem to have some on and off problems with my shins and right foot. I am hoping that these will be sorted by my fab new birthday running shoes (which will be winging their way to me soon, I had to send the first pair back because I foolishly told Chris the wrong size!)But in the meantime I have taken a little break, partly to rest up and partly because we went to the National Justice and Peace Conference at the weekend. There wasn't much time for running but plenty of time for thinking about peacemaking, particularly because of the powerful messages from our two key note speakers. The first, Fr John Dear, a long term activist and writer from the US, gave us an inspirational address which was so rich it will take me a long time to process. However, one thing that stood out immediately was his reflections on the Beatitudes, which have transformed my understanding of what was already a wonderful piece of scripture. The Beatitudes were a theme that ran through his talk and rightly so, for as he pointed out they are the core of Jesus' message on peacemaking, so much so that Gandhi read them twice a day. This was a revelation in itself. But the news that there is a recent translation which if I understood him right suggests that rather than being passive "Blessed are the poor, those who mourn" etc, the message is meant to be far more active, "Walk on you poor in spirit, Walk on those who mourn" blew me away. I am taking this one step further to inspire my running, "Run on you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God" and I will be using the Beatitudes as meditation when I go on my long runs. Thanks John for this new understanding and for the great story of the chapel of the beatitudes.

Our other speaker was also important in a different way, and I was particularly glad to meet him. Zoughbi Zoughbi, an Arab Palestinian Christian happens to be the Director of the Wi'am community, which is one of the projects supported by the International Peacemakers Fund. In a community that is hemmed in on all sides, where children and adults live with daily trauma, Wi'am offers the chance for people to find ways to resolve their conflicts peacefully and nonviolently. Zoughbi told us many stories of living under occupation, and the fact that he does so without rancour and bitterness, despite having been jailed, despite facing regular humiliations to travel short distances in his own country, gave me an insight into what true peacemaking looks like. To remain nonviolent in the face of such provocation with your only hope to bring others "to their senses, not their knees" is a challenge that Zoughbi more than lives up to. The work that his community does is vital in that it gives young Palestinians a hopeful alternative than the immediate (understandable) thirst for revenge that leads nowhere and creates more violence in it's wake.

So I have returned from the conference with a rested foot, a new meditation to aid my running and the knowledge that I have seen most powerfully why we should be supporting communities like the Wi'am community.

This week then I hope to complete a long run of up to 90 mins, a hilly run that involves 3 lots of 7 minutes continuous up and down, and a tempo run of about 45 minutes. My foot and back are a bit better so I am going to try and do some of those pesky exercises too.

Wish me Luck

Running for Peace by Virginia

I took up running again 3 years ago after a long break from the sport. At the time we were living in FoR's former home in Clopton, Northamptonshire, and one of our nearest neighbours was the US base of Molesworth, a key intelligence gathering centre for the US military. I used to see Molesworth on my runs and so my running often became a meditation and a prayer for peace. It was also then that I had the idea of running to raise funds for peace projects. In September 2004 I did a 5K run for CAAT, and I applied to the London Marathon in the hope of doing the same for FoR. I didn't get a place so did that event on behalf of another charity, but the idea has stayed with me. My Marathon experience was a bit of a struggle as I succumbed a lot to injury and colds. So for the last two years I have been concentrating on doing shorter runs and building up my muscle strength.

This September I have decided to try a longer run again and I have entered the New Forest Half Marathon, which takes place on the 16th September 2007. And I have decided to take the opportunity to raise funds for international peacemakers at the same time. Since 2005, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has been raising money on behalf of peacemakers working to find alternative solutions to violence, often in the most difficult conflicts. The International Peacemakers Fund
supports the work of the Wi'am community that provides conflict resolution in Palestine, the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado in Colombia which promotes peace amidst extraordinary violence from state and guerilla forces, as well as projects in Sudan, Zimbabwe and Uganda. I am hoping to raise £500 for the fund which will go directly to the projects supported.

If you are interested in supporting this effort, you can do so in two ways. The first is the obvious one to sponsor me, and I hope to have a link to my fundraising website shortly. The second is to keep me in your thoughts and prayers. Training for a long distance event is hard work, particularly when your body doesn't always do what you want it to do. It always helps to know people are thinking of me.

Thanks for the support, I'll keep you posted as to how I get on, starting with my next post.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Surprise, Surprise! - by Chris

As predicted the Daily Telegraph today reports 'Defence' industry anger at plans to close DESO. The report also discloses that CAAT and FoR (ahem!) have met with Treasury ministers and officals about the issue. I'm sure this is the beginning of a summer-long propaganda campaign over the future of the department. Our friend Paul Ingram has a fine piece (and photo!) on the Guardian 'Comment is Free' site on all this.

Monday, 9 July 2007

DESO to close? -by Chris

The Guardian front page today ran the news that The Treasury is considering closing the Defence Export Services Organisaton (DESO). Fantastic news if true. I suspect that its a little too early to celebrate as no doubt the 'defence' industry will undertake a tough rear-guard action but still, who would have thought it??

Thursday, 5 July 2007

A riposte to the myth of redemptive violence by Virginia

"Why are there no children's writers challenging the myth of redemptive violence?" bemoaned a friend the other day. I didn't have an answer at the time, but on reflection guess the reason is that it is easier to make a more exciting tale if you have weapons and explosions. So I was delighted to see that the season finale of Dr Who, written by Russell T Davies, subverted the genre and did it so well he had me fooled. For those of you who don't watch, the Doctor's arch enemy the Master had enslaved the world,killed millions of people, held him prisoner and tortured him for a year. The Doctor had sent his companion Martha on a long journey across the world, and a hope had arisen that she was the one who would kill the Master. She even showed people a gun she was developing that needed a fourth solution to do the trick.

I was completely suckered by this, thinking, yes they need to do this, it's the only way. So I was bowled over by the revelation that the gun was a set up, what Martha had done was talk to people about who the Doctor was. As the Master sneered, "hope and prayer is that all you've got?", billions of people came together and their joint thoughts broke his network and enabled the Doctor to become free. It was a slightly OTT storyline but as a metaphor for hope in the face of terrible oppression I thought it was a wonderful. And when the Doctor had the Master in his power, he not only forgave him but accepted that it was his responsibility to look after him and redeem him. It wasn't a perfect non-violent ending - the Doctor managed to talk one person out of shooting the Master but someone else got the gun (although being Dr Who this was probably a set up to allow the character to return later). But to have the main part of the story being done like this on a major children's programme was quite extraordinary. And it was great to watch it with the kids.

In a world where too many people want to rush to the gun or the bomb to resolve their problems, we have a responsibility to teach our children there are alternatives. Dr Who has shown it is possible to do this in an entertaining and thought provoking way. Wouldn't it be nice if more writers were brave enough to try it?

Great news by Virginia

We were delighted by yesterday's news that Alan Johnston was released yesterday. Kidnapping innocent bystanders seems to be an unpleasant feature of war situations these days, and so we are pleased that this time there was a happy ending. We hope that Mr Johnston will be able to return to his reporting once he has recovered, the world needs more journalists like him.

But whilst we celebrate we remember all the kidnap victims in Palestine, Iraq,Nigeria and elsewhere who don't always make the world headlines, and who suffer as much. May they have a similar happy ending to their stories.