Post Hedge School Impressions: A Disarming Event

Rob Fairmichael attended the International Peace Bureau council meeting and Afri Hedge School in Dublin in November and wrote this report…

Ruairi McKiernan speaking at the 2012 Hedge School, “Non Violent Struggles for Democracy”. Tomas Magnusson (IPB) and Lina Ben Mhenni (Sean MacBride Peace Prize laureate for 2012) are seated on the right.

A Disarming Event
‘Disarming’ in English can mean two quite different things. So far as the peace movement is concerned it implies the process of disarmament, of overcoming militarism, and building a real and lasting peace. But ‘disarming’ can also imply pleasant and charming in a low key way, possibly through calming hostility and building confidence. I certainly was not hostile to the International Peace Bureau (IPB) to begin with but I think I could describe the IPB council meeting and related conference as being disarming in both senses. Significantly, this was the first ever IPB council to be held in Ireland.

Andy Storey (Afri), Rose Kelly (Afri) and Paddy Reilly (Kimmage DSC). Photo by Derek Speirs.

There were two or three related events. The first was the IPB council business event. The second was a conference which Afri runs in different locations throughout Ireland every autumn but which this time was co-organised with IPB, using IPB people as speakers and resource people. Also speaking at the Hedge School were Afri’s Rose Kelly and Kimmage DSC’s Paddy Reilly, in a session on “Climate Change, Resources and War” chaired by Afri Chairperson, Andy Storey. The conference title was “Joining the dots: Disarmament, Development, Democracy.” In order to make a tangible response to the threat of Climate Change, participants in the Hedge School planted a rowan tree which was then named “Lina [Ben Mhenni]’s tree”. In addition there was the award of IPB’s Sean MacBride Peace Prize to two prominent women involved in the ‘Arab Spring’.

The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, presented the Sean MacBride Peace Prize – and a happy conjunction is that Michael D Higgins was himself the first recipient of the Sean MacBride Peace Prize (named after the distinguished Irish statesman and peace and human rights worker Sean MacBride) twenty years ago, in 1992. Lina Ben Mhenni, a young (under thirty) blogger and activist from Tunisia was one recipient; the second, veteran (over eighty years old) Egyptian feminist and activist Nawal El Sadaawi, was unable to be present but sent a strong and inspiring video. When Lina Ben Mhenni went to photograph bodies of young men killed by the former Tunisian regime she said she was shaking but given strength by the mother of one of the dead who said that she had to show the world what had happened.

Lina Ben Mhenni, in talking about the role of social media in the Tunisian revolution, spoke about its importance but that it began without the use of social media, and there is always the need for people or activists on the ground. She also pointed to the continuation of repression in Tunisia including police brutality under the new regime. Both Annette Willi and Colin Archer of IPB pointed to some of the successes which peace and change movements have achieved; the ban on landmines, ending the Vietnam War and apartheid.

Participants at Afri’s 2012 Hedge School, organised in partnership with the IPB

The theme of the conference was also a discussion theme in the IPB council meeting, specifically whether ‘democracy’ should be added as a third ‘d’ to ‘disarmament for development’ in their focus. IPB tries to keep a tight focus to maximise effect and prevent dissipation of effort. We divided into small groups on this issue of a ‘third d’. Some favoured the inclusion of democracy in appropriate projects and contexts but in the small group I was in we were unanimously against a general inclusion; we all favoured the maximum democracy possible, with all that that implies in terms of human rights and respect as well as voting rights, but felt that including it in the mix could be misleading for several reasons. The most prominent reason is that democracies are some of the worst offenders when it comes to war-making (USA, UK) and arms sales (USA, Russia, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Sweden) – and we were informed that 83% of arms sales are from the northern hemisphere selling to the global south.

Fionnuala Gill playing Sean MacBride’s favourite song “The West’s Awake” during the Sean MacBride Peace Prize ceremony. Fionnuala also played the opening music for the 2012 Hedge School. Photo: Derek Speirs

1914 is the centenary of the foundation of IFOR – a fact I shared with the IPB council but it is obviously the centenary of the start of the First World War. I think there is an opportunity for peace groups to cooperate across the board in marking the First World War, not just analysing the nationalisms and imperialisms that led to that conflagration, but asking what are the causes of war today, why ‘the war to end all wars’ was just a staging point in humanity’s inhumanity, and what can be done to help us move to a more peaceful future. And, as Ruairi McKiernan pointed out in the conference, you can’t talk about peace without talking about power (and, I would add, its opposite, powerlessness). There should be scope for groups associated with IPB, IFOR, WRI, Pax Christi, and others to work together in marking 1914 and pointing to the war and warmongering going on today (all of these networks list their members on their websites – it may be worth checking if you don’t know who may be near you!).

How can international disarmament and other work for peace be advanced and coordinated? What is the role of the IPB in this? These were the main questions. Clearly it does have an important role in trying to bring together its capabilities and members for disarmament.

But opportunities for everyone – from different groups and networks – to work together should include issues to do with 1914 and the First World War, and the Global Day of Action on Military Spending which IPB organises and which will happen on 15th April in 2013.

Rob Fairmichael is the C0-ordinator of INNATE ( and an Afri board member

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