Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My jihad against arms industry

My latest rant against the arms industry appears to have upset a Very Important Person.

Think tank guru Giles Merritt has been described as one of the 50 most influential people in Brussels by his former employer The Financial Times. Admirably humble, Merritt is eager to downplay his clout.

In his response to my rant, Merritt takes me to task for drawing attention to links between his organization Security and Defence Agenda (SDA) and Lockheed Martin, the world's most profitable weapons producer. According to Merritt, Lockheed has "taken no part in SDA's activities nor funding since the middle of 2012."

His assertion is contradicted by the SDA's own publications. One of them states that in September last year, Luc van de Winckel, a "senior manager" with Lockheed, attended a conference that SDA hosted on the future of "missile defence".

SDA's entry to the register of "interest representatives" managed by the European Commission also names Lockheed as one of the organisation's members. This entry is dated 5 July this year and purports to relate to all of 2012. (Aside: SDA did not sign up to this database until last year. In May 2012, I asked Merritt why the SDA hadn't yet joined the register; he replied that this was merely an "oversight").

Thriving on war

If Lockheed has recently decided to leave the SDA, this does not alter my central point that the think tank serves the arms industry. Raytheon, another top arms manufacturer, is listed as one of SDA's current members on its website. Raytheon, too, supplies cruise missiles to the US military and would, more than likely, benefit directly from the type of Western attack on Syria that Merritt's colleague, Shada Islam, has urged.

I was intrigued to see that Merritt acknowledged that the entire purpose of the SDA was to "help move defence up the European agenda". This admission undermines the organisation's boast of providing a "neutral forum" for debating military matters.

Tough questions about how the SDA's "partners" thrive on war and human rights abuses are not allowed at its events, as I discovered myself. When I attended an SDA conference last year and asked the speaker from Lockheed, Chad Fulgham, if he was proud of his company's role in arming Israeli forces that illegally occupy Palestinian land, Merritt dismissed my query as irrelevant.


According to Merritt, I declared a fatwah against SDA several years ago. In my view, the term jihad might be more apposite.

Jihad is a much misunderstood term that is usually translated as "holy war". The translation is wildly inaccurate; the word originates from the verb jahada, which means to "exert effort". In the views of many Islamic scholars, a jihad involves tackling injustice and poverty, both of which can be fought without the use of violence.

Although I'm a Christian, rather than a Muslim, I feel a sense of duty to exert effort against the entire arms industry (not just the SDA). My determination to wage this jihad was reinforced in 2009, when I was saw the after-effects of Israel's merciless three-week bombing campaign against Gaza.

At one point during my visit, I was given a tour by a local man, who repeatedly pointed to the ruins of buildings. "There, F-16," he said, explaining that an American warplane had fired a missile against that particular structure.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon have all been involved in F-16 programmes. All three have funded and taken part in the SDA's work over the past few years.

Giles Merritt might have convinced himself that he is doing nothing more sinister than putting "defence" on the agenda. I, on the other hand, remain horrified by what I have seen in Palestine. The companies that inflict suffering on civilians ought to be prosecuted. Instead, their executives pat each other on the back in royal palaces hired by SDA.

The only proper response to these obscene spectacles is outrage.

•First published by EUobserver, 24 September 2013.

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