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by Sean M. Madden
10 July 2006
Tony Blair is forced to drive past Brian Haw’s five-year-long peace vigil on the eastern edge of Parliament Square each time the prime minister travels from Downing Street to the House of Commons. Yes, Virginia, there is justice in this world after all. We needn’t wait for God nor history to judge the PM, as he suggests.
For nearly half a decade, Mr Haw has shone for all of us as a highly polished mirror, reflecting back our individual and collective conscience, to our delight or dread. To gain a better sense of Mr Haw’s commitment to his, our, cause, ask yourself, “Where was I on 2 June 2001, the day Mr Haw came to the Square?”. What have you accomplished over the course of these years? What has transpired in your life these past 1,864 days? Throughout, Mr Haw has lived, “24/7”, outside in the Square, through heat, rain, snow and freezing cold.
Despite the UK government’s varied attempts to rid Mr Haw as an irreverent and impervious gadfly to Mr Blair’s and certain MPs’ consciences, the former still resides in the Square. However, in the dark, wee hours of 23 May, Mr Haw’s 40 metres of demonstration was reduced by 78 police officers to three metres, the limit set by the conditions imposed upon Mr Haw after the 8 May ruling.
On 8 May, the government won its case at the Court of Appeal, which found, in contrast to the High Court ruling in July 2005, that Mr Haw is not exempt from Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) which requires police authorisation to hold a demonstration within the designated area within one kilometre of Parliament Square. The High Court had ruled that he and his displays could not be removed from the Square because his continuing protest was in place prior to SOCPA’s passage. Yet, now that the Court of Appeal has overruled the High Court in favour of the government, Mr Haw—who refuses to end his demonstration—was left to either apply for permission, in which case the Metropolitan Police were likely to impose conditions on his demonstration, or be removed by police from Parliament Square. In co-ordination with his solicitor, Mr Haw decided to apply for authorisation. As the two anticipated, the police imposed conditions which led to this morning’s police operation to remove his banners, placards and flags as well as other personal possessions. Many of the displays were given to Mr Haw in support of his protest.
Mr Haw began his one-man demonstration on 2 June 2001 in protest of the, then, nearly eleven-year-long sanctions against Iraq which UNICEF reported in 1999 were responsible for the deaths of half a million children, under five years of age, during the eight years between 1991 and 1998. His protest on behalf of the Iraqi people continued when the economic sanctions turned to armed warfare and, then, occupation.
When I interviewed Mr Haw on 2 April at the “Naming the [Iraqi civilian] Dead” demonstration—another unauthorised and, thus, criminalised peaceful protest—in Parliament Square, he said the following:
"I came as one individual to begin with, with Mom and Dad—Mr and Mrs God—holding my hands. There’s somebody upstairs who loves and cares, you better believe it. I came here, as I was told to, on June 2nd 2001 because somebody cares. Since I’ve been here, who hasn’t joined me? The real world has joined me—glorious people from every country in the world. The best of America. The best of Greece. The best of the world!"
His choice of named countries is striking: two of history’s greatest democracies whose democratic principles, if not their actions, continue to inspire many throughout the world. Britain, too, along with France, was such an exemplar, producing some of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers and writers whose aspirations live on. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must say that Mr Haw’s choice of named countries likely had more to do with the fact that he was speaking to an American—me—and to a woman, a poet-songwriter, from Greece whom Mr Haw introduced to me and who joined our conversation, and recited poetry and sang, thereafter.
The eyesore which Mr Blair and at least some of his colluding ministers and parliamentarians see as they pass by Mr Haw on their way to the Commons is a horrifying reflection of themselves and their illegal war which they must shudder to see. For some of us, however, Mr Haw shines as a true beacon of democracy, in sharp contrast to the simulacra which waver and flicker like candle flames as seen from storm-tossed ships at sea.
On Sunday, 14 May, democrats of all stripes gathered in Parliament Square in support of all that Mr Haw has done for us to raise the voice of humanity in Britain in contravention to the wishes of the British government, to stand resolved in the face of power, to speak truth to it, and to insist that the democratic freedoms which the British government professes to export to places like Iraq and Afghanistan apply to us at home.
This is to put it blandly.
Let us, rather, listen to the brass ringing of Brian Haw’s own words, as he described to me, on 2 April, the significance of the government’s appeal to the High Court ruling which was scheduled to begin the following day. In response to my suggesting, then, that tomorrow was an important day for him, he replied:
"It’s an important day for our country, an important day for humanity, isn’t it? Because the story is, can one single person be outside the Parliament of genocidal Britain to speak his piece without having to get permission from the police? How about that? And to have permission to protest—does that sound right? There’s genocidal Britain and the United States of Assassins bringing freedom and democracy to the world, and now it comes down, finally, after nearly five years, if you please, five years."
When Mr Haw speaks of Britain and the United States in this way, he refers not to the people of these countries—the majority of whom, like Mr Haw, are against the ongoing war and occupation in Iraq—but to the governments of these two nations and their foreign policies, and the domestic policies which follow.
Finally, let us listen to, and weigh, the following words from Mr Haw, which also stem from our 2 April interview and speak not only to the policies of the United States, but to those of the United Kingdom as well:
"Can you imagine if they [America] gave instead of took from the world? Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the 1.3 trillion [dollars] squandered on weapons and arms when a mere 80 billion [dollars] is enough to provide for all the needs to food, health, clothing, education—all the needs of all the world’s poor? 80 billion. Can you imagine?
Come on, let’s have compassion! Let’s have bread instead of bombs!"
Brian Haw is due to appear at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court on Monday, 24 July at 10 a.m. for not complying with conditions placed by police on his demonstration, which now falls under SOCPA oversight. According to the Parliament Square Peace Campaign, Mr Haw’s supporters will join him at the Court.
Sean M. Madden is an American writer-journalist living in East Sussex, England. He may be reached via email@example.com, or via his weblog at iNoodle.com.