Protesters call out the DSEI arms fair’s ‘disgusting display of inhumanity’

UK Troops in Afghanistan 2010
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Wednesday 8 September was the third day of direct action against the DSEI arms fair in East London.

DSEI – which is due to take place next week at the ExCeL centre in London’s docklands – is one of the world’s largest arms fairs. People have set up a protest camp outside the main Gate of ExCeL to try to obstruct those setting up the arms fair.

On 7 September, Shabbir Lakkha gave this speech calling out the DSEI arms fairs complicity in the two decade long war in Afghanistan.

Coming almost 20 years on from East London’s first DSEI arms fair – which kept on going despite the 9/11 attacks – we thought it was worth publishing his speech here:

[The current situation is the] product of 20 years of the brutal and catastrophic war, that the US, that our country, that NATO has engaged in. And that is why we’re here today, really, to oppose this disgusting display of inhumanity at the ExCeL centre.

Because in the last 20 years, the United States dropped over 300,000 bombs on Afghanistan, including the so-called crudely named mother of all bombs. And these were dropped on schools, on funerals on weddings or marketplaces, at least 70,000 civilians were killed. And this number is likely to be far higher, because during Obama’s presidency, they were describing any male between 18 and 65 in a combat zone, in a strike zone, as a ‘combatant’, thereby not counting them as civilians. So the toll has been really, really high. And this is the reality of what Western war does, how little it achieves apart from killing scores of people, destroying huge swathes of the country. And in the end, what they’ve done is made the Taliban stronger than they were in 2001. And they’ve allowed groups like ISIS to take hold in the country.

“every bomb dropped on an Afghan village was money in their pockets”

This Western imperialist project that’s caused so much death and destruction is what the DSEI arms fair has been an integral part of. In these last 20 years, companies like BAE Systems, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and others have seen their profits soar. Every bomb dropped on an Afghan village was money in their pockets. These are the murderers who will be in the ExCeL centre, selling their death machines. And places like Afghanistan, like the Gaza Strip, like Somalia, are used by these arms dealers for testing and promoting their weapons.

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Inside the arms fair, they proudly boast about the weapons that have been so-called battle tested. And these same arms companies are also supplying the technology that is being used to fortify borders to stop refugees from getting to Europe. So, they profit from creating the refugees and then they profit from stopping them reaching safety. And even now, our politicians – the neo-conservative establishment of which the arms industry is entirely intertwined with – are trying to manipulate the truth and claim that the war was the right decision, that it was moral. That it’s only the withdrawal that has been catastrophic. These people continue to believe or at least want to make us believe that the only way to help people is to bomb them.

“They want to pretend like the war had anything to do with protecting women or their rights”

They want to pretend like the war had anything to do with protecting women or their rights. You know, because the way to safeguard women is to bomb them! We have to say categorically ‘no’ to these backwards measures [that have] already cost so many lives and caused untold destruction and devastation in Afghanistan, in Libya and Syria, in Iraq and Palestine and Somalia. Their bombs don’t keep anyone safe… And if these people really cared about Afghan people, they wouldn’t deport 30,000 Afghan refugees in the last 10 years. The British government has spent millions on charter flights to send Afghan children back to Afghanistan.

“create safe routes for refugees”

Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, she went to court to fight the blanket ban on sending Afghan refugees back, and she won. And she claimed Afghanistan was a safe country to send Afghan refugees to, and it was her that spent £4 million on building a – so-called – reintegration Centre in Kabul to make it easier particularly to send children back. If this government wants to help the people who are now scared for their lives with the Taliban back in power – and we have to insist that they do whether they want to or not – what they need to do is create safe routes for refugees.

The number of 5000 is not enough, the number of 20,000 over five years is not enough, they must open the borders and let them in now.

I just want to make a couple of other quick points about the war in Afghanistan and the arms industry. Because we’ve spent the last 10 years being told that we needed austerity because there was no money. At least 120,000 people were killed directly because of the cuts made to public services and welfare. Our NHS was decimated and left wholly unprepared for the pandemic, which cost another 150,000 lives. But – all the while – their magic money tree never saw very fruitful war. The UK spends at least 40 billion pounds on Afghanistan alone. The US spends $2.2 trillion and the vast majority of this money was spent on military spending. A huge bulk of which went directly into the coffers of the crooks behind there [in the ExCeL centre]. And this is exactly what is still happening.

The Tories will be increasing national insurance that will be used to affect the poorest workers the hardest, will be ending the Universal Credit uplift, they aren’t giving nurses a fair pay rise, they’re ending the furlough scheme. And meanwhile they increase defence spending by 16.5 billion pounds, they committed more money to the already £200 billion price tag of renewing the Trident nuclear missile system. And they’re spending millions on sending the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier with its flotillas in the South China Sea to ratchet up tensions with China. And all of this while our planet is literally on fire from climate breakdown, of which these weapons are a massive contributor. The US military is the single biggest polluter in the world. And the skills of 1000s of workers that could be used for green jobs – to produce renewable technology – are instead being wasted on producing instruments of death. So all these things are connected. And the war economy, the role of the arms dealers, and Western imperialism is at the heart of it.

We need united movements

We need a concerted, united movement that bring together all these different strands of opposition against this bankrupt system. And let’s not forget, that it is Priti Patel who is causing this suffering, [who is] stopping Afghan refugees from coming to this country and – at the same time – also spearheading the [Policing Bill]… to limit our ability to protest.

What all that means for us is that we need to keep protesting because from here on out, every protest that we have, is a direct defiance of this authoritarian legislation.

I just want to say big up to all of you for being out here solidarity, to your solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Let’s keep protesting. Let’s keep building this movement.

Featured image via Flickr/Resolute Support Media

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Get involved

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  • Check out Phoenix Media Co-op’s coverage of the protests so far

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