Wednesday, 17 April 2013


This evening the Council of Faiths co-hosts an open meeting on Weapons of Mass Destruction at St Philip's Church Hall, Evington. This meeting is being held in association with St Philip's Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society and the Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group.

This is the fifth in a series of such meetings, on topics of interest to people from all sorts of communities across the city. I've posted on this blog about the three earlier meetings:
The speaker this evening is Bruce Kent, who is in Leicester today on the latest leg of his Scrap Trident Tour.

There are more than 60 people in attendance, though you could count those who are members of the Council of Faiths on the fingers of one hand. Most of the people here would appear to be drawn from local CND or Leicester Secular Society.

Bruce Kent (in that jumper) with Revd Sonya Brown
We are welcomed by Revd Sonya Brown, Curate at St Philips Parish Church. This is followed by an introduction by Revd Pete Hobson, Co-Chair of the Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group.

I've not attempted to make a full record of Bruce Kent's talk. His position on this topic is well known, to put it mildly. Here are a few points, however, that stuck out for me:
  • He emphasised that he is interested not so much in the elimination of nuclear weapons as in the elimination of war.
  • He discussed how the idea of Weapons of Mass Destruction have a history that goes much farther back than Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • He asserted that the moral and religious arguments are barely worth discussing - self-evidently against weapons of mass destruction.
  • He posited that the argument carrying most weight at the moment is the economic one - as a country, we cannot afford these weapons.

Daud Sameja, Co-Chair of the Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group, invites questions and comments from the audience. This part of the session lasts more than 45 minutes.

Suleman Nagdi makes a contribution that brings to mind a speech given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá almost exactly 100 years ago. This is entitled, "The Cruel Indifference of the People Towards the Suffering of Foreign Races", published in Paris Talks.

The question of how to reach young people with this message comes up early. Amongst a flurry of comments about how young people are apathetic and not informed or interested in big issues such as nuclear disarmament, I ask how many of us had seen Doctor Who this weekend. "Cold War" was set on board a Soviet nuclear submarine in 1983. While not especially strong on historical veracity (with a Martian Ice Warrior on board, threatening to set off the submarine's arsenal) but it certainly would have foregrounded the subject in the minds of its more than six million viewers, by far the majority of whom will have been children and young people. Only two of those present has seen it (just Pete Hobson and me); there was a kind of positive bafflement on many faces, that something unexpected has happened to increase young people's awareness - and, potentially, their interest - in this issue.

When I get to the front and take the microphone in my own right, to ask Bruce Kent what single thing has give him the greatest personal satisfaction during more than 25 years of campaigning. He has to rack his brains for an answer and when he does come up with one, it would appear to be a surprise to most of us here. He picks the honour paid to Franz Jägerstätter (who refused to serve in the army under Nazi rule) recently in Linz Cathedral, Austria.

While at the microphone, I mention that the one previous occasion I had met the speaker was in 1984, when he undertook a peace march from Faslane to Aldermaston. This started off near where I lived at the time, in Dumbarton, and I walked with Bruce Kent on the first day, from the nuclear submarine base (and peace camp) at Faslane to the town hall in Dumbarton, where there was a small civic reception. On that occasion, I presented him with a copy of The Promise of World Peace, which was only recently published and which we had a good record of distributing around the town and district.

At the end of the meeting this evening, a couple came up to me and said that they had organised that walk in 1984 and had done the whole route themselves, so we must have met on that day, 29 years before. Unfortunately for me (and for you, faithful reader), they were whisked away when my back was turned, so I managed to get neither a photograph nor their names.

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