A Tribute to Brian Haw, 07/01/49 – 18/6/2011
Firstly, let me start by apologising to my regular (after a whole four articles!) readers for the gap since the last post. I could spout a hundred reasons why it’s taken so long, and none of them would interest any of you much, but to be blunt I’ve bigger fish to fry tonight. It’s not often that in this society of indifference I am moved to sadness reading a newspaper article, but a few days ago while fellow blogger Jody Ruth and the rest of the world were reeling in shock over the tragic passing of Ryan Dunn from Jackass, a tear came to my eye as I read of the passing of Brian Haw.
It came as no real surprise to me that upon mentioning this to a lot of my friends, the standard response was ‘who the hell is Brian Haw?’. Unless you follow British current affairs and politics its hardly surprising he slipped under your radar, but despite the fact that other more established WordPress bloggers have already covered his demise I felt I had to add my own little piece to educate some of you as to who he was and why his death made me well up.
In a nutshell, Brian Haw was a focal point for the anti-war campaigning and peace protesting in the UK, and since 2001 has lived in a make-shift camp situated in Parliament Square, London, just a stone’s throw away from where our politicians decide our futures. Initially, his protest began against the foreign policies of the United Kingdom and the United States in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, focusing on the horrific impact of military and economic sanctions on the children and innocents in those countries.
An Evangelical Christian, Haw’s father was one of the first soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camps towards the end of the Second World War, and the sights he saw led to him taking his own life some twenty years later. Born in Essex, Haw had a series of regular jobs, but his faith led him to seek out the suffering of others and prior to his establishing himself opposite Westminster he had been present in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and had visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Having worked for a while in Redditch alongside ‘troubled’ youngsters, as well as caring for his own wife and seven children, he was so incensed by the agression of western political policies he left his own family and began his campaign to draw public attention to the issue. He was quoted at the time as saying:
“I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again, knowing that I’ve done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my Government’s unjust, amoral, fear- and money-driven policies…..These children and people of other countries are every bit as valuable and worthy of love as my precious wife and children.”
Desperately unpopular with our government, from the moment he first pitched his threadbare tent outside the seat of UK government he maintained a 24-hour vigil constantly for TEN YEARS, leaving the site only to attend court appearances that might have led to his removal in his absence. So dedicated to his mission was he that he refused to leave even to buy food, living off of donations from visitors and well-wishers. His placards and stark images of the horrors of War covered a multitude of subjects from child injuries to the effect of British and American use of Depleted Uranium weapons and their damage to civilian populations (a stand well justified, with young mothers in areas such as Fallujah now being advised not to have children because of the high likelihood of significant deformity at birth.)
Repeated attempts by the local council and Parliament itself to have him removed were unsuccessful, although he was restricted on the times he was allowed to use his famous bullhorn which he used to loudly decry Members of Parliament in their nearby offices.
In November 2004 Ministers announced provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill that were widely believed to be specifically aimed at removing Haw from Parliament Square.
The legislation, passed in April 2005, restricted the right to protest in designated areas within 1km (about half a mile) of the Houses of Parliament, however Haw applied to the law courts for exemption on the grounds that his protest had begun before the Bill was passed. He won, but the government took him to appeal court where the initial ruling was partially overturned, and he was forced to apply to police for permission to continue his protest. This permission was granted, but imposed conditions limiting his protest area to 3m high and wide by 1m deep.
Sadly, many others chose less statute-bound methods to express their opposition to his views, and Haw was repeatedly attacked and beaten for his no holds barred stance. Drivers were observed by a journalist from The Independant slowing down to hurl abuse and missiles at him as they drove past, and the government never ceased its attempts to silence and/or remove him. Yet despite the humiliations and tribulations he suffered, he never gave up his vigil for one single moment. Some might say I’m a cynic for noting that the last time Haw was arrested was at 8:30am on the morning of the 25th of May 2010 – the day England saw the official State Opening of Parliament under our current Conservative/Liberal coalition government.
Tragically, in September of 2010 Haw was diagnosed with agressive lung cancer, exacerbated by a decade of cold wet vigil, poor diet and physical abuse. Becoming too ill to remain, he was taken to Germany for treatment in January of this year, and sadly succumbed to the disease just a few short days ago.
Far from being just one strange guy with a bullhorn, his death was marked with tributes from many political figures, artists and media figures. He had his protest camp reproduced as a piece of art by Turner prize winner Mark Wallinger, and in 2007 was voted by Channel 4 as Most Inspiring Political Figure. But far more than this, in a British culture that has increasingly become largely indifferent to our motivations and reasons for military intervention on foreign soil, Brian Haw stood tall and proud and dared to call our government to give an account of itself to the people. As I once stated in a reply to another blog, the SocialAssassin normally steers clear of politics on this site simply because of its highly inflammatory nature, and a wish not to get bogged down in endless rhetoric over my political views. Thank heaven then for true British heroes like Brian Haw, who still have the balls to stand up and take the fight to the powers-that-be on our behalf. If his immense personal sacrifice doesn’t stand as an example to us all………..well, God help us.
R.I.P. Brian Haw, 07/01/1949 – 18/06/2011.