Thank you for this opportunity to speak. I am a Baptist church minister in a parish in Coburg, where we try to live simply and lovingly together, and I work for Urban Seed, an organisation in Melbourne’s CBD which provides hospitality and connection to homeless and other marginalised people. I’m married to Julie and we have three young kids. I did not take this step lightly.
I have been doing what I can to stand against this war for years now. We have signed petitions, written letters, held information nights, done public vigils and organised demonstrations. But in the face of a ten year war which according to our Prime Minister will go on for at least another ten years, I had to ask myself, is that all I am willing to do? Is stopping there an abdication of my responsibilities as a human being and certainly as a follower of Jesus?
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
“There is nothing wrong with a traffic law which says you have to stop for a red light. But when a fire is raging, the fire truck goes right through that red light, and normal traffic had better get out of the way. “
What is happening in Afghanistan is not just an emergency, it’s a full scale disaster.
War and violence cannot create the conditions of trust and cooperation that any country needs in order to be peaceful and secure. Only active nonviolent love has the capacity to transform the fear that lies behind wars and that is why we chose it as the means of our resistance. We were entirely open with the police and military about what we were going to do. That nonviolent discipline led to a significant relationship of trust being built with police over the week we were there.
Please understand this is not merely an intellectual or ideological exercise for me. Earlier this year I travelled to Afghanistan to spend time with the people there, and to understand what they want for their country. I spent time with with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a courageous group of Afghan nonviolent peacemakers. They are not only working to end the war, but to teach fellow Afghans and the world that the only way to peace is through actively loving those you oppose. And that means listening, and speaking truthfully, and acting truthfully, even when it might be controversial or costly. I have sat with 15 year old Abdulai who told me he spends every night crying at the trauma this war has caused him and his family, with 22 year old Faiz whose brother was murdered right in front of him. And I’ve sat with 15 year old Zikhrullah who lives with the daily terror of never knowing if a US helicopter gunship or unmanned aerial drone will come out of nowhere and kill him or his family. Afghans have had enough of violence and we continue to force it on them by our military presence there.
I believe any law which stands in the way of those who seek to end this war through nonviolent means is unjust, particularly after all legal means have been exhausted. I accept the penalty of that law willingly.
I went to Swan Island because it is one practical, identifiable part of the machinery behind this war. I climbed the fence and attempted to block the gate because it is one practical, identifiable way that I could put myself in the way of the war being conducted.
And so I’m guilty, not only of breaking this law but more importantly of not doing enough to end this war, not being at Swan Island every day, every week, every month until this war is over. Of that, I’m truly guilty.
I do need to be honest and say I cannot in good conscience pay a fine into the general fund, as that money may go towards paying for further military engagement. My family and I deliberately live a simple life, under the tax-free threshold in order to not pay for war. I also cannot honestly sign a good behaviour bond, as I would not want to give an undertaking I could not honestly keep. As long as this war goes on, I need to be free to resist it. I would, however, pay a fine to a charitable organisation, particularly one which is trying to help the Afghan people, such as the Red Cross or the Mahboba’s Promise orphanage, which I visited while in Afghanistan, if you deem that appropriate. But obviously I leave that in your hands.
I guess I’m saying is that, with respect, there is no deterrence value to any punishment you might give me. I intend to continue this course as long as war continues.