Swan Island 9 Court Appearance
Today I appeared at the Geelong Magistrates Court to answer for the crimes of (1) hindering police in their duty, and (2) blocking a road. The road happened to be the entrance to the military base at Swan Island, Queenscliff. Along with 8 others (hence the ‘9’), I was attempting to draw attention to Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, and to make public my opposition to it.
I didn’t do this lightly, and had wrestled with both the idea of getting arrested, and with my convictions about war and violence. But us thinkers need to bite the bullet sometimes (not a very nonviolent metaphor, is it!), and do something, even when all the questions don’t have satisfactory answers.
We were arrested, and had our day in court today. We pleaded guilty to the offences. The magistrate found the charges to be proven, but did not record a conviction, and chose to dismiss the charges, and chose not to give us a punishment. It’s the legal equivalent of saying, “I know you did something wrong, but I like it!”. One of our number did receive a good behaviour bond (as a repeat offender) but still was not convicted.
Before we were sentenced, the magistrate allowed us to say a bit about why we broke the law. I hesitate to put my statement out there, because of 2 reasons: (1) There is a lot of misplaced talk of ‘heroism’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘inspirational’ applied to people who commit civil disobedience. I think it’s unwarranted unless the person is at real risk of jail time or harm. I am at risk of neither, nor do I like words like ‘heroic’ being applied to me; (2) the other reason is that I have a small, but significant profile in the Christian community of Bendigo. In smaller places, news that someone has been arrested spreads fast and can dent one’s reputation. Not that I care overly about my reputation, but if people are going to criticise me, then I’d rather they would do it from the basis of fact.
Please contact me to argue, disagree, converse etc. It’s what I love doing and I don’t mind talking about the tensions and difficulties in living out the good news of Jesus Christ.
This is what I had to say:
Your Honour knows from your records that in 2002, I was taken to court for refusing to vote in the 2001 Federal Election. I did so because of my belief that our political system tends to marginalise the powerless, and as a Christian I felt I needed to stand against it. I still think our political system is deeply flawed, but I now believe that I need to participate in it to reform it. So this year I voted in 2 elections…though their ambiguous results have hardly inspired me.
But that is what my actions at Queenscliff were basically about. I acted as a Christian citizen of a democracy. My trust in Jesus Christ inspires me to participate in our democracy for the sake of peace and justice. I can do this through voting, but I also take part in my community’s activities, and through my paid job as a youth worker. Political involvement means more than the ballot.
And when our government insists on fighting an unwinnable, immoral and unjust war, then we need to act. When our Prime Minister commits to another decade in Afghanistan, even though the war’s original reasons have been lost in the crippling need to appear resolute, then we need to voice our opposition forcefully. We have shown that such opposition can be done peacefully, and non-violently.
This war won’t root out terrorism: the war against terrorism needs to be fought with the weapons of peace or not fought at all. Using the violence of armies to extinguish the violence of small groups will only result in the proliferation of terrorism. We are already seeing that as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most Australians implicitly realise that the Afghanistan war will not solve terrorism. And a majority of us want our nation to withdraw. As a citizen, I want to participate in the democratic process to persuade my government that their actions are wrong. Drawing attention to the secretive Swan Island military base is part of that persuasion.
Your Honour, my Christian beliefs inspire me to advocate for a just peace. I was often told as a child that that Australia is founded on Judeo-Christian values. I sincerely hope that it is, and those values would include those of Jesus Christ, who advocated loving our enemies and refusing to take revenge.
Jesus continued in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, who called the leaders of their day to justice and mercy. And that is what I call our leaders to today – to forgo revenge, to love mercy and do justice by withdrawing our soldiers from Afghanistan.