The Natural History Museum is not the most obvious place to have an anti-arms trade protest – but then again it’s not the most obvious place to have the official welcome reception for an arms fair either. Yet it was under ‘Dippy’, the Museum’s famous diplodocus, that delegates from Farnborough International were to be found nibbling canapes and ‘networking’ on the evening of Monday 9 July.
Although best known for its Airshow, the main purpose of Farnborough International is its combined arms fair and civil aerospace exhibition. Nine of the world’s top ten arms companies were exhibiting this year; the catalogue listed 46 ‘missiles systems’ companies.
Rosoboronexport, the main arms supplier to Syria, had a major presence at the show, despite international calls for those supporting the Assad regime to be isolated. The UK government refused to act to stop the company exhibiting.
Instead, the government’s efforts were focused on courting their own invite list of human rights abusers. Delegations invited by the UK included Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Libya (below). We’d love to know what was in their goody bags…
David Cameron was there to help the arms sales effort. It seems our Prime Ministers are never very far away from BAE…
We were horrified that the Natural History Museum – an institution that is supposed to be a celebration of life – would allow its good name and its facilities to be used for an event that Farnborough’s organisers had described as the “most important” of the week.
A busy Sunday afternoon in the Museum, the day before the reception, was enlivened by a banner drop, although Museum staff seemed reluctant to explain to curious visitors what it was all about.
Luckily, there were plenty of people – and dinosaurs – the next day to make sure both staff and visitors were well-informed.
We had some of the best (worst?) slogans you could wish for … and as for the chants … well, I’ll let you make up your own mind…
“1,2,3,4! We love the dinosaur! 5,6,7,8! It’s the arms trade that we hate! ”
As the museum prepared to close, CAAT delivered a letter from eminent scientists and others condemning the decision to host the reception and urging that the museum sever all links with the arms trade. Darwin looked a bit disappointed too.
We were told that the Museum’s Director would consider the letter and the other feedback in a meeting the following morning. We await the response eagerly! Thanks to the friendly staff members that wished us luck.
Protesters from Stop the Arms Fair were also there to greet arms dealers as they arrived for the reception. As military delegations rolled up every minute or two, escorted by staff from the UK government’s very own arms sales unit, there was no doubt that this was an arms fair. There’s also no doubt that campaigners will be there to resist it, for as long as they need to.
- Read articles in the Independent, Telegraph or listen to Radio 4’s World Tonight’s coverage (from 00.19).
- Raise your concerns with Dr Michael Dixon, Director, by post at Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD, or by email: m.dixon(at)nhm*ac*uk.
- Comment on the Director’s blog