two students on building holding banner "what is a university for?" "financing the arms trade"

Demilitarising Education and DSEI 2021

CAAT Universities Coordinator Malak Mayet explores how demilitarising education should be at the heart of our resistance to DSEI and all arms fairs.

Business as usual

After 18 months of failed lockdowns and the worst COVID death rate in the world, it’s back to business as usual for our government. This is the business of death, the business of social and climate destruction, the business of repression and division. This is DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International) arms fair.

As usual, arms companies are using this as an opportunity to groom STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students into joining the arms trade under the guise of ‘defence’ and ‘security’. And as usual, students were on the front line of dissecting this propaganda. Over the last 10 days, we’ve held workshops, conferences and actions; learnt from, cried with, and built community with each other against the arms fair.

The first DSEI, which happened in London’s Excel Centre, took place twenty years ago, on the same date the world witnessed the attack on the twin towers. The cruel irony of this overlap is that the arms trade contributed to the geopolitical catalyst that led to 9/11, and through the subsequent war on terror, which has seen to the deaths of millions of people, created an even greater number of refugees, led to the detainment and torture of thousands of innocent Muslims, and created the islamophobic surveillance state that has encroached on our civil liberties – the arms trade and profited through it all.

Also twenty years ago, we were told that by invading Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban, the West would be kept safe from terrorism. As we mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 this month and witness the cruel legacy of the occupation of Afghanistan on the news, I want us all to consider the role militarism has played in this continual suffering. Militarism does not keep us safe and does not make our world more secure. Make no mistake – working for an arms company does nothing but continue the violence, bloodshed, and chaos we’re currently witnessing in Afghanistan and many other places around the world.

Demilitarising Education

Higher Education institutions are often complicit in the violence of the arms trade. Take the University of Lincoln, exhibiting at DSEI this year, promoting the role of the arms trade in our education. This is why organisations like dED_ucation, Liberate the University, NUS, and of course, the CAAT Universities Network held a day of action for students against the arms fair outside the Excel centre. We discussed the effect militarism in education has on our communities, heard from various student groups on how they organise on campus, learned about the links between the marketisation and militarisation of HE, as well as learning about decolonising and demilitarising HE.

As well as this action, Conference at the Gates – CAAT’s student-focussed action against DSEI, went digital for the first time. As discussed earlier, the arms trade relies on scientific research and STEM graduates to build their weapons, but most liberation initiatives in education focus on the social sciences. This year, we focussed on understanding how STEM and healthcare education fits in with our vision for an accessible and liberated education and how that leads to a demilitarised, safer world.

From vaccination centre to weapons mall

Over the last few months, the Excel Centre has operated as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the local community. It is now housing technology aimed to kill, injure and surveil communities across the globe. This is a pertinent example of the politicisation of science and how technology that creates profit and prioritises corporate interests supersedes technology aimed to preserve life and ease suffering. And whilst the COVID-19 vaccine is a feat of medical technology, the major corporations creating the vaccines have refused to provide a licence to other countries, all in the Global South, to produce their own vaccines. How can science and medicine be politically neutral under capitalist and colonial hegemony?

Conference at the Gates Digital

To answer some of these questions, we had Myriam Kane, a disabled migrant activist, talk about the need for borderless solidarity and the strain the hostile environment has on the NHS. Out panel on decolonising and demilitarising STEM education had three speakers from the British education and healthcare system.

dED_ucation and Warwick Occupy provided actions on campus. We were also joined by rapper and activist Lowkey, who chatted to us about the role DSEI plays in destroying communities around the globe. If you missed it, our panel and keynotes will be available on our YouTube soon!

The arms fair is where war begins. But the fight against the arms trade is a daily struggle. After a COVID-induced hibernation, the CAAT Universities Network is back in full swing, and we’d love to organise with you. As campuses open up and universities return to ‘business as usual’, you can ensure that business no longer involves investing or promoting the arms trade. The resistance starts with you.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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