The anti-war movement in Britain lost one of its most dedicated, tenacious and courageous activists on 18 June 2011, when Brian William Haw lost his battle with lung cancer and passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 62, in Germany, where he was receiving medical treatment.
For nearly 10 years, since he had journeyed from his Worcestershire home to Parliament Square in Westminster on 2 June 2001, Brian had defied all attempts, from assaults by right wing thugs, who broke his nose on two occasions, to the full force of the state which introduced legislation specifically designed to evict him from the square, to stop his protest in solidarity with the people of Iraq and other victims of British imperialism, and his pointing an accusing finger at the criminals in the palace of Westminster who blessed and presided over the slaughter of millions in the Middle East.
Initially moved by the suffering imposed on the people of Iraq by the vicious sanctions regime, he began his protest with a banner reading “Stop Killing My Kids”. And, as the Guardian put it: “Soon, he was no longer protesting about sanctions, but against the build-up to the war in Iraq, then the war itself, and the occupation that followed. When he finally left the pavement in March 2011, he was still warning onlookers and passers-by of the effects of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.” (‘Brian Haw obituary – Peace campaigner of Parliament Square spurred to action over sanctions on Iraq’, 20 June 2011)
Announcing his death, members of his peace campaign wrote: “Brian showed great determination and courage during the many long hard years he led his peace campaign in Parliament Square, during which it is well documented that he was relentlessly persecuted by the authorities, which eventually took its toll on his health.
“Brian showed the same courage and determination in his battle with cancer. He was keenly aware of and deeply concerned that so many civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine did not have access to the same treatments that were made available to him. Parliament, the police, and courts should forever be ashamed of their disgraceful behaviour towards Brian.” (Quoted in ‘Brian Haw, veteran peace campaigner’, dies aged 62, Guardian, 19 June 2011)
Brian’s acute sense of justice was perhaps first ignited by the fact that his father had been one of the first British soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen death camp when it was liberated from the Nazis. According to Brian, it was the lasting impact of the scenes he encountered that led his father to commit suicide when Brian was age 13.
An early working life in the Merchant Navy helped forge Brian’s own empathy with the oppressed. Interviewed from his protest site in 2002, he recalled seeing Suez and Mumbai, noting, “and if those people were here now, they’d say: ‘Is all this pavement yours? You’re living like a king’.” (Quoted in ‘Brian Haw obituary’, op cit)
Haw’s tenacious protest was a thorn in the side of MPs and of the British state generally and they did their utmost to remove him. In 2002 Westminster City Council unsuccessfully took legal action aimed at removing him, but his greatest legal challenge came when, in November 2004, the Labour government announced provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police bill (sic), specifically designed to force his removal from the square. The legislation, which came into force in April 2005, curtailed the right to protest within one kilometre of parliament. This repressive legislation needs to be recalled when considering the British state’s alleged concern for the democratic rights of people in the Middle East, its hypocritical denunciations of alleged human rights abuses in socialist and anti-imperialist countries, and above all its genocidal wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, its support for the Israeli Zionists’ genocidal persecution of the Palestinian people, and its sabre-rattling against Syria and Iran.
However, it took more than an act of parliament to shift Brian Haw. In a stunning humiliation for the state, the high court ruled that his protest was not covered by the act, because it had begun before the legislation was passed and hence the question of applying for permission could not have arisen.
Brian Haw was a devout, lifelong Christian and it was his interpretation of his faith that led him to take the stand he did. His were essentially the actions of an individual. Unlike communists, he did not appreciate that it was the conscious and organised strength of the working class, along with its allies among the oppressed, that alone can affect real and lasting change, including ending the scourge of imperialist wars forever. But in his unyielding courage and unwavering dedication, Brian certainly put to shame the pusillanimous leaders of the Stop the War Coalition and the Troto-revisionist fraternity ‘enemy within’ the working class movement, whose undying loyalty to the imperialist Labour Party trumps their specious ‘anti-imperialism’ every time. Brian did not believe that you stopped imperialist war by re-electing the warmongers. He did not believe that you stopped imperialist war by safe, sterile, ineffective and occasional protest. He did not believe that you stopped imperialist war by criticising the oppressed, maligning their leaders and opposing their resistance.
The conscious and progressive working class movement will remember Brian Haw as a courageous and principled fighter against aggressive war, who dedicated every fibre of his being to his beliefs and who gave his life for them. The greatest tribute that can be paid to him is to intensify the struggle against imperialism and for the victory of all those fighting against it on the frontlines of Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere.
Lalkar extends its sincere condolences to Brian’s family, loved ones and friends.