This article was written for the Independent who then wouldn't print it.
It's now available with other interesting
The evidence mounts that some things aren't fair.
by Mark Steel
There's a trial currently taking place in Belfast, that seems to explain plainly how nothing makes any sense. It revolves around a factory owned by the arms company Raytheon, which was set up in Derry soon after the IRA ceasefire. John Hume, who'd just won the Nobel Peace Prize was among those who announced the opening of the plant, welcoming it as a result of the 'peace dividend'.
So at last, now the men of violence had agreed to give up their weapons, the area could attract a peaceful company with a turnover of seventeen billion dollars from making weapons. Clearly, all the while the IRA were decommissioning their arms, most of us misunderstood this process. Because the government reports must have gone "They possess 100 rifles, 10 RPG 7 rockets and a shed full of semtex. If they want to be taken seriously this isn't NEARLY enough; they need Tornado bombers and a car park full of tanks - we can't deal with these amateurs."
For example, when Raytheon won a contract to develop a new missile system for the Israelis in 2006, a spokesman boasted they would "Provide all-weather hit-to-kill performance at a tactical missile price." Next they might have adverts, that go "Hurry hurry hurry to the Raytheon springtime sale for lasers, tasers and civilian-erasers that will make flesh sizzle through snow, sleet or drizzle WITHOUT making a casualty of your wallet."
Despite this, the government in Northern Ireland welcomed the new plant, claiming they'd been assured it wouldn't be making weapons. To which a reasonable response would be 'Right - they're a weapons manufacturer - they supplied weapons to, amongst others, the Indonesian military junta - this might, if you were cynical, suggest they make weapons. Or what do you THINK they're going to be making - FAIRTRADE FUCKING CUSTARD!'
Eventually it was admitted they were making guidance systems for missiles, and so for a while there was a pretence these were being employed for peaceful reasons. Perhaps the systems were being attached to wasps so that a central controlling network could guide them away from picnics.
But then it became clear they were being used by the Israelis in Lebanon, and there was outrage in Derry when in 2006 one such system guided a missile into a block of flats in Qana, killing 28 people, mostly children. A few days later the local anti-war group, including the journalist and civil rights activist Eamonn McCann, decided to occupy the Raytheon building as a protest. A group of nine got into the plant, and as a gesture they threw a computer out of the window. Eventually around 40 police arrived and, as Eamonn describes "They smashed through the doors wearing riot gear, many holding perspex shields, some pointing plastic-bullet guns. They inched forward while the officer in command shouted 'surrender'. We continued playing cards."
And as I know Eamonn I can imagine him later that night in the police cell muttering "Tonight did not go as planned at all - I was SURE no one would beat my pair of queens."
Then came the official outrage - they'd wilfully broken the law, destroyed property etc. etc. So maybe whether an act of destruction is considered illegal or not comes down to the value of the objects destroyed. And computers are worth a fair packet, whereas a house in Qana can probably be picked up for next to nothing, especially with the current housing slump!
Perhaps the activists went about their protest in the wrong way. The more official approach might have been to leave Raytheon alone, but announce the local Co-op was making weapons. Then they could have produced a dossier to prove it, containing snippets from the internet about how the manager had been buying uranium from North Korea and smuggling it into the fridges in packets of fish fingers. Then they could have flattened the place, and when it turned out there never were any weapons they could have said it doesn't really make any difference.
Last year the group travelled to Qana to meet the families of the victims of that missile, and they described the trip, not surprisingly, as the most moving experience of their lives. But while it's all very well feeling compassion for dead civilians, someone has to consider the feelings of that poor computer, so this week their trial began, in a no-jury court in Belfast. Because opposing the bombing of civilians with missiles made as a result of a peace process can land you in jail, whereas organising international support for bombing those civilians gets you a job as peace envoy to the place that was bombed. It's obvious when you think about it.
I only hope that as the computer hit the ground, in its last moment it flickered 'You have performed an illegal operation'.