The Bishop of Stepney Rt Revd Adrian Newman on why he believes the upcoming arms fair is not appropriate


- Credit: Archant

If you visit the ancient church from which my episcopal area takes its name – St Dunstan’s, Stepney – you’ll find a wonderful, and unusual, East window. It depicts Christ crucified above a tableau of a blitzed East End of London.

This window is a vivid reminder of the vast payload of armaments that fell on homes and factories in our part of London in the Second World War.

How ironic to discover that we are due to host an international arms fair in the very heart of the area most affected by this in such recent living memory. DSEI bills itself as “the world’s largest fully integrated defence and security exhibition” and it takes place at ExCel from September 10-13.

I find myself very unsettled by this. Of course I understand that the Ministry of Defence needs to ensure that our armed forces are properly equipped; and I recognise that much of the equipment at ExCel is vital to medical and disaster relief. I know, and respect, many people who argue for a ‘legitimacy’ to arms production within a particular ethical framework (the so-called Just War). But it leaves me uncomfortable.

In my previous job, as Dean of Rochester, the cathedral was offered sponsorship by the main employer in the town – BAE Systems. It provoked a fascinating debate and in the end we declined because – however strong the arguments about employment, corporate responsibility and the significant proportion of civil and non-lethal goods produced by BAE Systems – at the end of the day it did not feel comfortable to align a house of prayer with a manufacturer of lethal weapons.

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There are similar issues in play here. ExCel makes a major contribution to the local economy, and no doubt the arms fair will boost this. But the ethics of arms production is messy, whether it’s to do with weapons sold to countries that abuse human rights, or the morality of drones, or simply the concern that there is already too much high explosive swirling around an over-violent world.

The East End gladly offers a home to refugees from many different countries fleeing violence. How do they feel about us hosting a fair which will perpetuate the violence from which they flee?

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And how do I feel about welcoming the arms fair to town? Not happy. It feels like the East End is turning in its grave.

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