To coincide with International Widow’s Day, Act Together – Women’s Action for Iraq organised on Friday a silent vigil outside London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, joined by numerous other groups including Stop the War Coalition, the Iraqi Women’s League, and the International Network of Contemporary Iraqi Artists (iNCiA).
The group of around 40 supporters was organised to raise awareness of the dire lack of support available to Iraq’s widows.
According to the group’s literature, citing “official and NGO sources”, more than 90 Iraqi women are widowed each day, though exact statistics are virtually impossible to obtain.
The vigil was specifically arranged to contrast with the carnival atmosphere of a free concert held only metres away in the shadow of Nelson’s Column.
The concert, organised by The Loomba Trust, a UK-based charity that supports the rights of widows, was backed by Cherie Blair, the wife of Tony Blair, the British prime minister.
Pachachi: British public need to
“We want to say [to Cherie Blair] you are speaking about widows internationally, but your husband is involved in the creation of more widows.”
Nadje Al-Ali, founding member of Act Together, told Aljazeera.net: “So we have a dignified, silent vigil while there’s this happy concert going on.”
Tony Benn, long-time campaigner for human rights and President of the Stop the War Coalition, also showed his support for the vigil.
“Every day in the British press we are told about crime and how you’ve got to deal with it,” he said “but the greatest crime of all is the crime committed by Britain and America in Iraq itself.”
Amidst the familiar placards and information leaflets, members of iNCiA provided a new take on the traditional demonstration sign.
Faisal Laibi and Rashad Selim, two prominent Iraqi artists living in London, contributed to a number of specially painted banners and large-scale works of art representing the horrors of the war, including a version of Picasso’s famous anti-war canvas Guernica reworked as Fellujah.
But while events like this continue throughout the UK, it is impossible to measure their influence, and anti-war groups such as Act Together still face many obstacles.
Their views clearly remain contentious on the streets of London: at one point, a passer-by loudly booed the assembled group.
Faisal Laibi, artist, helped in the
Al-Ali highlighted another difficulty: “One of the aims of this event was to bring together different Iraqi and non-Iraqi organisations because unfortunately, despite all the horrible things going on in Iraq, we tend not to work together.”
Ultimately, Iraqi society is still only a distant concern for much of Britain’s public, lamented Maysoon Pachachi, an Iraqi filmmaker and daughter of one-time head of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi.
“[This vigil] is trying to bring home to the British public that there are consequences of this war, not just what they see on TV,” she said.
“I think on the one hand, people are saturated with the images of explosions and political violence … behind all of that is the reality of every day life in Iraq which they don’t see, and it’s quite difficult to get people to be aware of that and to relate that to their own lives.”