Solidarity with Ploughshares peace activists

Peace activists are planning a court support solidarity action with Jim and Franz Dowling, Tim Webb, and Andy Paine as the group faces court on July 19.

They will appear before the Brisbane magistrate’s court on charges related to the March 1 action in which a sword was removed from a war memorial and shaped into a gardening tool. The group are members of the Catholic worker movement.

Webb and Jim Dowling have admitted to the action, which they argue was justified. It is a symbolic reference to the religious prophecy about a coming time of peace and plenty when “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

They took the action at the beginning of Lent, a time of religious contemplation in the Catholic calendar, as a call for repentance and symbol of opposition to unjust wars, particularly those blessed or led by Christians.

The sword in question was attached to a cross at the entrance to the Toowong war memorial, where ANZAC memorial services were held before the new site in the Brisbane CBD was established in 1930.

Speaking to Green Left Weekly, media spokesperson for the group, Sean O’Reilly, said that as Christians, they objected to the “desecration” of the cross with a sword, and the “ongoing use of Christian symbols” as “churches allowed themselves to be co-opted into warmongering”.

“War has been ongoing since the initial invasion of Iraq in 1991, with no let up. There was low-level suppression of Iraq since then, with an economic blockade that led to the deaths of thousands of children. Then the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, followed by Iraq, and ongoing war in the Middle East. [We’re] in Syria now, and talking about sending more troops into Afghanistan. War keeps rolling on, with no public debate or discussion about it at any level in Australia. The government and Labor are not interested in discussing why we’re deploying troops into the Middle East and why we don’t know what they’re doing.

“There were revelations a few years ago of Australian troops’ involvement in the killing of civilians in Afghanistan, and only in the last week, the ABC revealed there’s a secret investigation underway [into] night raids killing civilians, [including] 5 children in one night. These tragedies were never investigated [at the time].”

O’Reilly praised Pope Francis’ outspokenness against war, adding, “If only our church leaders in Australia would follow his leadership, they would be condemning the deployment of troops into the Middle East and Afghanistan.”

In a media statement following the action, the Catholic Archdiocese distanced itself from the lay group, supporting police investigation into the action.

O’Reilly said they’ve written to the archbishop, who has so far made no response to their request for a meeting.

“We want to know why the church is silent,” said O’Reilly, who pointed out that on ANZAC Day, the church hosted soldiers with guns in the St Stephens Cathedral.

Media commentary surrounding the action has been hostile. The RSL denounced them as “low”, Brisbane Times called them “religious fanatics”, and the Brisbane Lord Mayor called the protest act “vandalism” and said the council would be seeking the court to order the group to pay costs for restoring the monument.

According to O’Reilly, the group offered to raise funds for the repair of the monument if the sword was not put back on the cross, but council “declined the offer” and have spent $19,000 (including $10,000 to forge a new sword).

In a media statement at the time of the action, Jim Dowling said he would “willingly accept any consequences of this call to repentance”. With a suspended sentence in relation to an earlier protest at the Gallipoli memorial at Enoggera, Dowling potentially faces imprisonment.

Supporters of their stand can gather at 8:15am on July 19 at the Roma St forum and walk together to the magistrates court. Some supporters will be going inside, while others will remain outside in a solidarity vigil.

Catholic Worker is a movement based on the core principles of activism, environmental consciousness, hospitality, living simply in voluntary poverty and living in intentional community.

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