Throughout history there have been a variety of reasons why people choose to fast and a variety of ways of doing it.
Some fasts include just cutting one or some foods from your diet but not everything, some fasts occur only during daylight hours, some fasts include only drinking liquids but not eating solid food and the most complete version of the fast is declining to eat all foods for a period of time, in this only water and salt are consumed for the preservation of life.
The fast I have chosen is pretty much the final one, for one week I am having nothing but water and a few times a day I’m mixing this with rehydration sachets (the kind you have when you have diarrhoea) to keep me going to work and looking after the kids etc.
The trigger for me choosing to do this was the vote, at 5pm last Friday (26/09/14) over the decision whether or not the UK should join the coalition, led by the USA, to bomb targets in Iraq with the aim of defeating the group ISIS. I decided a day beforehand that if this vote went in favour of taking such action that I wouldn’t eat for a week. I didn’t really know why I was making the decision to do it at the time, apart from being pissed off by the whole thing and knowing that there was little I could do to change what was happening. I have now had time to reflect more on the 'why?' and have some answers below.
Why was I so against such actions?
Philosophical/ theological reasons
Primarily for the reason that I am resolutely against all war and violent conflict, because I don’t believe that it is possible to solve anything this way. Arising from my Christian faith is a simple belief that transcends the whole question of whether actions in themselves are intrinsically right or wrong or whether it is the likely consequences of an action that make it the right choice or wrong choice. Right actions produce right consequences and wrong actions produce wrong consequences, God has created the universe in such a way that the two are linked. Violently attacking other people is wrong and therefore as a Christian I can say, with all confidence, that it will produce the wrong results. Who decides the rightness and wrongness of the results of an action? God does, but God has given us a brain. I don’t believe that it is the intention that Christians make timeless, context-less statements, like the above, alone. I believe that we must make a case, particularly for those who don’t share our faith but also for those who do but are not seeing clearly.
Terrorists or freedom fighters or both?
The facts of the situation are that ISIS does not have a large amount of fighters, at present on the news they are reporting anywhere between 7,000 and 30,000. They are currently occupying an area which is roughly the size of Britain. It is an uncomfortable truth that despite their clear barbaric intolerant nature ISIS have a sufficient level of support amongst the people who live in this area to maintain it. ISIS are a Sunni Muslim group in a majority Shiite nation, Sunni’s in Iraq have been marginalised and oppressed, along with other groups such as Christians and minority sects. The national government, put in place and maintained by the western powers who invaded and destroyed the country about 10 years ago have been no different. ISIS is a response to this, it is a retaliation by oppressed people against oppressors. That doesn’t mean that I support ISIS, that’s just what it is. Their treatment of women, religious minorities, hostages and their attempt to impose radical Islamic Sharia law on the area the hold prevents me from lending any level of support, but facts are facts, ISIS are freedom fighters, in their own eyes and in the eyes of many of those whose land they are occupying.
ISIS are not a conventional western style army, they do not have army bases and airports for us to bomb, they exist amongst the civilians there and the line between civilian and militant is blurred, this is probably the reason for the lack of certainty western intelligence people have over the true numbers of militants being faced. Bombing then, therefore, will be difficult. Anyone who suggests that it will be possible to carry out airstrikes in this area with the intention of taking out ISIS and not destroy infrastructure, housing and kill innocent civilians is deluded, it will happen and it will severely piss people off. This will almost certainly lead to more radicalisation, more hate and ultimately more people choosing to fight with ISIS and other terrorist organisations. Apart from the fact that killing civilians and destroying infrastructure in a poor country is, of course, wrong in itself, it clearly isn’t a very good plan in the long term.
Ulterior motives of those who push us towards war
Many of those people who want war in this region stand to benefit or have close connections with people who stand to benefit. The main two industries which do well from Middle Eastern war are arms dealing and oil.
Arms dealing is big business, arms dealers in the west, including the UK, have flooded this part of the world with weapons. ISIS and other terrorist groups do not have weapons factories, their guns and landmines and whatever else they use don’t fall down from heaven. Weapons are sold to a number of Arabic states who support ISIS on some level, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, many of their weapons will have come from there. Many more will have come from arming the Iraqi national army, which ran and dropped their weapons in the face of ISIS attacks. Arms dealers like war because it is the primary cause of demand for their products even if ISIS’s weapons are obtained indirectly. People who are connected to people who make these decisions will push us to fight instead of enacting an arms embargo which is the obvious solution simply because that isn't in their interest.
Oil is another factor. Its common knowledge that oil is big, big business and people have long suspected a tendency for western powers to be quicker to jump into a fight in a nation where there is a lot of oil than one with no desirable resources. I can’t say I fully understand the whole situation with regards to oil but I know the basics: ISIS already have control of some oil refineries, they are already selling it to Syria, they will not be likely to conduct any trade of the oil they have in a way which is favourable to the west, they will not make transactions in dollars and they will not be pressured into supplying it cheap. This isn't a good thing for western capitalists making billions from oil and so the drive to fight ISIS and get them out of there is being made by them too.
If one was to believe in the legitimacy of the state but was against war I think one would be pushing for an arms embargo, more effective national aid to rebuild Iraq after we destroyed it, facilitating peace talks in Syria and negotiating settlements. I do not recognise the legitimacy of any states and on an individual level the realistic alternatives are limited to giving to charities which are known to operate in affected areas. So what are my big solutions?
I propose that the oil underneath Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people and most specifically to those who work to extract it, if they choose to extract it. It is not owed to the west and if it is to be sold to the west then trade should be conducted on both an entirely free and entirely fair basis. Corporate welfare for big oil, which includes everything from tax breaks and subsidies to the exercise of the eminent domain powers of states to seize land for refineries and pipelines to wars that are fought on their behalf must stop.
I also put forth that the west owes a very significant debt to the people of the Middle East, not as aid but as compensation. They have been robbed both of their resources and their countries have been destroyed as well as millions killed. Massive compensation is owed by western governments, (enough to bankrupt them hopefully). This should be paid in the form of direct payments to individuals, not to armies and NGOs and other people who will waste it on paying themselves. This should come with a grovelling apology.
Finally I propose that peaceful solutions and education should be promoted and talked about, the marginalisation of oppressed communities in the Middle East has resulted in them being vulnerable to indoctrination by people who prey on them for their own gain. Terrorism does not thrive amongst people who feel included, amongst people who are educated, amongst people who are enjoying a good quality of life and have little conflict with others. Individuals from all parts of the world who feel they are in a position to should help to try to spread a message of peace and conflict resolution, particularly to these areas which have suffered so much trauma.
What do I hope to achieve?
Having now had a chance to reflect on what I'm doing here is the point:
Fasting for a specific purpose, as opposed to involuntary starvation, has been undertaken to various ends for thousands of years. In the ancient world where hospitality was considered very important people who had been wronged were known to sit on the doorsteps of someone who had wronged them and ask for justice, saying that they would not leave or eat until they got it. Allowing someone to starve to death on your doorstep was unthinkable, the issue would then be brought to some kind of court or gathering for discussion. One of my reasons, which reflects this in a way, is to highlight an injustice and bring attention to it for the purpose of bringing this war before court of public opinion in a more just, fairer and more truthful way than it has been so far.
In the Catholic Church fasting is often done as a form of penitence. Whether I like it or not I have been complicit in this system. My taxes are used to fund the war and I am one of many who benefit from the results of it; wealth for western people (particularly capitalists but some is thrown to the people too) and poverty for Middle Eastern people. I am sorry that I have been complicit in this and whilst I am not in much of a position to stop being complicit in it I am doing this as a sign that I resent that.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church fasting is often something done to improve personal discipline and guard against gluttony. My tenancy towards gluttony isn’t really a focus here, although it is real! I do like the idea of fasting improving personal discipline though. I’d like to think that the discipline that I am learning from refusing to eat for a week will also be able to be put to other uses, particularly in the struggle against global corporate capitalism, oppressive government, war and social hierarchy.
In summary I want to achieve more attention for the facts surrounding this latest attack on the Iraqi people, I want to publically display my regret at being complicit and resentment at not being able to do much about that and finally I want to learn some discipline for the wider struggle.
I write this on the third day of my fast, I have four more to go. It has been difficult, my head has ached, my concentration has been lacking, I felt faint once or twice and to be honest the thought of going the rest of the week without eating is actually quite a scary one, I’ve never attempted anything remotely like this, and I’ve barely even skipped a meal before now. It isn’t a fun thing to do, it certainly isn’t something I’m doing to draw attention to myself, it simply wouldn’t be worth doing for that, I’d much rather the food than any attention on me but I felt this was the right thing to do and I’m sticking with it. I decided to write this up and share it on the basis that part of the point was to get attention for the cause, whilst it makes me uncomfortable talking at length about myself and something I'm doing it just has to be done.