Premier League 1914-1918

This post was written by Salman Shaheen on September 11, 2009
Posted Under: Afghanistan,Anti-War,Charity,Features,International

“…how can you be so short-sighted to look never further than this week or next week, to have no impossible dream?”

- Che Guevara in Evita

Peace_DaySeptember 11th. It’s a date that conjures up memories and few of them good. It was, after all, the historic day that Salvador Allende fell to the 1973 CIA backed coup that kicked off Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. Not to mention the little known event of 2001 that concluded the brief period beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in which many in the West could quite easily have deceived themselves into thinking that history had all but ended and that Pax Americana would relegate global conflicts to periphery schisms. Such fanciful thoughts in the post-9/11 world seem the stuff of naïve hopes and dreams. But there’s another day of note in this most infamous of months. September 21st is the UN’s annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence. And it all began with one man, one telephone and a few naïve hopes and dreams.

That man is British filmmaker Jeremy Gilley who, in 1999, began a campaign with a title as simple as its vision. The Peace One Day campaign sought to fix in the international calendar an annual day of ceasefire and non-violence on September 21st. One day in which the world would put down its weapons and, like the British and German soldiers kicking a football across no man’s land on Christmas Eve 1914, attempt to reach a common understanding.

Doing what comes naturally to a filmmaker, Gilley documented his journey from its humble beginnings amongst students and activists, though its peaks and pitfalls, its missteps and its forward steps to its emergence on the global stage. Recording his meetings with world leaders, politicians, religious authorities, activists, Nobel Peace Laureates and, dare I say, the odd celebrity here and there, he used his film to promote his cause amongst the world’s most influential people. And on September 7th 2001, when the 192 member states of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution to establish September 21st as the official annual day of global ceasefire, it seemed Gilley had won his case.

Jeremy Gilley meets the Dalai Lama

Four days later, the twin towers fell and one month to the day after the resolution was passed, the bombing of Afghanistan began. It was a crushing blow to Gilley. Suddenly, the periphery schisms had become conflicts of the core and the possibility of peace appeared more elusive than ever before. History, it seemed, was far from over. But like history, the story of Gilley’s campaign, the story of peace on Earth, is one without an ending. For two years Peace One Day had campaigned tirelessly to establish one day of peace and that was the easy part. With the resolution passed and the world at war, the most monumental task still remained. To let the world know.

I first heard about Peace One Day when I watched Gilley’s film on September 21st 2004. And although it has always seemed to me an improbable cause, perhaps even an impossible dream, I continue to believe that one more person aware of the significance of that day is one more step, no matter how small, towards a goal for which we should all strive. Just one day of peace, after all, allows humanitarian aid to be delivered and lives to be saved in the calm before the storm resumes. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. There’s Chris Martin for a start. And Jimmy Cliff and Dave Stewart. Throw in Annie Lennox, Badly Drawn Boy and Corinne Bailey Rae, and it’s a veritable ABC of celebrity, all helping to spread the word in the form of song through packed out concerts.

Coca-CampaigningTurning crucial issues into a celebrity circus can be a double-edged sword. Whilst giving them short-term prominence, it risks, in the long-run, downplaying or diluting the efforts of millions of activists who are still campaigning when the dust has settled. Poverty, after all, is not history, even though the media has moved on. But, with over 100 million people in every country in the world taking part in activities to mark the day in 2007, this is one campaign that truly seeks to engage every single person on the planet. This month, as Coca Cola ships out over a million unique Peace One Day cans to customers across the UK, urging them to think while they drink, the cause has truly entered the mainstream.

“This activity is really going to help us drive awareness and challenge people to think about what they are going to do on Peace Day,” says Gilley.

To date, as Peace One Day approaches its 10th anniversary, no government has signed a ceasefire on September 21st. But work by activists has already made a difference to people’s lives. Last year, 1.6 million children in Afghanistan were vaccinated against polio on Peace Day. Of course, it’s just a start and dreams like this do not offer easy ex machina means to right the wrongs of the waking world. Afghanistan remains a divided country, occupied by foreign forces, rife with conflict, poverty and corruption. Peace alone is not enough. For Marx, just as class conflict arises because of exploitative relations of production, conflicts between nations arise because of exploitative relations between rich and poor countries. Once the workers of the world had settled accounts with their own bourgeoisies, so the theory goes, such international disputes would, in turn, be settled. This is, naturally, too simplified an account for our modern, globalised, disjunctive world. However, a key point remains and it is one best phrased by soundbite stalwart Martin Luther King who said that: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” As long as there is injustice, occupation, exploitation and imperialist aggression, peace will remain elusive.

Achieving lasting peace, then, can never simply be about a single day of ceasefire. Without addressing the underlying causes of conflicts, September 21st can only be one day of peace amongst 364 days of war. “Everyone has the right to defend themselves,” the ardent anti-war activist Tony Benn tells me. “That is why the Afghans are absolutely entitled to defend themselves as their country is being invaded.” Can we be pacifists just for one day? Perhaps not. But that was never truly the objective of the campaign. “It’s not just symbolic,” says Gilley. “It’s only the beginning.” The point of a global day of ceasefire and non-violence is to promote dialogue and understanding through which the most crucial issues can be addressed and a long-term peace can be realised. Because it was never about kicking a football across no man’s land on Christmas Eve 1914. It was always meant to be premier league 1914-1918.

Make a commitment to Peace Day 2009

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Reader Comments

Ambika

Really great piece! Makes me smile. Much love :)

#1 
Written By Ambika on September 11th, 2009 @ 6:43 am

I guess certain multinationals won’t be knocking off any trades unionists on September 21st then? Beyond parody.

#2 
Written By EddM on September 15th, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

Yeah, I was surprised by Coca-Cola’s sponsorship too, but I don’t think that should detract from a very worthwhile cause.

#3 
Written By Salman Shaheen on September 15th, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

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