Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Peace is always a harder option than war

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The Independent Online

After 119 days in captivity, Norman Kember, 74, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, did not fall on his knees in euphoric gratitude for our troops in Iraq - the least he could do, some say, after they damn well rescued him from his cruel captors who had already murdered Tom Fox, another hostage.

When he did get round to it, Kember's words were restrained, and he reminded the world of the anguish of the ordinary people of Iraq, as their country remains mired in violence. He himself has asked: "Was I foolhardy or rational?" There are no easy answers. Motivation in these cases cannot easily be unravelled (I personally find the Christian mission here a little awkward) and bold, individual involvement brings up challenging questions.

A new controversy has also boiled up over the compelling, dramatised story of Rachel Corrie, the young American who went to Gaza to bear testimony and protest peacefully against the behaviour of Israeli occupation troops. One of their military bulldozers crushed her to death. Katharine Viner and the actor Alan Rickman put together a play based on Corrie's own remarkable writings. It has been pulled from the New York Theatre Workshop, allegedly because of pressure from American Zionists. Was Corrie heroic or dangerously emotive?

Reactions to peace activism ranges from hatred through contempt, genuine admiration to soppy, unthinking idolisation. Peacemakers are thought of as either enemies within or true, selfless souls ready to suffer for just causes. They are pests for some, pets for others. At least Kember has made sure that he is not seen as a cuddly, naughty old man, who in his dotage got himself into a spot of bother and needed muscular SAS blokes to pull him to safety. But will anybody listen to him properly, and give him credence?

Ask most decent people about their heroes and heroines and it is likely that the name of Nelson Mandela will feature and Mahatma Gandhi, possibly Martin Luther King too. They were all clever strategists as well as profound purveyors of peace and forgiveness (although Mandela once advocated violence to overthrow apartheid). They sit as poetic icons in the hall of faith and ideals, adored but unheard.

World leaders love to be seen with Mandela; he looks good on the arm with his flowery shirts and brilliant smiles. Our politicians invite him to party conferences and anti-poverty pop concerts, but they assiduously ignore Mandela's admonitory words against Western aggression. An old codger, what can he understand about the edgy new world?

Never a fundamentalist pacifist, I supported interventions in Bosnia and Afghanistan; but increasingly, I am coming to understand that we must start taking peace seriously, not as the soft but the much harder option than war ever is. Otherwise barbarisms will engulf us all, and drown the sounds of our screaming children.

Quakers and conscientious objectors have historically taken this position and largely been ignored. Today their words are more prescient than even they can imagine. Gabrielle Rifkind and Scilla Elworthy, effective global peace promoters, warn in Making Terrorism History (published by Rider last month), "in this turbulent world, many of the old methods of dealing with conflict seem unable to deal with new realities. Force of arms is not sufficient to establish peaceful order. Military victory is not enough to prevent future violence."

That truth was what drove both Rachel Corrie and Norman Kember. The Foreign Office has summoned the "irresponsible" Christian Peacemakers Teams for a telling-off. Our Defence and Foreign Secretaries recklessly supported policies that led to the cataclysm in Iraq. I suggest they humbly listen to the peacemakers and to Kember in particular. He is more of a man than they will ever be.

Why a ban on smoking may not be Ab Fab

As Scotland goes smoke-free, cigarette use by television performers is next in line.

It makes sense. Stars smoking have always had a much more pernicious pull than plain advertising for youngsters. Ciggies made you irresistibly alluring in that French kind of way. Audrey Hepburn, slinky, wearing many strings of pearls and a long cigarette holder, was the perfect heroine, never mind the bad breath. Real men have always smoked - Clint as he narrowed his eyes before blasting yet another lot of sad blokes, Marlon Brando rippling in his vest on the waterfront, Frank Sinatra winning over blondes with appetites.

Favourite TV characters - Patsy in Ab Fab, right, Fitz in Cracker, Tennison in Prime Suspect were defined by their cigarettes. Sex climaxed with puffs rising to the ceiling. Soon cigarettes will be pixellatedwhile sex on television gets ever more brazen. What if that excites transgression in the young? You could spawn a new generation of rebellious smokers seeking the excitement of the forbidden - that censored flicker they can't watch so must have.

* Before you ask, I have had a mobile phone for five years, a present from my frustrated husband who was fed up explaining to incredulous people trying to contact me that his wife, a journalist, refused to use one. I now am dependent on the thing. But I have never changed it, never been a sucker for new designs and promised facilities to tempt the public into chucking out the new for the even more new, a senseless waste of money. Every hour 1,700 phones are dumped, bursting with toxic chemicals, say the curators of a new exhibition at the Science Museum, brilliantly called Dead Ringers. So I am right to hold on to my old ringer, like my old banger, until both die a dignified death. I feel the glow of virtue spreading to my parts; I may start to evangelise on Tubes, so watch out.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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