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Mrs Jahangeer

Part of 'Mrs Jahangeer' by St Leonards artist, Emily Johns

St Leonards couple on peace mission to Iran

A few days ago, I spoke to Maya Evans, leader of the first peace delegation to Afghanistan since the West’s invasion of that country in 2001.  A couple of days later, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick, I heard from local resident Emily Johns that she and Milan Rai were about to embark on a trip to Iran, also on a personal mission of peace and reconciliation.  All three are residents of St Leonards.

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence,

it can only be attained through understanding.”

Albert Einstein.

Emily and Mil set off a few days ago for the Islamic Republic of Iran on what they describe as a 10-day ‘peace delegation in a time of crisis’. Members of the anti-war group Justice Not Vengeance (JNV), the couple say they’ll be visiting four cities and meeting a wide range of Iranian citizens in different parts of the country.

Who are Justice Not Vengeance?  These are the words from their website [link below].

Justice Not Vengeance (JNV) is an anti-war group which has developed out of ARROW (Active Resistance to the Roots of War). JNV opposes the US/UK ‘war on terrorism’ and campaigns for a peaceful resolution of international conflicts, based on justice and equality. JNV has adapted the core principles developed by ARROW.

JNV is a group of individuals who have come together to show their opposition to military retaliation in response to the events of 11 September 2001. The group subscribes to ARROW’s core principles and is supported by ARROW and other peace groups.

As of May 2010, JNV work is carried out by Maya Evans, Emily Johns and Milan Rai. With JNV’s advisors, Chris Cole, Pat Gaffney and Bruce Kent (all acting in a personal capacity).

“An eye for an eye, makes the whole world go blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Artwork by Emily Johns

Artwork by Emily Johns

Artist Emily Johns explains that in May 2006, she travelled to Iran on a Fellowship of Reconciliation peace delegation, during a period of international tension over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Since then, I have been producing a body of images dealing with the complex relationships between Iran, oil and Britain. The work weaves together the larger international dynamics, the mutual cultural influences and the more intimate personal connections of Iranian-British relations.

“This week I will be returning to Iran. The circumstances have changed: it is much more difficult to get a visa to visit and the Iranian people have been economically squeezed by the international sanctions. But still there is the threat of conflict.

“In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the ‘war on terror’ was declared by the US and Britain – and with George Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech, it was apparent that our foreign policy could involve attacks against or aggressive diplomacy towards Iraq, Iran, Syria and North Korea. I felt that since we have been given so much advance notice of the atrocities that our government was willing to commit, we have a duty to be well prepared to prevent these wars. It seemed that I, as a visual artist, could contribute to deflecting the propaganda preparation that is necessary to turn a people and a country into enemies and ‘legitimate targets’.”

I’d like to briefly interject here.  Listening to BBC Radio 4’s latest version of Orwell’s novel 1984 a couple of days ago, I was reminded of how ‘the leaders’, in this case the all-seeing and hearing ‘Big Brother’, regularly changed the face of the enemy – and how propaganda propagated messages of hatred, fear and mistrust, manipulating the masses – and how Winston Smith’s job was to re-create history and reprogramme the people’s memory bank.  Any echoes in our own current world?  Within our own society?

It seems imperative that we do not make someone else’s enemy our own.

Emily continues.  “The ‘war artist’ documents the process of war and comments on the aftermath of war. This project is ‘pre-war art’ – an equivalent process – for a conflict that I hope may never take place. It deals with the themes that a war artist might deal with, but in a period of tension rather than after the outbreak of hostilities. My approach has been from the perspective of British relations with Persia and the intertwining of histories.

Nightingale by Emily Johns

Artwork by Emily Johns.

“Culturally, ‘Persia’ has been a potent influence on the British imagination – on poetry, on theatre, on story-telling and on ceramics. Economically and politically, Iran has played an increasingly important role in British and western imaginations – as an oil producer, a militant Islamic state and a suspected potential nuclear proliferator.

“Drawing Paradise on the ‘axis of evil’ is an attempt to use imaginative engagement to provoke a more rounded debate, by transcending labels such as the ‘axis of evil’ – and to ground public debate in human realities.

“The Iran that is so widely feared is also a land that has produced – and continues to produce – gardens of paradise and poetry.”

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking,

if mankind is to survive.”

Albert Einstein

Emily and Mil will be reporting on their journey at 2pm on Sunday 24 February at Friends Meeting House, South Terrace, Hastings.

Emily Johns will be exhibiting images drawn from her visit to Iran at the Hastings Arts Forum in St Leonards in July.

During their trip, the couple will be updating their delegation blog daily:

Emily talks about her work here.

HOT’s interview with local peace activist, Maya Evans about her trip to Afghanistan  here.

HOT’s “A Piece of Peace” by Zelly Restorick here.

You can read more about Justice Not Vengeance and their core principles here.

Posted 11:13 Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013 In: Hastings People

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