So why does Luton need peace? EDL/UAF/MDL

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In 2009 when the troops returned from the conflict in Iraq to Luton, they were greeted by a returning home parade.  They were also greeted by a handful of Muslims with extreme views, who protested and caused an angry response from some of the supporters of the troops.  This violent response led to a number of arrests and a growing sense of sheer detest to these few extreme Muslims.  These people went on to form the English Defence League (EDL), a far right group that primarily is anti-extreme Islam.  The group did initially grow some momentum with several marches, including a couple in the founding town of Luton.  The EDL provoked a reaction from the far left, namely a group called Unite Against Facism (UAF) and amongst the Muslim communities, the Muslim Defence League (MDL).  These groups and a number of others have primarily been trying to counter the EDL, branding them as racists and extremists in their own right.

Fundementally, the supporters of the EDL feel un-listened to about some genuine concerns and a number of their supporters have hijacked their core stance towards other imigration and race related issues.  The UAF and MDL have reacted so strongly towards the EDL that they have become just as violent and regularly are the ones who get arrested at counter demonstrations.  They are almost racists to who they consider racists.

Both sides appear to have truth and genuine concerns and yet both sides have very little time to sit down and create real dialogue about the issues. In my Peace for Luton project I am hoping to use the starting point of Iraq and use a dramatic symbol for peace to be a starting point for dialogue and peace.  The tensions are UK/Europe wide, but Luton has become one of the media's main focussing points.  THis is partly due to the large Asian populations in Luton and the fact that a number of the main organising people of these groups come from the area.  Although it is worth noting, that few of the actual members of the groups live in Luton.



Peace for Luton, news article

Posted on by Ben Hodson

Extract from news article:

Luton artist, Ben Hodson and creative director of ATP Media, has recently returned from an incredible trip to Iraq.  The 26 year old travelled with fellow director and storyteller Ian Rowlands, 49, to Iraq last week.  The purpose of the trip was somewhat unusual.

With the help of local Iraqi artists, they literally painted the side of a mountain on the site of a dramatic peace project on the turn of the millennium, created by internationally renowned artist, Ismail Khayat. Ben explains “When Ismail initially did the project it was about bringing peace to two opposing Kurdish factions in the north of the country” “It appears that his intervention as an artist kicked off the peace process and he is widely credited with being instrumental in bringing the two opposing sides together. 

Ben is the creative Director of ATP Media, who as a team are working on a documentary to tell some of these stories and many more from Iraq.  The film will look to show how creativity and people can help to bring about positive change, even in the most difficult of situations. 

With this dramatic re-enactment and performance the agency hopes to use it as a symbol for peace for the country, the region and the world. “Art is not the answer, but it’s a great start.  It starts dialogue and helps people engage with difficult subject matters in a way that can bring hope and be constructive.” says Ian. During the trip Ben exhibited a solo exhibition of artwork that was made in Luton, UK. I am passionate about showing the beauty and common humanity in every culture, ours is no different.  “As we have exhibited a number of Iraqi exhibitions in England and Wales, it is great to show British people and culture to the Iraqi people themselves."


The Preemptive Love Coalition

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As I look back over how my journey on the MA has developed I cannot forget one of the first and main reasons I got connected to Iraq as a subject matter in the first place.  Let me quickly introduce you to The Preemptive Love Coalition(PLC): this group of humanity loving pioneers are the main reason I got to come to this part of the world. I heard their story: of how they were looking to help thousands of Iraqi children find ways of having life saving heart surgery while at the same time helping to to promote tolerance and understanding as well as find ways to resolve conflict. They inspired me to come and tell part of their story and discover untold stories that the world has forgotten or never heard. When I first came in 2009 I found amazing stories to tell...... and I became deeply connected to these incredible people. The people at PLC are fearless in their quest to pioneer the best ways to save lives and promote peace  - they bring help bring healing and peacemaking to the often broken word in which we live. Go and be inspired and challenged at :

Why paint a mountain?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As the result of a bitter and violent war between rival Kurdish factions (the PDK and PUK) a well-known Kurdish artist (he is often referred as the Grandfather of Kurdish art by colleagues!) and a former minister of Arts and Culture Ismail Khayat decided that something needed to be done to help bring the sides closer. He had slowly been gaining support for his work which directly addresses the need for peace in the region. This quest found expression when he painted the side of a mountain in the place where a lot of the killing took place. Using his very distinctive, figurative and colourful style he painted rocks, trees, bullets and other objects found on the site with bright colours and symbols. He also painted peace slogans and symbols such as “peace for Kurdistan” and “this place is not for fighting but for picnics” on the side of this mountain.

“…….I wonder if we would have ever have seen an end to this bloodshed,….”

He then invited leaders and members of the two warring parties to the site and had them bury stones marked with ‘anger’, ‘hate’, ‘pain’ ‘death’ etc.  as well as bullets and shells he had collected during the painting of the mountain as a symbol of them wanting to bury their differences. Although the two parties had already begun a dialogue this event is seen as a major turning point in resolving the issues between them. One artist put it like this “…..without Khayat’s help I wonder if we would have ever have seen an end to this bloodshed, this event is very important in Kurdish history”.  As we talked to numbers of people from different walks of life we have found he is not alone in his opinion.

…….that in his late sixties he is still as passionate as ever about bringing peace,

The amazing thing is that in his late sixties he is still as passionate (and energetic!) as ever about bringing peace, not just this region, but anywhere where there is division and conflict. Which is why we have been privileged to be involved in the painting of the mountain again. He, like us, is convinced that art and creativity have a powerful place to play in the world we live. When we first met him 2009 we asked him whether art can change policy or public opinion, his answer had a tone of incredulity as he replied “of course art can change things……artists have the responsibility to try and make the world a better place”. The mountain faces a busy back route between Sulaymaniyah and Erbil and judging from the positive responses we had as traffic went by…..he is still managing to make a difference.