Workshop 6: "Arguments and Counter-Arguments"

Led by Koen Moens (VRAK)

Report by Oliver Haslam (UK)

Koen started by explaining that in Belgium they have been developing and professionalizing their lobbying. They have experienced increased contact with parliamentarians and have been analysing how they can improve their lobbying. One way in which this has been done is with a focus on the counter-arguments they hear from parliamentarians.

VRAK have started by lobbying sympathetic MPs and now are working on those who need more persuading. Koen presented a document of 10 common misconceptions of the argument for peace tax legislation - a document which has been given to parliamentarians in order to avoid wasting time on irrelevancies.

The common misconceptions document has been revised into a list of arguments and counter-arguments. In the time available we discussed some of the arguments/counter-arguments experienced. Below are some of the points discussed:

  • Conscientious objectors want to pay less tax - this is untrue as we are happy to pay the same amount of tax as others but not if a portion of it is devoted to killing.
  • COs do not want to pay for the Army - it is not a question of not ‘wanting’ to pay but being ‘unable’. COs cannot pay taxes for the military.
  • We have to defend ourselves with the Army - abolition of the Army misses the point of peace tax and is not our main issue (desirable as it may be) and conveniently forgets it is possible to ‘defend’ the country using an unarmed military and/or non-military security techniques.
  • How would you oppose Hitler? - Every war is in large part a result of a previous one so we must break the cycle. It was note that the general public, churches etc. could have resisted Hitler more, both within and beyond Germany.
  • Military power is needed to oppose militarism - a military approach to tackling terrorism encourages more terrorist acts and terrorist sympathisers.
  • We cannot, as individuals, choose how are taxes are spent - In Belgium they already choose how 20% of their taxes by means of donations to charity, rebates on mortgages etc.
  • The floodgates will be opened to other campaigns who object to parts of their taxes being spent on things they do not agree with - the peace tax issue is almost unique in that it relies on existent legislation which recognises conscientious objection as a human right. It is also a special case because it concerns the deliberate taking of life (a question of conscience) unlike issues such as having to pay taxes for schools even if one has no children (a question of politics).
  • Abortions and taxes used to fund abortions was a difficult issue and was the only argument seen to be at all similar to peace tax. It is, arguably, the deliberate taking of life and medical practitioners (certainly in the UK and possibly in many other parts of the world) have an established human right to withdraw their physical support for such procedures. We were not aware of any campaign arguing for the right of taxpayers not to pay taxes that pay for abortion procedures, however.

In all the workshop was extremely useful and only a lack of time halted our interesting conversation.