The Natural History Museum is one of London's best loved attractions. Generations of visitors have lingered before its cabinets of curiosities. Visit any week day and you will find the famous central hall filled with school parties. On weekends it is family groups. Every day tourists marvel at the old and new exhibits.
On the evening of Monday 9 July, there will be a another group of visitors thronging the central hall, nibbling canapés and quaffing cocktails beside the gigantic Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton. They won't be there because they love nature or are interested in science, evolution or the environment. They will be arms company bosses, military officers and government delegates attending a reception to celebrate the opening of the Farnborough Airshow - a showcase and marketplace for aircraft and weaponry.
They will include representatives from countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and from arms companies such as BAE, Lockheed Martin and Finmeccanica, not to mention Rosoboronexport, the main arms supplier to the Syrian government. Business Secretary Vince Cable will make an appearance as will other government ministers whose portfolios support the arms business.
The organisers describe the reception as: "THE most important event during the Farnborough week, exclusively attended by key industry senior level figures, international delegations and exhibitors ... a must attend event and an unparalleled networking opportunity." They are very happy with their prestigious venue. But why is the Natural History Museum acting as host for an arms dealers hospitality bash?
The Museum Director Doctor Michael Dixon says that the museum needs the funds and that the reception is a purely commercial transaction, not "an expression of support for the arms industry". So far over 1,600 people have contacted him to ask him to reconsider, including leading scientists who have signed an open letter asking the museum to sever links with the arms trade.
There are many reasons why the museum should back away from this nefarious association. Here are four.
It betrays the museum's vision -The museum's vision is simple: "To advance our knowledge of the natural world, inspiring better care of our planet." The arms industry's vision is also simple, although rarely stated: to manufacture, sell and service weapons for their own profit. Far from protecting the natural world, it has aided its desecration, destroying plant and animal life and polluting the environment, without restitution or compensation.
It disregards the museum's history - One of the museum's most generous benefactors was Andrew Carnegie. He financed and donated the replica skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii - named after him - in the central hall. Carnegie donated most of his immense fortune to organisations supporting world peace, including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He would be horrified if he knew that his Diplodocus carnegii was being used as a setting for the arms industry to socialise.
It besmirches the museum's integrity - The Museum is much more than a display of exhibits. It is a leading international research centre, holding 70 million specimens, employing 300 scientists, collaborating with UK and overseas universities and publishing high-quality scientific research. Any association with the arms industry inevitably leaves questions over the museum's integrity in these areas.
It undermines the museum's public duty and ethos - the Museum is a public institution, supported by taxpayers and through public donations, and is expected to conform to recognised public standards. Opinion polls show that the public does not like or trust the arms industry and does not want the UK to sell weapons to repressive and undemocratic regimes. By taking money from the arms industry, even for a one-off event like the Farnborough reception, the museum lends a veneer of legitimacy to the arms industry and undermines its own public status and ethos.
The Natural History Museum belongs to the public, not the arms industry. Campaign Against Arms Trade will be protesting outside the Natural Museum on 9 July and keeping up the pressure for them to end all ties with the arms trade.
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