Peace activist Mient Jan Faber, who died today at the age of 81, was the textbook example of a conservative Christian who later turned left. He was an immersive speaker, in which connoisseurs of the Reformed Environment still clearly heard the Reformed youth he had once been.
In the early 1980s, he was the figurehead of the ecclesiastical peace movement. He was the big man behind the peace demonstrations at the Museumplein in Amsterdam in 1981 and at Malieveld The Hague in 1983, with 400,000 and 550,000 people respectively, making them the largest demonstrations in Dutch history.
It was a time of massive and sometimes fierce fear of nuclear weapons. Tensions between the Soviet Union and the US were running high. At least a third of the population thought that a devastating nuclear war would break out within ten years.
Many saw US President Reagan, seen by the Netherlands on the left as a shoot-happy cowboy, as the culprit. Faber acted as the leader of the resistance against nuclear weapons. The now virtually forgotten peace activist was on television almost daily.
The major demonstrations were directed against a 1979 NATO decision, and NATO decided to deploy 572 medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe in response to the deployment of SS-20s by the Soviet Union. The German Chancellor Schmidt, in particular, felt that there should be an answer to those Russian nuclear missiles with a range of up to 5000 kilometers.
Of the 572 American medium range missiles, 48 cruise missiles should be stationed in Woensdrecht. Due to the resistance of the left-wing opposition and part of the CDA, the cabinet was unable to reach a placement decision for years. And that was all the more difficult because of the massive resistance to nuclear weapons that Faber managed to mobilize.
Few will have known at the time that Faber had considered attending the Royal Military Academy at the end of high school. If he had continued that, the Netherlands might never have heard of him.
He grew up in a reformed family with six children in Coevorden. They went to church twice a Sunday and sang psalms at home at the house organ in between. At the Reformed Art Association, Mient taught Jan to speak and discuss publicly early on.
Because he firmly believed in “God, the Netherlands and Orange”, he considered becoming a professional soldier, but he went to study mathematics at the then reformed VU University in Amsterdam. Part of the elite in the Reformed world became progressive almost overnight in the 1960s, with great compassion for the Third World and the weaker in society. Faber went along with that enthusiastically.
Through the Reformed Church in Amstelveen, he became involved in development cooperation. After his PhD as a mathematician, he also found his work there. Part-time he also started working for the Interdenominational Peace Council (IKV). He saw that as “a job in between”, but remained the leading figure for decades.
Church life flourished much more than today, and as a result, the IKV managed to mobilize quite a few people. The ICV penetrated across the country, and was often the first action group in rural communities. In 1975, the vast majority of Reformed pastors and Catholic priests participated in the “Peace Week” organized annually by the IKV.
“Nuclear weapons out of the world”
Faber was nonetheless dissatisfied. He found it all too casual. Thats why he developed a plan to do things completely differently. The ICC should focus on a concrete political goal. That led to the action with the slogan “Help the nuclear weapons out of the world, starting with the Netherlands”.
The idea was that a Dutch initiative for nuclear disarmament could contribute to reducing distrust between East and West and thereby help break the armament spiral.
Faber tried to get political parties to stand behind the action, calling on sympathizers to form “nuclei”, to work society “from the bottom up.”
“Impressive call for peace”
The campaign for a nuclear-free Netherlands received a lot of support – many municipalities declared themselves “nuclear-free” – but Faber felt that it was not doing enough. He was annoyed because he did not convince the major political parties with his arguments. That is why he decided that the peace movement should show power through a major demonstration against the NATO decision.
He succeeded in persuading the PvdA to participate, although that party in the formation of the second cabinet van Agt had accepted the NATO double decision. The scale of the demonstration exceeded all expectations. Politically, however, it didon. Thats why Faber organized another demonstration two years later.
More people participated, but in the end, the peace movement lost the fight against the cruise missiles anyway. The cabinet decided to install it in 1985. Nevertheless, nuclear weapons never reached Woensdrecht, because shortly thereafter President Reagan – the culprit in the eyes of Faber and his – agreed with Soviet President Gorbachev to destroy all medium-range missiles.
Faber had now focused on contacts with dissidents in Eastern Europe. Later, he was just for military intervention against cruel dictators. Thats why he supported the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, leading to his break with the ICV.
He has always remained reformed: in the same year 2003, he told daily Trouw: “In the evening after dinner, I read a piece from the Bible with my wife. We are now with the prophet Isaiah, which is 56 chapters full of the avenging God. That teaches me a lot about the reality of the Middle East. From that reality, I get my inspiration.”