Starting young

At the tender age of 13, Sonia Azad is already something of a veteran peace activist, having set up an anti-war campaign for children, as well as making two documentary films. She talked to Andrea D'Cruz about what inspired her to get involved

December 1, 2008
4 min read

How did you get into peace activism?

My mum kept taking me to peace activism and demos and I watched Uncle Mil and Emily [author Milan Rai and artist Emily Johns, co-editors of Peace News and Justice Not Vengeance activists] do peace activism and direct action. I wanted to be part of it, so I started a group called Children Against the War when I was seven. I’ve basically been doing demonstrations and vigils and organising and trying to aim for children to come so they understand what’s happening to other children in the world.

How did you set it up Children Against the War and how did you get children involved?

Well, I had the help of ARROW [Active Resistance to the Roots of War] and Voices in the Wilderness and they helped me set up the group by making leaflets. I wrote the leaflets and I organised demonstrations and vigils and basically on the demonstration I did a speech to get them aware of what’s happening.

Were you nervous to give a speech when you just seven years old?

It was a bit nerve-wracking. It was scary but I started and I was okay. Someone had to do it, someone had to tell children what was going on in the world and I wanted to tell them myself because children have the right to live and be safe.

What do your friends and the other kids at school think about your activism?

My friends don’t really know. They don’t understand. They think I’m a bit strange, because of their backgrounds, what their parents are teaching them – we live around an RAF base.

What about your family?

My mother is also a very strong peace activist. She’s been going to demonstrations for many, many years and going to different countries, like Palestine, and doing direct action and she’s taken me since I was four. I liked to get involved. I liked to give out leaflets and stuff.

Can you tell me about the film you made in Jordan?

Yeah, because I’ve always been demonstrating for children and Iraqi children and I actually wanted to give them a voice so they could speak out. We heard that these families fled to the neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Syria, so I went there with my filming equipment to give them a voice and I interviewed them and they spoke and I made a film about it.

What was that experience like? Was it very upsetting? Did you find you had a lot in common with the children?

I found that we had a lot of things in common – no-one would have known that they’re from Iraq and I’m from Britain if we were put together because we had so much in common. When they were telling the stories I met this boy who was kidnapped and got hurt and tortured and I was really upset to find that out and had nightmares when I went to sleep and I really felt strongly about this.

What are you busy with at the moment?

I’m doing interfaith stuff – getting young people from different backgrounds to come together in understanding. I’m also helping with a Justice Not Vengeance film on Islam. I’m going to be interviewed about it, because I’m a Muslim myself and I’m interviewing some children.

How has your faith helped you as a peace activist?

At the moment I’m reading about the prophet Mohammed and how he brought peace, because Mohammed has been a big influence on my life. Also all my family are very religious as well and Mohammed, my prophet, basically inspired me – he taught us compassion and peace and not to hurt anyone and nonviolence.

What message would you like to send to the children of this country?

I think it’s really important they be aware of what’s going on around the world and they should meet people from other backgrounds and faiths. We’re all like a bouquet of flowers – all different, but all beautiful and the same.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform