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.

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

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History