Above: classic isolationism from Charles Lindbergh in 1941
Nick Cohen (in today’s Observer):
“The type of person who regards any western intervention as always wrong and every dictator as the “demonised” victim of “orientalist” prejudice will be pleased by that result. But I wouldn’t cheer too loudly if I were in their shoes. What the majority of the public believe cannot be translated into any kind of leftwing sentiment. They think, I guess, that Arabs and Muslims are all the same. They all want to kill each other. They are all barbarians. “Why should we try to save them? They will only turn on us if we do.”
We don’t always agree with Cohen, but his column in today’s Observer is right on the money.
Even (perhaps especially) those of us who, on balance, oppose intervention in Syria, need to read this, and reflect…
The vote was probably, on balance, the least-bad outcome on offer, but be in no doubt that it will give encouragement to Assad. And it was an expression of rightist, petty bourgeois isolationism (combined with Labour guilt-assuagement over Iraq), not any kind of “anti-imperialism.”
As far as can be judged, Syrians in Britain tend to take a different view to that of MPs:
Above: counter-demo of Syrians against ‘Stop The War’ isolationists on Wednesday
Thought for the day:
“One in four people in Lebanon are now Syrians. The gassing of hundreds in the outskirts of Damascus has now taken Syria across another of the West’s famous ‘red lines’ — and yet again, only words come from Washington and London. No wonder the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, quoting Hannah Arendt and holding the Assad regime responsible last week, referred to the ‘banality of evil’. The West’s whittering and twittering — over Cairo just as much as Damascus – is a form of ‘banalising’ violence” – Robert Fisk, The Independent, 26 August.
Cartoon from the Guardian
The international ruling classes are clearly in a quandary over Syria. But so is the serious left (the word “serious” meaning discounting Assad-supporters and hypocritical fake-Westphalians who’ve been looking forward to western intervention for the past two years and more, just so’s they can have something to protest about).
Shiraz Socialist does not oppose foreign intervention in principle, especially when a country is descending into sectarian mass-murder. Also, the use of chemical weapons should be recognised as a “red line” and, if possible, the perpetrators punished.
The problem with regard to Syria is not any “principled” objection to “outside” intervention, but the fact that the opposition seems to be a bunch of sectarian Islamists who are already attacking Kurds, Allowites, Christians, Shias and others.
The best result now would be a cease-fire arrived at by a conference brokered and enforced on the ground by the UN, Arab League or, indeed, NATO. Frankly, that’s not very likely.
It looks like Labour are going to opposes unilateral military action http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/douglas-alexander-warns-cameron-vote-must-be-held-syria-and-labour-could-oppose-gov
The left in general, perhapd due to the bank holiday, has yet to react. There are a few voices though – Owen jones opposes military action but, against all the evidence, appears to doubt that the Assad regieme launched the chemical attack. He calls on the international court to bring charges and for UN peace talks: “There’s no question that those who use chemical weapons must be arraigned in an international court. But a UN-brokered peace process involving all the local and regional players remains the only solution.” http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/for-the-syrians-sakes-and-for-our-own-we-must-not-intervene-8784220.html
The wretched Lindsey German and ‘Stop the War’ are entirely predictable. They call it a proxy war but conveniently only mention the Western and Saudi arming of the rebels, not Russia or Iran who have been sending arms and troops to aid Assad. They call for peace talks, but really they’re in support of Assad: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/news/attack-in-syria-no-pretext-for-intervention
From the Washington Post
By Max Fisher, Published: August 21 at 2:49 pm
The alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb, where opposition activists say that more than 1,000 civilians have died from exposure to an unknown toxic gas, would be the deadliest but far from the first such incident in the country’s civil war. Still, there’s something different about this one.
The many, many photos and videos showing the attack’s apparent toll, including rooms full of dead children, can be overwhelming, of a scale and horror difficult to fully comprehend. You may have watched, or tried to watch, the video of a health worker helplessly applying a respirator to a child’s gasping mouth, or of young men sprawled across the floor of a makeshift hospital. But if you can bring yourself to see only one such video, you may wish to make it this footage, posted by Syrian activists late Tuesday:
The video, allegedly taken just a few hours after the chemical weapons incident, shows a health worker attempting to comfort a young girl who’d purportedly survived the attack and is clearly in hysterics. It’s not clear whether her behavior is a result of chemical exposure, as some speculate, or of simple terror. She says only, over and over, “I’m alive, I’m alive.”
There’s no blood or death here; this girl’s experience does not reveal the extent of Tuesday’s loss of life or necessarily show us the symptoms of chemical weapons exposure. What it does show is an experience much more common in Syria, of surviving. For all the people who are killing and dying in the country, it’s easy to forget that most Syrians are doing neither but, like both the little girl and the health worker in this video, trying to endure the suffering around them.
Images of dead bodies and convulsing chemical weapons victims represent an important part of what’s happening in Syria, but for many outside observers , they can be so shocking as to alienate. Anyone can recognize and understand a frightened child.
Update: A longer version of the video, embedded below, shows the girl identifying herself as Younma. The health worker says she’s been psychologically traumatized by the death of her parents. Younma, who begs for her parents, appears at one point to be attempting to convince the health worker that she is still alive.
Below: from the Guardian‘s MIDDLEEASTLIVE roundup:
Here’s a summary of the main developments today:
• The Syrian border town of Qusair has fallen to Hezbollah forces after a three-week siege that pitched the powerful Lebanese Shia militia against several thousand Sunni rebels in what had been billed as a breakthrough for the Assad regime. Rebel groups released a statement early on Wednesday confirming that they had pulled out of the strategic town in the early hours. Rebel fighters are believed to have taken refuge in hamlets near Syria‘s third city, Homs, around 20 miles (30km) to the north.
• Analysts said the fall of the town marked a significant blow for the rebels, but said it was too early to describe the battle as a turning point. Michael Hanna, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said there were rebel-held areas of Syria that Assad would never reclaim.
• The Red Cross is still being prevented from reaching hundreds of wounded people in Qusair, despite a promise from the Syrian government to grant humanitarian access once the military operation was completed. A spokesman for the ICRC said: “We’re still in dialogue with the Syrian authorities on reaching Qusair, particularly with a view to getting in medical supplies.”
We await with baited breath the Stop The War Coalition’s protest at this destruction by non-Syrian forces of an entire town with mass civilian casualties, and their demand that Assad begins immediate peace negotiations.
This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that. http://www.amandla.org.za/amandla-magazine/current-issue/1706-amandla
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »
“I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people” - “The Last Letter from the Bund Representative with the Polish National Council in Exile”.
From the Economist blog:
By GG, Jerusalem, Warsaw
THE 19th of April 1943, exactly 70 years ago, saw the first insurrection against the Nazis in occupied Europe: the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The event symbolises both Jewish courage and Jewish suffering. For Poland, its anniversary is also a resonant event in the country’s ongoing reconnection with its Jewish heritage and fight against anti-Semitism.
Last week, more than a hundred volunteers showed up to work on cleaning and restoring the dilapidated Jewish cemetery, perhaps the strongest visual testament to the fact that this city was once one of the largest Jewish centres in the world – and is no more. Almost none of them were Jewish. They told me they had come out of a sense of duty.
The event had been listed on a website devoted to the anniversary commemorations, which are extensive. From now until the May 16th when the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street was destroyed, marking the end of the uprising and effectively of all Jewish life in Warsaw, the city hosts ceremonies, exhibitions, concerts and lectures devoted to Poland’s Jewish heritage.
The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is co-ordinating much of the proceedings. It has used the occasion to officially open as an educational centre even though its permanent exhibition is a year away from being ready evidently hoping its impressive architecture and cultural programme will trump the dubious symbolism of its emptiness.
The guest of honour is Simcha Rotem (Wikipedia entry here), nom de guerre ‘Kazik’. At 89, he is the only former member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB) still in good enough health to make the trip. I met him in Israel, where he has lived since shortly after the war, last month. Though tired and in low spirits, he told our correspondent he had decided long ago that if he could possibly make it to this anniversary, he would, regardless of what kind of commemoration was planned for the sake of the memory of his comrades who are no longer alive.
Some of those comrades did live for years after the war though—thanks to Kazik. His is an astonishing story of courage and luck in hellish circumstances. As a 19-year-old, fair-haired ruffian from the Warsaw district of Czerniaków, Kazik did not look Jewish. For that reason the insurgent leader, Marek Edelman, chose him to go to the Aryan side and try to organise a rescue operation for the Jews trapped in the ghetto, already in flames.
After a week on the Aryan side, Kazik finally found two sewer workers who thanks to much goading with vodka in one hand and a pistol in the other, showed him an underground route back into the ghetto. Emerging on Zamenhofa street, he found nothing but smouldering ruins.
It’s at that point that Simcha Rotem’s testimony ends Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary, Shoah: he believes he is the “last Jew” and has nothing left to do but wait for the Germans. But that is not what he did.
Returning to the sewers, he hears voices: a dozen or so fighters. They say there are more hiding elsewhere, and he tells them to gather and make their way through the sewers to a manhole under Prosta Street, just outside the ghetto.
Simcha Rotem to this day does not know exactly people he saved: “A few dozen. Do you think I had time to count them?” he exclaims. After meeting the group in the sewer, he had returned to the Aryan side and organised for two vans to pick up the survivors at dawn. Only one van arrived, at 10am, and its driver had to be held at gunpoint to prevent him from driving off while the Jews were coming out of the manhole.
After it seemed that no-one else was emerging from the manhole, Kazik told the van to move off. Against all the odds, the few dozen made it to safety the forests north of Warsaw. Yet some had remained underground. Simcha Rotem has had to live with the idea that perhaps he could have done better. But today he says he feels it was the only decision he could make in the circumstances: “The Germans were 100 metres away. It was broad daylight. It was now or never.”
Asked whether his memory of that moment is still vivid today, Simcha Rotem is almost offended: “It is not the sort of thing a person could forget”. His anger at the Nazis is still very much alive, too: “I regret in a way that we didn’t get revenge on the SS. Because they were not conscripts, they chose to do what they did. So they were murderers. And murderers should be hanged. They were not people, but animals walking upright.”
Fear that the world could forget the horror of the Holocaust, or that it could happen again, animates those who do remember it ever more as their numbers dwindle. Irena Boldok, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto aged eight or nine, gives talks in schools and elsewhere as a member of the Children of the Holocaust association. She speaks gloomily about the experience: “some of them understand, not many. It’s hard to talk to fourteen-year-old kids. It is like a history lesson for them.”
According to the Polish psychologist Barbara Engelking, one reason the ghetto uprising did not happen sooner is that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto maintained the illusion that they might live: the death camps were simply beyond human imagination. With fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, marking the anniversaries of its key events becomes an ever more important way of ensuring that we don’t forget something that was so unthinkable at the time.
Prof Norm reminds us that:
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the attack on Halabja :
On March 16, 1988, 5,000 Kurds died in the city and 10,000 were injured after a seven-hour bombardment by Saddam Hussein’s jets and artillery. The population was blanketed with blood, nerve and blister agents in the worst chemical attack on a civilian population since the Second World War.
The poet Choman Hardi has written this poem, ‘Yek deqiqe bo Halabja’, to commemorate the dead. On her Facebook page she says that the poem is ‘dedicated to the memory of the victims who, because of circulating images of their mutilated bodies, seem to have disappeared from our consciousness as human beings, their value seems to be reduced to their victimhood.’
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Associated Press reports:
A new report is expected to lay bare the extent of responsibility that successive Irish governments must accept for what went on in Magdalene laundries.
An 18-month investigation into the Catholic-run workhouses will formally reveal state involvement and knowledge of the harrowing life women in the institutions endured between 1922 and 1996.
A committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, who has since resigned from politics, spent 18 months establishing the role official Ireland played in the for-profit Church-run operation. Survivors have been campaigning for the last 10 years for an apology from state and Church and a transparent compensation scheme.
Over the 74 years, thousands of single mothers and other women were put to work in detention, mostly in industrial for-profit laundries run by nuns from four religious congregations. Each woman had her Christian name changed, her surname unused and most have since died.
James Smith, associate professor at Boston College and member of the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) advisory board, said: “I hope the Government listen. The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system. Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these women can ill afford.”
Survivors have called for a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process for all to be set up, with pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress all accounted for.
Mr Smith said: “Until there is an apology – I have met so many women who will not come forward, and have no intention of engaging in any process – they might still not come forward, but other women might come forward if they get an assurance that they were wronged.”
Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.
JFM is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. Mass graves have been identified in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, Glasnevin in Dublin, Sunday’s Well in Cork and at sites in Galway.
The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was finally prompted by a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.
The Irish blogger Bock The Robber has been covering this scandal for several years. Here’s what s/he wrote in June of last year:
As usual, it has taken outside pressure to force acknowledgement of the imprisonment, torture and degradation inflicted on Irish women by this State and by the nuns who carried out the abuse. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has published a report condemning Ireland for a crime. Women who had children outside of marriage, or who might simply have been perceived as having a bright, cheerful spirit, were abducted by State agents and imprisoned for ever more.
The disgracefully-misnamed Magdalene laundries broke the spirit of thousands of women, enslaving them for the financial gain of warped, sexually-frustrated nuns who inflicted their vindictive self-hatred on these helpless prisoners.
Ireland being what it is, the government excluded the nuns’ gulags from the terms of reference of the Ryan report, no doubt hoping that the problem would go away as the former prisoners became older and more frail, but there it still is, an indictment on the confessional nature of this State from its foundation.
Let nobody tell you that the nuns and the priests and the brothers saved the State money by imprisoning these people.
They did not.
The religious orders made a handsome profit from their prisoners, through slavery. And if they got a little sexual kick along the way, so much the better.
We have to acknowledge that the nuns who ran these prisons were deeply disturbed individuals, but their disorder seems to be widespread, and not just among those who controlled the Magdalene laundries. There’s a creepy commonality in the stories told by women who attended nun-run schools, of violence, vindictiveness and small-minded cruelty.
The motif of the keys is the one that stands out most strongly. Many women, including members of my own family, and also survivors of the laundries, describe being struck on the knuckles with bunches of keys by enraged nuns. And this punishment always seems to have been administered coldly.
What was wrong with these women that made them so cruel, so callous and so angry?
In my opinion, it isn’t natural to live your entire life without sex, and I think the experience derailed them, but maybe that’s just me being a dirty bastard. I don’t think so, though, and neither did the old women I grew up among who used to say the same thing, in less explicit terms.
I think these nuns, and all the other hated torturers in the schools and the laundries were so cruel because they were completely screwed up by being who and what they were. And I think they took it out on the poor unfortunates who fell into their insane grip.
The sooner the crime of the Magdalene laundries is exposed, the better. There are still nuns out there, walking around, who tortured, beat, enslaved and humiliated other women in the name of Christianity. They should be held accountable now.
We have to exorcise all the ghosts haunting modern Ireland, until we finally acknowledge the disgrace that happened after independence, where absolute power was handed over to one church.
Until we do that, Ireland will never achieve maturity as a nation.
Previously : The Magdalene Laundries
All Bock posts on the Ryan Report
All Bock posts on the Murphy Report