I have been asked, by a regular reader Shiraz, to carry more material explaining our position of antisemtism – and, in particular our allegation that a lot of contemporary anti-Semitism comes from the “left” and takes the form of Palestinian solidarity (a cause that, in principle, Shiraz supports). I intend to write at some length on this subject soon, but as a starting point I’d refer readers to Galloway’s recent refusal to support Palestinian statehood (and his explanation, here) and the following account of a meeting at Oxford University. Note that one of the main speakers is an Oxford academic who frequently writes for the liberal-left Guardian. In other words, these people are not fringe elements within the pro-Palestinian movement in the UK. Support for the total destruction of Israel (ie the Hamas position) and casual comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, are now commonplace in the pro-Palestine movement. Even placards praising Hitler are allowed on pro-Palestine demos, apparently unchallenged by the organisers or other marchers. As usual, when we re-publish material, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all the article’s contents or endorse all the politics of the author.:
15 October 2014:
Tonight I had the misfortune to attend the inaugural Palestine Society event here in Oxford. I went with Sapan and Jonathan out of a mixture of open mindedness and intellectual curiosity.
What I heard and saw genuinely shocked me. I’ve heard a lot in my time but this was by far the worst event I have ever attended. I can only describe it as a two hour hate fest of the variety described in George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ It went from the downright idiotic to the explicitly anti-Semitic – and often both. I heard a girl complain about the evils of ‘Zionist’ control in her native America – she even attacked ‘Zionists’ for controlling the make up she wore! No one challenged this girl’s delusions: they only reassured her that fighting Zionism must remain paramount. I heard numerous people glorify the ‘right of the resistance’ and reject non-violent tactics, even including an Oxford academic on the panel (Karma Nabulsi).
I had a question of my own. I read to the panel a quotation from John Molyneux, a theorist from the Socialist Workers’ Party;
“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”
I then added – “I’d be interested to know what the members of the panel think about this mode of analysis. Do they support what I consider to be a totally irrational – and dangerous – position?”
Not only did the panelists evade my question – Avi Shlaim, Karma Nabulsi and Barnaby Raine – to my horror, they actually agreed with its sentiment. Mr Raine, a student at Wadham College and a student activist, mocked me by saying that “anyone would stand up for the oppressed against an oppressor.” It should also be noted that Mr Raine noticeably hesitated when I put up my hand – he looked everywhere around the room before reluctantly taking my question. This person excuses the most morally reprehensible actions. He practically fetishises totalitarianism.
It got worse. Near the end of the talk, a local PSC activist defended Molyneux’s remarks by arguing that he’d rather be a Medieval, backward Chassidic Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto than a cultured German in a Nazi uniform. A sizable proportion of the room – hundreds of people – applauded this awful anti-Semitic distortion of history and trivialization of the Holocaust.
I am aware this status is long and most students couldn’t care less about student politics. However, I think it’s important that all students know that here, in 21st Century Britain, at one of the best universities in the world, political extremism is flourishing. Whereas far right fascists are, rightly, tarred and made into social pariahs, their equivalents on the far left get away with it time and time again. These are the totalitarians in our midst.
I have done what I can. I tried exposing rampant anti-Semitism in the Palestine Society at the start of this year and I was treated with ridicule. It’s time to take this stuff seriously. I saw many freshers at this event – freshers whose minds have been poisoned and given a wholly false narrative which demonises one people at the expense of the other, one that demonises the forces of peace and rewards the actions of hate and terrorism. I saw a room of intelligent, perhaps highly naive students, express the most hideous and morally warped trash. I saw no effort to condemn outright anti-Semitic prejudice when it was expressed. I saw pure intellectual fascism – people attending a talk to confirm their prejudices, and actively ostracising those that disagree with them.
I cannot think of a worse introduction to Oxford for incoming students to this University. Anyone who genuinely cares about Palestinians – whether in the West Bank or Gaza, or elsewhere in the Middle East or the diaspora – should stay the hell away from Oxford University’s Palestine Society. And remember that all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.
Many people were surprised to note that amongst those MPs who didn’t support the motion to recognise Palestine, was George Galloway. I have not been able to ascertain whether Galloway turned up to abstain, or whether (much more likely for such a poltroon) he simply didn’t turn up at all.
Here, Galloway explains his position, which boils down to the fact that his hatred of Israel takes precedence over his (supposed) support for Palestinian national rights. All this filthy charlatan’s past claims to support two states and a democratic solution is now exposed as so much bluster:
I have been urged by a number of my constituents to support a motion being debated and voted on in parliament on Monday “that this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.
As many probably know the Palestinian cause has been central to my political activity for the last 40 years. I appreciate the good intentions many have in urging me to support this motion.
However, unfortunately I cannot support this motion as it accepts recognition of the state of Israel, does not define borders of either state or address the central question of the right of return of the millions of Palestinians who have been forced to live outside Palestine.
Israel was a state born in 1948 out of the blood of the Palestinians who were hounded from their land. Since then it has grabbed ever more land from the Palestinian people. In the last five years it has twice launched murderous assaults on the Palestinian people of Gaza, some 1.8 million people crammed into what is in effect a prison camp. In the wake of the most recent war on Gaza, Israel has announced its biggest land grab in the Occupied West Bank so far. Israel has defied UN resolution after UN resolution with impunity because of the continued backing of Western countries and, above all, the US.
I continue to support the only realistic solution, one democratic and secular state, called Israel-Palestine or Palestine-Israel. The proposed two-state solution is to all intents and purposes dead and is only used in order to provide Israel further breathing space to consolidate the illegal settlements and expand its land grab further.
For these reasons, I am afraid I cannot support this motion and will abstain on Monday.
Two motions debated at NUS NEC
The meeting then turned to motions submitted by NEC members. Unfortunately this part of the meeting was no feast of reason. There are two motions I want to focus on: Iraqi solidarity and Israel/Palestine. I urge you to read the motions before continuing.
The “Iraqi solidarity” motion had been worked on with Roza Salih, a Strathclyde university student of Kurdish descent (she submitted an almost identical motion to the Scottish equivalent of the executive, the Scottish Executive Council, which I will post later, which, incidentally, did pass! One must ask Scottish executive members why vote for a motion in Scotland, but not in England?!).
The motion was opposed by Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, for astonishing and bewildering reasons. Bouattia argued that the motion was “Islamophobic” and “pro USA intervention” – (see Aaron Kiely, a fellow NUS NEC member’s, tweet during the meeting as reflective of the position). The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political Left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement.
(I must also put on record that after only a single round of speeches, Toni Pearce moved the debate on. This was wrong: there was no opportunity to respond to Bouattia’s allegations. I had my hand up to speak in response, but was not called.)
Let us look at Bouattia’s arguments: is the motion anti-Muslim or pro US intervention?
The motion was partly written by a Kurdish student activist, and presented by the International students’ officer, Shreya Paudel. I have looked again and again at the contents of the motion, yet I cannot track any Islamophobia or racism.
The US occupation, and its aftermath, has been an utter disaster for the people of Iraq. Resulting governments, led by Nouri Al-Maliki, have been authoritarian and carried out virulent Shia sectarianism. A civil war in the mid 2000s killed 34,000 civilians. Today there are 1.6 million refugees.
The dynamics in 2014 are complex. ISIS, who have grown out of Al-Qaeda, have seized huge swathes of the country; there is a new, shaky, shia-sectarian government; and a Kurdish regional government, whose self determination I believe we should support.
The ultra-Islamist group ISIS is a threat to all the people of Iraq. It is repressing and persecuting minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Sunni Muslim Arabs. On the 29th June it declared a “caliphate” (a religious dictatorship). It has carried out rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas.
These developments have been exacerbated and driven by US policy deliberately fostering sectarianism.
The situation is desperate.
In this situation, it is fundamental that the political Left, trade union and student organisations, like NUS, show our solidarity with the Iraqi people, in particular the hard-pressed student, workers and women’s organisations, and those fighting for democracy and equality.
It is unclear whether Western forces (which congregated in Paris the day before the NEC meeting, on the 15th of September, to announce a “game plan” to defeat ISIS) will send boots onto the ground in Iraq. We know already that French aircrafts have begun reconnaissance flights over Iraq; and that US aid has assisted the Kurds and Yazidis. However it is unlikely they will want a re-run of a war that even they believe to have been a colossal failure. It may be more likely that the USA assists established forces from afar to defeat ISIS.
However, the motion cannot be clearer in saying that such forces cannot be relied upon to deliver democratic change in Iraq: “no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.” If one were to believe it is not sufficiently clear or that the motion is not worded strongly enough, fine: make an amendment to the motion; or seek to take parts to remove or strengthen a particular aspect. Instead, the whole motion – which calls for solidarity with oppressed forces in Iraq – was argued as wrong. This is a grave shame!
It is also true – and Left-wingers should think this over – that the Kurds and Yazidi’s thus far would not have been able to survive if it had not been for aid from the Americans. Calling simply for an end to this intervention is the same as calling for the defeat of the Peshmerga forces by ISIS. The policy is based on a negative criteria – opposing the US and UK – instead of positive critera – solidarity with the oppressed.
Perhaps this is what Bouattia meant when saying that the motion is pro-intervention? Such a suggestion is arrived at only when one’s “analysis” becomes an issue of principle: that even within limited parameters, that to suggest that imperialism is not the only problem is somehow to “support” imperialism. This is the basis of “Stalinist” politics on international questions: that one considers forces that oppose the US as either progressive or, at worst, not the real issue -no matter how barbaric and reactionary and fascistic that force is. This is not a useful or effective way of looking at the world.
Two interrelated issues struck me about this debate.
Firstly, there is a stranglehold of “identity politics” on the student movement. This is an issue which needs to be discussed in more depth, but essentially the idea is widespread that if a Liberation Officer opposes something, it must be bad. Of course this idea is not applied consistently (and could not possibly be) – eg the majority of the NEC has not accepted current and former Black Students’ Officers’ defence of Julian Assange or the SWP. But I think it was a factor here, perhaps because people see or claim to see debate on the Middle East as something that the BSO should somehow have veto power over, regardless of the issues and the arguments made.
Combined with this, there seems to be a low level of political education and even engagement and interest in the NEC. Some appear not to research issues, work out what they think, engage and take ideas forward. Instead, some are not very interested and vote on basis of who they want to ally with on NEC. In other words, many people who voted against didn’t seem to care about is happening in Iraq.
Another motion I believe deserves some discussion was on solidarity with an organisation, Workers’ Advice Centre/WAC-Ma’an, that organises Jewish and Arab workers in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This was voted down by both the Left and Right on NEC, for different reasons.
At the last NEC policy was passed favouring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy (BDS) – which I voted against. Policy was also passed favouring a two states settlement for the region, which I proposed.
For the Right on NEC (the “Right” on NEC are not Conservative party members but are certainly on the “Right” of debates on the NEC), the possibility of giving a tiny sum of our national union’s money to anyone – whether that is a student attacked by the police on a demonstration, or striking college workers, is unthinkable. We must challenge this! According to NUS estimates at national conference, there is a cumulative £4 million expenditure for 2014/15. Offering our resources to those that share our morals is important and potentially highly useful.
Unfortunately, this argument was also pursued by the Left-winger opposing the motion. Left-wingers: this is not something we should be in the business of doing. If left-wingers disagree with a motion, they should argue it on those grounds, not on the basis the right-wing argument that NUS “doesn’t have enough money”.
WAC Maan was established in the 1990s. It is one of the rays of hope in a bleak situation in Israel/Palestine. It’s an independent, grassroots trade union centre which organises in sectors and industries often neglected by the mainstream trade unions.
It shows that organisation and politics that unite Jewish and Arab workers on the basis of internationalism, anti-racism, opposition to the occupation, and basic class solidarity, are possible.
Currently WAC Maan are set to enforce the first collective agreement against bosses in the West Bank, in the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, at the Zafarty Garage. This is precedent setting. It is also important as it is forcing the courts to look at how Israeli employers manipulate entry permits as a way of getting rid of militants.
If workers across the occupied territories were organised, they would be able to exert considerable influence over the Israeli government, and over the future of the occupied territories.
To conclude: there are clearly disagreements amongst the NEC, and political Left, about international politics. I hope we can continue to have those discussions openly and frankly. I would certainly encourage those on the NEC to write down their opinions on the subject, particularly if they disagree.
I will continue to write reports of NUS NEC activities, and can be contacted on: email@example.com
Some encouraging news at last:
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish forces have halted an advance by militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) on Kobane and are in control of most of the Syrian border town, Kobane’s top official said Thursday.
Anwar Muslim, head of the Kobane canton in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), said that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the people of Kobane have most of the city under control. He added that morale is high.
Speaking to Rudaw by phone from Kobane, Muslim said that town officials have remained inside and will not be scared away by the ISIS.
“ISIS is using heavy weapons to bombard (the town), but YPG fighters are resisting and have halted their advance,” he said.
ISIS militants launched a fresh offensive inside the Syrian Kurdish town on the Turkish border overnight, seizing control of a market area in the east, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said earlier Thursday, after U.S.-led airstrikes appeared to have pushed the jihadists back earlier in the day.
From across the Turkish border, the sound of heavy gunfire and shelling could be heard late into the night from just across the frontier and plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from several parts of the Syrian town.
SOHR said that ISIS fighters had advanced up to 70 meters inside the eastern edge of Kobane, capturing the al-Hal market in the town’s industrial zone, after receiving military reinforcements from the outside.
Muslim pleaded to the international community and the Kurdish parties to assist the besieged town.
“I ask the countries of the world and all the Kurdish parties and the Kurdistan Region to aid Kobane and clear it of ISIS,” Muslim said.
Intensified US airstrikes all this week relieved some of the pressure on the town, which has been besieged for more than three weeks.
(From Rudaw.net; h/t Comrade Coatesy)
Above: dying YPG fighter
From today’s Times:
The hearts of the Kurds are breaking and we must heed their pleas. In Kobane, lightly armed Kurdish fighters are defending people against a genocidal enemy with tanks and artillery. If the city falls, the Da’esh fanatics will butcher the men and sell the women into sexual slavery; not even children will be safe. Meanwhile, Turkish troops sit idle on the frontier and the authorities stop Turkish Kurds from crossing to assist their comrades. The scene is eerily reminiscent of the Warsaw uprising of 1944 in which Stalin held back the Red Army to allow the Nazis to wipe out Polish resistance fighters. The world must call upon Turkey to arm the Kurdish fighters. Governments must also drop the designation of the Kurdish YPG fighters as terrorists; they are secular nationalists who pose no danger to the world, and earlier saved the Yazidis from annihilation.
DR JOHN TULLY
Senior lecturer in politics and history, Victoria University, Melbourne
I am a woman. I am a Kurd. And since I entered this world, this is the second time that my family and my people are experiencing a genocide and massacre. And this is the story of our life.
This is the second time in 23 years, because of the threat of a genocide, there has been a mass exodus of my people to the borders of a hostile state, only to be shot at and beaten as they sought refuge from a greater evil.
This is the second time, in 23 years, that our girls have been carried away, erased from history; left only in the memory of those who loved them, forever left wallowing in the pits of the darkness that the evil in the hearts of some men forced on them. Their lives, their hopes, the love that they carried in their young hearts blowing away in the wind like the barely written pages in the rarest books; and surely each and every one of them was as rare and as precious as the next.
There is a certain beauty in the fleeting nature of life. The meaning of life is in the nature of our experiences and what these experiences teach us. Some of us go through life never knowing any better, never questioning life or our value or place in the scheme of things. We know with certainty that the wheel of time spins a life of joy and immense privilege. We know that only good things come to us tomorrow, and we lay ourselves to sleep each night knowing the certainty of a blessed life.
And then there are others who carry a load so heavy that the weight of their pain is enough to break a lessor person a million times over. And I think of the elderly Yazidi woman who had no one left but a son that she raised with the tears of her loneliness; only for him to be lost careless in the dozens of massacres by ISIL. As if his life was not worth every ache in the bones of this mother, whose hopeless weeping should have shamed a thousand men- if we lived in a better world. I think of the force of her despair as her tears burst from her broken heart, and I wonder, as my own heart bleeds in response, “how can she persevere?”. And I think of the five year old boy who carried his 18 month old sister across miles, in extreme heat, with no water or food with his little feet, so that he could escape from grown men meaning him harm his innocent mind could not fathom; and I think a child should never have to live such a terror- but I am only reminded of my own childhood, and I realize my heart is twisting because he reminds me of my older brother and how we grew up in war, in refugee camps, escaping another genocide, another massacre, in hunger and poverty and I KNOW that reality is different. And still, I think of the Yazidi girls, renowned for their beauty, being carried away for the pleasure of men who, surely if hell existed, deserve no better place. And I think of the mother whose six daughters and new bride had been carried away by this same evil, and I struggle to understand; and surely, “how can we ask them to bear such pain?”
And YET, today is Eid- the Festival of Sacrifices. And TODAY my people were meant to be sacrificed by ISIL as a gift to their people. And today is day 19 of the siege of Kobane. 19 days in which no support, food, aid and supplies have entered Kobane to the YPG AND YPJ forces simply because they are Kurds, and they are homeless, and because they dare to ask for the same right that so many people enjoy each and every single day. And, YET, against all odds, they persevere; because their brave hearts hope that one day they will leave this world a little bit better than when they entered it. One in which the Yazidi girls are safe and the little children are safe and in which Kurdish mothers do not celebrate their Eid in the graveyards of their sons and daughters, lost for a homeless nation.
And yet, we persevere. We persevere despite our tears. We persevere, because we must
NB: Coatesy’s coverage of the fight against IS (ISIS/ISIL), the need to stand with the Kurds, and the bankruptcy of the wretched ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (and its supporters at the Guardian) has been outstanding. He excelled himself today.
Above: Moazzam Begg
Reactions to the sudden and surprising release of Moazzam Begg, who has been awaiting trial on charges of terrorism since March, have been predictably polarised.
5Pillarz is rejoicing at the news, and wheels out a spokesman from the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to tell us all how shocking it is that some people associate Muslims with extremism. Puleeze:
“Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family. He said: ‘Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.'”
By contrast, The Henry Jackson website rather sulkily reminds its readers that Moazzam Begg still isn’t very nice even if he is innocent of these particular charges.
But some have been asking whether he really is innocent after all. A report in the Times hinted at some shady dealings behind the scenes:
“Neither police, prosecutors nor intelligence sources would comment on whether the sudden abandonment was linked to behind-the-scenes efforts to free British hostages held by Islamic State in Syria.”
This invitation to speculate in a way unflattering to Begg has been picked up very readily by those of an Islamosceptic bent, as a skim read below the line (of the Times article) will demonstrate.
However, although my own views on Begg are much closer to the Henry Jackson Society than to 5Pillarz, there doesn’t seem any evidence that Begg has been let off as part of a deal with ISIS, nor does it seem a particularly plausible theory.
It certainly doesn’t fit with the CPS response:
“The Crown Prosecution Service said that it had reviewed the case after being made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation. A spokesman added: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”
He was charged back in March, well before any negotiations with ISIS over hostage release might have taken place.
It’s frustrating that there is so much mystery over Begg’s release – and to note that, in line with the stopped clock rule, 5Pillarz may have a point on this occasion. Here’s part of the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement:
” … we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.
“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.
“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”
In the circumstances, unless some further evidence comes to light, that’s a fair comment. And, as Mary Dejevsky points out:
“At the very least this has been an egregious waste of public money.”
From Howies’ Corner:
Cross-post from Why Evolution Is True
Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy
I meant to post this yesterday, but there is so little time. . . Still, it must be recorded so that the full horrors of ISIS’s behavior can be known. Both Thursday’s New York Times and Reliefweb (summarizing a condemnation by a UN envoy) report that an Iraqi lawyer, Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy, was taken from her home in Iraq by members of ISIS, tortured, and then executed by firing squad. Her crime? Apostasy.
From the NYT:
Ms. Nuaimy had posted comments on her Facebook page condemning the “barbaric” bombing and destroying of mosques and shrines in Mosul, a northern Iraqi city, by the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL. She was convicted of apostasy by a “so-called court,” Mr. Zeid said, adding that her family had been barred from giving her a funeral.
The killing follows the execution of a number of Iraqi women in areas under Islamic State control documented by United Nations monitors, including two candidates contesting Iraq’s general election in Nineveh Province, who were killed in July. A third female candidate was abducted by gunmen in eastern Mosul and has not been heard from since.
And, like Pol Pot and Mao before them, ISIS targets the group most likely to make trouble: educated and literate people, especially women, whose acts of criticizing Islamic society are especially odious to devout Muslims:
United Nations monitors in Iraq have received numerous reports of executions of women by Islamic State gunmen, some after perfunctory trials, the organization said. “Educated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk,” it added.
These killings, together with abductions and the enslavement of women and children, illustrate the “utterly poisonous nature” of the extremist group, Mr. Zeid said, drawing attention to the plight of hundreds of women and girls of the Yazidi religious minority and other ethnic and religious groups sold into slavery, raped or forced into marriage after the group overran large areas of northern Iraq.
The thought that someone would be tortured for five days before being shot boggles my mind. It’s a return to medieval barbarism. And Karen Armstrong tells us this has nothing to do with religion: it’s due to enforced secularism (what??). Now tell me how execution for “apostasy” could exist without religion. And every country where that’s a crime is Islamic. From Wikipedia:
In 2011, 20 countries across the globe prohibited its citizens from apostasy; in these countries, it is a criminal offense to abandon one’s faith to become atheist, or convert to another religion. All 20 of these countries were majority Islamic nations, of which 11 were in the Middle East.
Here’s the map, with the penalties in each of the countries. Can one seriously make a case that in every one of those countries the laws against apostasy stem from colonialism, or from religion that, coopted by a malicious state, was once benign and is now odious? After all, both the Qur’an and the hadith specify punishment for leaving the faith, and in thehadith that punishment is death. Punishment for apostasy was part of the faith from the beginning.
We already know that ISIS is poisonous, and somehow—I don’t know how—it must be destroyed. Although other Muslims have condemned the group as “un-Islamic,” it’s a charge I find ludicrous, for this killing, rape, and abduction of women is merely an extension of the more moderate Islamic doctrine of marginalizing and oppressing women. Though you can face charges of “Islamophobia” for saying so, we must incessantly condemn the “moderate” Muslim practice of not allowing women to achieve their full potential. A large proportion of these “moderates” may not engage in beheadings, rapes, and tortures, but they still treat half of their population as second-class citizens—if you can even call them “citizens.” “Breeder cattle” is more like it.
By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.