The highly dangerous situation in Ukraine has brought into focus the threat of a new cold war, and the possibility of military conflict. It is in the interests of no one for such military conflict to take place.
We oppose all foreign military intervention, and it is in that spirit that we now wish to clarify our position on the present crisis.
We take no lessons from those who have supported intervention in the past in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and who proposed major air strikes in Syria as recently as last August. Nor should we believe concerns about national sovereignty from countries which have launched drone attacks on Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
There are many political differences in Ukraine that can only be resolved politically and by respecting the language and civil rights of all concerned.
The Stop The War Coalition recognises that in some of our previous statements we may have given the impression that Putin’s actions towards the Ukraine were justified and that, in any case, the job of any anti-war movement is to oppose only its own government’s wars. We now recognise that this was a mistake, and wish to put the record straight.
Firstly, the suggestion that the overthrow of the corrupt president Yanukovych was the work of US imperialism, rather than a genuine, democratic social revolt, was clearly wrong. Secondly, the repetition of Putin’s slander that the Ukraine protest movement and the interim government are dominated by fascists, whilst repeated in good faith by ourselves and many others on the left and the peace movement, has now been shown to be false.
We now call for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from areas close to Ukraine, no further annexations and an end to attempts to bully Ukraine back under Russian domination.
At the same time, we call on the West to act with restraint (in particular, to reject calls for any kind of military response), to cancel Ukraine’s debts and to encourage devolution of power within Ukraine.
These are the steps required in order to avoid a new cold war, a war which is against the interests of the people of the world, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. The Stop The War Coalition apologises for any previous statements that may have suggested that we hold to any other agenda.
PUTIN: HANDS OFF UKRAINE!
‘The Stop the War Coalition opposes imperialist interventions wherever they occur, and by whatever government carries them out. We didn’t stop the war in Iraq, but we did create a mass anti war opinion in Britain and throughout the world. That tide of anti war opinion has made itself felt in the past few days. We now have to reject all attempts at intervention in Ukraine and call upon President Putin to to develop a foreign policy which is based on equality and justice, and the rights of national sovereignty. We will demonstrate on Saturday against this intervention. It is the aim of the anti-war movement to ensure that Putin is forced to abandon the attack on Ukraine now that the country with which Russia is supposed to enjoy a ‘special relationship’ has carried out an exercise in national self-determination.’
[NB: if it's not obvious...ONLY JOKING!]
Thanks to Comrade Coatesy and also Bob from Brockley for drawing this bizarre business to my attention. You don’t need to be a supporter of the Syrian rebels (certainly, neither Coatesy nor us at Shiraz are) to be appalled at people like Newman’s Socialist Unity blog and Rees’ Stop the War pimping for Assad’s fascistic regime. The following comes from Tendance Coatesy:
Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix will not be attending the Stop the War Coalition’s International Anti-War Conference on the 30th of November.
It seems that two speakers due to speak at the event – Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill – threatened not to come unless her invitation was withdrawn.
The Stop the War Coalition announced on Saturday,
Over the last few days a campaign has developed over the invitation we extended to Mother Agnes — a nun from Syria, who leads a campaign called Mussalaha (Reconciliation) — to speak in London at the International Anti-War Conference on 30 November organised by Stop the War Coalition.
Mother Agnes has now withdrawn from speaking at the conference.
In inviting speakers to participate in its events, Stop the War has never sought to endorse all their views. We have always provided a platform for a diversity of opinions within a broad anti-war perspective.
John Wight of Socialist Unity writes today,
She has been demonised by her detractors as a ‘pro regime stooge’ due to her support for Assad and his government. But why wouldn’t she? As with the majority of Syrians who support their government – and none more so than Syria’s various minority communities – she understands that the only force capable of preventing her country being turned into a killing field by western and Saudi backed savages is the Syrian Government, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.
The BBC reports on Mother Agnès-Mariam (Extracts)
In recent weeks she has become the focus of media attention because of her attempt to prove to the world that Syrian opposition activists fabricated the videos showing victims of the Damascus chemical attack.
She argues the horrifying scenes – of men, women and children either dead or dying from inhaling sarin gas – which caused such international outrage were stage-managed.
The BBC’s Richard Galpin spoke to Mother Agnes.
Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix sprinkles blessings liberally over our conversation.
I’ve phoned her to request an interview about her strange role as an analyst of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
In her most startling conclusion she alleges some of the people seen in the videos are in fact women and children abducted by rebels from minority Alawite areas of the country. President Bashar al-Assad and his family belong to this community.
The BBC asks, “So how credible are the claims made by Mother Agnes which have been so eagerly seized upon by Moscow as it still tries to save the Assad regime?”
There’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes,” says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, which has produced many detailed reports on Syria.
“She is not a professional video forensic analyst… we have found no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated.”
One by one, Mr Bouckaert rejected the claims, saying:
- There were tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Ghouta area of Damascus, according to very regular reports received by Human Rights Watch
- Children were often sleeping in the basements of buildings in significant concentrations because of the intense shelling and that is why so many died (Sarin gas accumulates at low levels)
- The dead and those injured in the chemical attack were moved from place to place and room to room both at the clinics and ultimately for burial
- There were many men and women who were victims of the attacks. But there were separate rooms for the bodies of children, men and women so they could be washed for burial
- Almost all of the victims have been buried
Human rights researchers have spoken to the relatives of Alawite women and children abducted by rebels. None of them said they had recognised their loved ones in the gas attack videos
It is perhaps not a coincidence that arch-conspiracy theorist lunatics Lyndon LaRouche’s group have diffused (November the 14th) a video of an interview with Mother Agnès-Mariam.
Bob from Brockley has been following this controversy closely.
He comments (yesterday),
Her invitation provoked outrage from Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution, as “Mother Agnes” has been a widely disseminated mouthpiece for the Assad regime’s propaganda, including vigorously denying some of Assad’s war crimes. (Of pictures of dead children in Ghouta, for example, she claims they are only sleeping.) Her lies are widely promoted by Russian media sources, by Christian news agencies, and by the LaRouche network. There are also live allegations about her own involvement in war crimes, and in the regime murder of journalists. Below the fold, I have pasted some information about her, but some good starting points are Linux Beach, Democratic Revolution, and Pulse.
The Stop the War Coalition could do without this kind of “opinion” amongst its “diversity”.
By Ross Spear (taken from Facebook). It should go without saying that us Shirazers don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s opinions, and we didn’t seek his permission before publishing this, as it was already in the public domain:
How To Argue
The crisis inside the SWP has long been peppered with calls to conduct the debate in a comradely fashion inside the organisation. What goes unsaid is just how difficult this has been made. It takes two to tango, and the leadership has expended considerable effort destroying any possibility of a reasoned debate on the events of the past year. Its interventions on the subject are more akin to the smear tactics found in tabloid newspapers than the kind of debating you would expect to have amongst comrades. I take here the Charlie Kimber/Alex Callinicos article in the most recent ISJ as an example of this sort of behaviour. I stress that this is only that of an example, for the writings of the SWP leadership on the crisis are riddled from top to bottom with the wilful distortions that characterise their approach to ‘debate’. That this is their modus operandi only goes to show that their aim is not to convince their opponents so much as it is to discredit them. They aim to publicly sow confusion in order that the relevant facts are accorded a degree of ambiguity in the minds of their readers.
For anyone closely involved in the SWP crisis the various diversions, distortions and omissions are always plain to see. For those looking on at a distance this is likely not always so clear, thus why the opposition has been forced in to a rear-guard action so as to publicly set the record straight at every twist and turn. David Renton has already comprehensively dismantled the claims in the first part of the article that refers to the two cases. 65% of the article, however, is not concerned with this but deals with refuting what Callinicos and Kimber believe to be the mistaken politics of the opposition. They seek to take the debate “onto a political terrain where the issues can genuinely be clarified.” What emerges, however, is precisely the opposite.
Their main claim is that the opposition is subject to the deviation of ‘movementism’. That is to say that it, or at least a sizeable component of it, has renounced class politics and, specifically, the primacy of the working class as the agency of socialist change. This is what underpins the current split within the organisation, and is a common thread running through each split since the 2007 Respect crisis. It is through this lens that Kimber and Callinicos understand the opposition.
Argument by diversion
In reality, there is little indication that any drift towards ‘movementism’ is a defining aspect of the opposition. It is certainly not a unifying element of this heterogeneous bloc, which is unified solely in its disagreement with the systematic covering up of rape accusations. The opposition remains unified by this, and probably this alone, in spite of any protestations by Kimber and Callinicos to the contrary. In order to achieve their ideal target of an argument with ‘movementists’ they pursue diversionary tactics, away from what the opposition is talking about and towards what Kimber and Callinicos would like to talk about. They are unable to produce a sustained argument that would vindicate the SWP in its handling of two serious disputes, thus they move us on to something that they are confident talking about: the importance of the working class. The structure of the piece betrays this, for they quickly put forward their (incorrect) version of how the allegations were handled before launching in to a lengthy diatribe about movements, class and the united front.
If this is intended to be read and digested by the opposition then they merely waste paper, for that is not the dispute we are having. But this is not, of course, the purpose of the article. The diversion here is so absurd that one struggles to think that Kimber and Callinicos believe their own fantasy. There is certainly a time and a place for putting the arguments of revolutionary socialists as to the importance of the working class out in public, in order to convince people of our ideas. An article seeking to understand why a large portion of the SWP’s membership is resistant to the endemic sexism present in its handling of rape allegations is not it.
Argument by distortion
This diversion is achieved by way of presenting two pieces of evidence, provided to the reader as if they were telling examples of SWP members gone bad. For the first, they paraphrase the view of Richard Seymour: “Neoliberalism has entered the very soul of the working class, crushing class solidarity and identification, engendering acceptance of market relationships and hollowing out resistance.” According to Kimber and Callinicos the claim put here by Seymour is that neoliberalism “has totally gutted working class power.” It must be left up to Seymour to clarify his own ideas, but based on Kimber and Callinicos’ own summary he has said nothing of the sort. It is a well-known fact of the last thirty years that social attitudes have changed considerably (in what thirty year period do they not?) and that the working class has been on the back foot in the class struggle. Identifying the nature of this is the first step to changing it. Kimber and Callinicos are surely not yet so far fallen from revolutionary socialism that they would deny Marx’s postulate that the ruling ideas are those of the ruling class – and yet this is all Seymour’s claim really amounts to. Thus Seymour is presented as a heretic to revolutionary socialism not by the use of supporting evidence but by asking the reader to make a leap of faith, to trust in Kimber and Callinicos to know what he is really getting at. The authors travel swiftly from what he did say to what they would have liked him to have said, and then they comprehensively rebut that instead.
Their second target is Renton, whose crime is to contend that “’Core’ public sector workers… having final salary pensions arguably have as much in common with MPs and bankers as they do with the nine out of ten workers who rely on private pensions or no pensions save the state pension.” Once more a jump is made by Kimber and Callinicos, who transform this statement – that the minority of workers who have decent pensions have something significant in common with other social strata that do also – in to a moral claim on Renton’s part that these workers are somehow bad because they have attained this level of security. Renton is said to be ‘directing fire’ at groups of workers. Unfortunately for Kimber and Callinicos, the quoted passage does not make the argument that they go on to counter. They are once more left to argue against a target that they have constructed themselves. If I make the observation that those who have been to Russell Group universities and become workers have something in common with lots of non-workers, like MPs, I am not ‘directing fire’ but making a potentially valuable statement about a certain lived experience. That this is a fact does not make those involved any less working class, but may nonetheless be of use in understanding the lived experience of workers if socialists wish to lead them. The ruling class has consciously pursued stratification within the working class, attempting to break down its bonds of solidarity. The least we owe them is to acknowledge this. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Rees has many faults, but seems an unlikely racist
Ex-SWP’er Anna Chen, who blogs at ‘Madam Miaow Says’ is a writer and performance artist of Chinese-British extraction. She recently wrote a piece, re-published and/or quoted on various blogs, criticising Ken Loach’s film The Spirit of ’45 for ignoring black people. My personal view is that while she has a point, she possibly overstates her case, given the film’s concentration upon the 1930s and ’40s, before large-scale black immigration into the UK. But Loach’s dismissive response on Radio 4, “That’s how it was. That’s the record of the time” does him no credit.
Anna has a Comment piece in yesterday’s Guardian (print edition) in which she again criticises Loach’s film for only showing white people, and she also makes some well-aimed criticism of Maurice Glasman and David Goodhart (both said to be influential in Labour Party thinking on race, immigration and “community”).
But Anna also makes an extraordinary allegation against ‘Counterfire’ and People’s Assembly big-wig John Rees:
“The blind spot that so irritated Orwell is alive and well on the left today: in one shocking example, John Rees – a former leading member of the SWP (and now the People’s Assembly leader) – argued that ‘it’s British workers who count, not Chinese’ soon after 58 dead Chinese migrants were found dead in a truck in 2000.”
Let’s be clear: Anna is accusing Rees of racism: there can be no other interpretation placed on her allegation. Anna does not provide the full context of Rees’s alleged words, but it’s difficult to conceive of any context that would make such words acceptable.
I have not always considered Anna an entirely reliable source of information in the past and, indeed, the Guardian piece contains at least one howler: since when has the Grunwick dispute been considered a “famous victory”?
The charge against Rees is about as serious as it gets, and presumably the Guardian‘s lawyers cleared it. But does anyone know when, where and in what context Rees is supposed to have made that comment? As regular readers will know, I don’t have much time for Rees and his degenerate ‘Counterfire’ outfit, but I have to say I find Anna’s allegation against him difficult to credit. And if she can’t back it up, she ought to withdraw it.
NB: I see that the online version of Anna’s article (linked to above) omits the alleged quote from Rees and carries the following disclaimer:
• This article was amended on 17 July 2013 following a complaint from John Rees, an organiser of the People’s Assembly and a former member of the SWP, to remove remarks which he denies making.
You’d think a call for the overthrow of clerical fascists would be uncontentious for socialists, wouldn’t you?
We have yet to see how the SWP, who called for the election of the Muslim Brotherhood, will react to the latest developments in Egypt. They are on record defending clerical fascism. And, of course, ex-SWP’er John Rees of the degenerate ‘Counterfire’ outfit, is an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood, having repeatedly attended and promoted their Cairo conferences when a leader of the SWP.
Above: Rees, the Brotherhood’s man within the UK left (including the SWP until they kicked him out)
Here’s the AWL’s Mark Osborne’s description of an attempt to educate SWP members about the Muslim Brotherhood a year ago, during the Egyptian presidential election :
Last week AWL activists leafleted SWP meetings to try to engage SWP members over their organisations support for a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian presidential elections.
Generally we found SWP members unwilling even to take our leaflet, never mind read it and discuss. If a debate had actually taken place it might have looked like this.
SWP: Fundamentally you are sectarians. You intend to turn your backs on the mass of workers who are following the Muslim Brothers. The Brothers got 10 million votes in the parliamentary elections in December 2011. Yes, the leaders are well-off, but the rank and file are workers. In the Suez industrial area, for example, the big majority of workers voted for the Brothers or the salafist party Nour. We need to win the workers and to do that we need to get close to them, link up with them and talk to them.
AWL: Get close to them and link up? – you’re addressing this as an organisational matter, as if we just need a bus ticket to Alexandria. ‘Talk to them’? Of course, but we differ on what to say You approach the question like a sociologist – we don’t just ‘follow the workers’ irrespective of what the workers are actually doing. We’re not ‘ignoring’ the workers who follow the Brothers, but sometimes it is necessary to say to workers: this party will lead you to a disaster; workers have their own interests, distinct from the right-wing religious sectarians, pro-market millionaires and professionals who run the Brotherhood. By endorsing the Brothers you certainly are turning your backs on women, Christian workers, young liberals, trade unionists and leftists who are for democracy and are rightly alarmed by the Brothers. The MB’s support peaked in December, millions have turned away from them – our job is to encourage that flow towards us.
SWP: If you fail to vote for the Brothers you will never get a hearing from the many millions that still follow them. We have not dropped a single criticism of them. That is not necessary. We have made no political concession.
AWL: Voting for them is a political concession! Advocating a vote for them means taking some responsibility for them – you are recommending them, at some level, to the workers.
SWP: Yes, of course we are. They are preferable to the tired, corrupt old regime. Is that not true? Our slogan is the old communist one: ‘march separately, and strike together’.
AWL: In your case that useful idea is rewritten: ‘march behind, help them strike for what they want’. ‘March separately; strike together’ is the idea behind the workers’ united front. It is a joke to use it here, now, with the clerical right-wing MB! During the election campaign they presented themselves as pro-market, overtly Islamic, devout.
SWP: Well, what do you expect? Most Egyptians are devout. Simply denouncing religious parties and Islam will get you nowhere. We need to be sensitive to religious sensibilities. The MB is continuing the revolution against the old regime. Many voted for them to express opposition to the old regime. We have to relate to such people. Moreover the attempted on-going ‘slow’ coup by the army is undermining your position. Right now, on the streets it is: for the military? or for democracy and the people’s choice, the Brothers?
AWL: The Brothers sat on the sidelines while the youth fought in the streets against Mubarak. The political benefits have, unfortunately fallen into their laps. The aim of socialist activity is to make a third choice possible – workers’ liberty – and a political collapse in front of the Brothers will not do that. No-one advocates headlines on all socialist propaganda: ‘Down with Islam!’ Equally we are secular Marxists, and it would be better if you remembered that. Let’s accept that the Brothers are ‘making a revolution’. But it is their revolution, which is both against the army, and simultaneously against us – the left, the workers, the feminists.
SWP: Reformists always compromise and often let others do their fighting. We must be there to point out to the poor and the youth that follow the MB that they should be pursuing a resolute struggle against the army and old regime. The MB took a turn after the book Signposts, by Sayyid Qutb, was published in the mid-60s. They stopped seeing the only enemy as imperialism, and attacked the local state directly. They were very embarrassing for the moderates. Thousands of young radicals were inspired.
AWL: Yes, but inspired to do what, exactly? You are relating to them like the LP, which is absurd. They are no sort of working class party. Are they?
SWP: Your argument has become even weaker as the military have begun to move against the Brothers and against democracy. Socialists defend the MB against the military and defend the right of the MB to take power – they have a majority, let’s put them to the test. When the MB take people out onto the streets in self-defence we must be with them, against the military. Or would you stand on the sidelines while the military take full control again?
AWL: If big, popular mobilisations against the military threat take place, led by the MB, clearly socialists would take part. We’d intervene, organise our own contingents; organise our own initiatives. Attempt to rally the workers and poor not just against the military but for democracy, women’s and workers’ rights. We would aim to rally people not just against the military, but for our positive demands.
SWP: And you fail to understand the potentially anti-imperialist role of Islamism. The Iranian Islamists did take control of the US embassy. The Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine have played a key role in the armed struggle against Israel. The Algerian FIS did organise huge demonstrations against the first US war against Iraq.
AWL: Before coming to power Khomeini said he was for democracy, women’s rights and against imperialism. Anti-imperialism is not enough: what is important is what a political group is for. You fail to understand the counter-revolutionary role of Islamism. These forces will smash us and kill us if they can.
SWP: The job is to relate to the radicals amongst the Islamists. In the Prophet and the Proletariat  the SWP’s Chris Harman wrote, “As with any ‘petty bourgeois utopia’ its supporters are faced with a choice between heroic but futile attempts to impose it in opposition to those who run existing society, or compromising with them, providing an ideological veneer to continuing oppression and exploitation. It is this which leads inevitably to splits between a radical, terrorist wing of Islamism on the one hand, and a reformist wing on the others. It is also this which leads some of the radicals to switch from using arms to try to bring about a society without ‘oppressors’ to using them to impose ‘Islamic’ forms of behaviour on individuals.”
AWL: So Harman thought that the radicals, involved in armed ‘resistance’ would come over to our side? Hasn’t this nonsense been ended by 9/11? This is simply another example of the SWP becoming mesmerised by ‘militancy’ rather than actually asking what a particular political force positively stands for. For example, look at Hamas – the Brothers sister party – in Gaza. Sure, they oppose the Israelis – but in their own way, for their own reactionary reasons. In Gaza they have smashed unions, uprooted secularism, enforced backward dress codes on women, created a one-party religious state. The Islamists’ revolution against the state and imperialism is both partial and – more to the point – against us (the left, the unions, women, religious minorities, LGBT people) too.
SWP: Yes but, as Harman also said, “On some issues we will find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists against imperialism and the state. This was true, for instance, in many countries during the second Gulf War. It should be true in countries like France or Britain when it comes to combating racism. Where the Islamists are in opposition, our rule should be, ‘with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never’”.
AWL: This is sloppy. If the fascists attack a mosque, for example, the socialist left will be with the Muslim self-defence. It might even be necessary to conclude a practical agreement with the Mosque leaders – even Islamists – to that end. However, we are never ‘with the Islamists’ in politics or ideas. And by the way Harman also wrote this: “But socialists cannot give support to the Islamists either. That would be to call for the swapping of one form of oppression for another, to react to the violence of the state by abandoning the defence of ethnic and religious minorities, women and gays, to collude in scapegoating that makes it possible for capitalist exploitation to continue unchecked providing it takes “Islamic” forms. It would be to abandon the goal of independent socialist politics, based on workers in struggle organising all the oppressed and exploited behind them, for a tail-ending of a petty bourgeois utopianism which cannot even succeed in its own terms.” Even Harman was against what the SWP is saying now.
From the archive: Rumy Hasan’s 2003 article arguing against electoral pacts with ‘Muslim groups’ (he plainly means ‘Islamist groups’) and the left’s use of the word “Islamophobia.’ At the time he wrote it, Rumy was a member of the SWP and active in the Socialist Alliance. We don’t agree with every last detail of the piece (eg Rumy’s enthusiasm for the Scottish Socialist Party), but its main thrust, in my opinion, remains sound: the prospect of the left making further electoral pacts with Islamist groups has receded since the demise of ‘Respect’, but Rumy’s central point about the the left’s approach to Islamist groups, and use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ still needs to be repeated and argued for amongst the left and anti-racist campaigners.
‘Islamophobia’ and Electoral Pacts with Muslim Groups
Above: Rees, Murray and Galloway: prime movers in promoting Islamism on the “left”
By Rumy Hasan
SINCE 11 SEPTEMBER 2001, the epithet “Islamophobia” has increasingly become in vogue in Britain – not only from Muslims but also, surprisingly, from wide layers of the left, yet the term is seldom elaborated upon or placed in a proper context. Invariably, it is used unwisely and irresponsibly and my argument is that the left should refrain from using it.
Shockingly, some on the left have, on occasion, even resorted to using it as a term of rebuke against left, secular, critics of reactionary aspects of Muslim involvement in the anti-war movement. So what does the term mean? Literally, “fear of Islam” but, more accurately, a dislike or hatred of Muslims, analogous to “anti-Semitism”. Since September 11, there has undoubtedly been an increasing resentment and hostility by some sections of the media towards Muslims in Britain and more generally in the West that, in turn, has also given rise to some popular hostility. But this is rarely made explicitly – rather it is coded as an attack on asylum seekers, refugees, and potential “terrorists”, above all, on Arabs from North Africa and the Middle East. This has been most intense in America, where there has been systematic harassment of Arabs for almost two years.
Surprisingly, however, all sections of the media, including the gutter press, have largely refrained from open attacks on British Muslims. In terms of physical attacks, including fatalities, to my knowledge these have been relatively few. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, it was a Sikh man who was murdered in the US because he wore a turban in the manner of Bin Laden. But there were certainly attacks – both on individuals and on mosques – in Britain, especially in Northern towns, probably by BNP thugs; and other notorious acts such as leaving a pig’s head outside a mosque. But these largely abated soon after, though such incidents still periodically occur. Hence there is certainly no room for complacency. But does all this amount to Islamophobia? Clearly not: we are not dealing with a situation comparable to the Jews under the Nazis in the 1930s, nor even of Muslims in Gujarat, India, that is currently run by a de facto Hindu fascist regime. Arguably, the situation in the 1970s, when the National Front was becoming a real menace in Britain, was more dangerous for Muslims and non-Muslim ethnic minorities alike.
Moreover, perhaps as a counter-balance, the more responsible TV and press media have, in fact, been portraying a number of, if anything, over-positive images of Islam and Muslims (examples include the BBC’s series on Islam – which was a whitewash; a highly sympathetic week-long account of Birmingham Central Mosque; and a 2-week long daily slot on the Hajj by Channel 4 that downplayed the appalling death toll which occurs there every year). An establishment paper such as the Financial Times has had front-page photos of the Hajj and of anti-war placards of the Muslim Association of Britain. Soon after September 11, both political leaders and the media – out of concern for the backlash this was likely to generate, dropped the term “Islamic fundamentalist” from usage. In the same vein, Bush invited an imam to the special religious service held soon after S11 in Washington; and Blair met Muslim leaders in Britain. This was a symbolism that went down well with Muslim leaders in these countries.
Nonetheless, many Muslims still believe that the US-led “war on terror” is in fact a war against Islam and therefore is the clearest expression of Islamophobia. But such reasoning overlooks some uncomfortable realities. The country at the forefront of this “war” is of course the US. Let us, therefore, summarise briefly its relations with the “Islamic” world:
i. The US has long propped up the Saudi regime, a crucial ally in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the most sacred sites of Islam. But there has never been a squeak of protest by the US government against the brutality and oppressiveness of this barbaric society – rather, the US has gone out of its way not to criticise it out of “respect for Islamic values and culture”. This, of course, is humbug, but the fact remains;
ii. The second largest recipient of US aid (after Israel) is Egypt – a Muslim country;
iii. In 1991, the US-led coalition “liberated” Kuwait, a Muslim country – with the help of practically all the Muslim Gulf states;
iv. In 1999, the US and its NATO allies “liberated” Kosovo – a predominantly Muslim province, from “Christian” Serbia. The ex-Serb President Milosevic is undergoing a show-trial in The Hague for “crimes against humanity” (specifically, against Kosovar Muslims);
v. The US armed, trained, and funded the Islamic fundamentalists of the Afghan Mujahideen in the fight against the Russians. This included nurturing one Osama Bin Laden.
vi. The US had no problems of the takeover of Afghanistan in 1996 by the Taliban – the creation largely of Pakistan, a strong ally of the US and an avowedly “Islamic Republic”.
vii. The US has been strongly pushing for Turkey’s membership of the EU – though Turkey is a secular state, most Turks are, nominally at least, Muslims.
The list could go on. One might, therefore, wonder where is the “war on Islam” or “Islamophobia” of US foreign policy? It is not for nothing that leaders of Muslim countries rarely talk about “Islamophobia”. Moreover, it is a rarely stated fact that Muslims say from the Indian sub-continent or East Asia are likely to experience much harsher treatment and discrimination at the hands of “fellow Muslims” in Arab (especially Gulf) countries than they are in the West. So, woe betide those who parrot the Islamophobic argument against the Western right – for those foolish enough to do so will surely be in for a serious hammering. Moreover, by so doing, they will let the imperialists off the hook. In reality, US imperialism does not give a damn about the religion of a country as long as its economic and strategic interests are served. It has long supported the most reactionary, dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world – as long as they do its bidding. If they fall out of line, as with Iraq, then they are subjected to the full imperial onslaught. At most, we could say that there has been a degree of Anti-Arab hostility that has spilled over into anti-Muslim sentiment as one of the justifications for this. But this does not alter that fact that, both domestically and internationally, there is simply no material basis to “Islamophobia”. Read the rest of this entry »
By Mark Osborn (Solidarity paper and AWL website)
Above: Assad stooge and Stop The War favourite Issa Chaer on Press TV
The latest campaign by the Stop the War campaign, the remnant of the group which ten years ago organised big marches against the invasion of Iraq, is to prevent Western intervention in Syria.
An attempt at a major public meeting on the issue, held in London on 21 May, attracted only 50 people. This was a meeting organised by leftists (Counterfire and Socialist Action) to oppose Western intervention in Syria at which no platform speaker was willing to criticise the disgusting Syrian regime. They say: “our duty is to build a movement against Western intervention.” But, even if such an initiative made sense as an immediate priority, what makes combining opposition to intervention with championing freedom and democracy problematic?
Only that Counterfire has made a political choice not to criticise Assad’s filthy regime. Why? Because in this war Counterfire and Socialist Action are effectively siding with the regime.
Stop the War’s organisers are seriously politically disorientated. And that leaves them sharing platforms with a ridiculous Stalinist, Kamal Majid, and a Syrian academic, Issa Chaer, who when interviewed by the Iranian state’s propaganda outlet, Press TV, said, “I see President Assad as the person who is now uniting the country from all its backgrounds, all factions and all political backgrounds… anybody who calls for President Assad to step down at this stage; would be causing Syria an irreversible destruction.”
Majid’s reasons to oppose Western intervention in Syria are, from a genuinely left wing perspective, senseless.
He says: the US wants to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. Don’t we all? Apparently not. Majid thinks this would be a bad thing.
The American dilemma is rational: they want Assad to go, and replaced by some sort of stability, but don’t know how to get it. They are worried that intervention might embroil them in an expensive, bloody war — like in Iraq or Afghanistan — and end with Syria falling to pieces in sectarian slaughter. They are alarmed by the rising Islamists. So they try to negotiate a new government. But that too is problematic because Assad hangs on, and the Russians and Iranians continue to back Assad.
Majid says: the US and Europe want to intervene to grab Syrian oil and gas. Yes, the EU was the biggest customer for Syrian oil before the civil war and sanctions. But if the US and EU simply wanted Syrian oil they could use the normal capitalist mechanism of buying the stuff with cash. Assad would be delighted to hand over oil for dollars.
Another argument is: US wants to get rid of Hezbollah in Lebanon? Invading Syria would not remove Hezbollah, the reactionary, militarised, Shia party from Lebanon. If the US wanted to remove Hezbollah from Lebanon it would have to invade Lebanon, not Syria! However, Lebanon is one of quite a few countries on the US’s list of “places we do not intend to invade anytime soon”.
Of course Hezbollah’s recent turn towards very significant fighting for Assad in the town of Qusair is very alarming. This might be the point at which the civil war spills over the border. An anti-war campaign worthy of the name would oppose Hezbollah, not seek to protect them. Counterfire won’t do that because Hezbollah oppose the US and Israel and so are to be considered “on our side”.
The final argument is: US wants to remove Assad because it intends to invade Iran. The cartoon used by Stop the War shows Uncle Sam vaulting from Libya to Syria to Iran, bringing democracy. Whatever else is wrong with US policy it is not that it wants democracy in Libya, Syria and Iran. Stop the War presents itself as the group which opposes democracy.
There are foreign troops in Syria already — Iranian troops. A genuinely anti-imperialist movement would also oppose Russian policy and demand the withdrawal of Hezbollah’s fighters and Iranian troops from Syria. For STW it is quite a come-down from a million people on the streets against the Iraq war to a couple of dozen cranky Stalinists and fragments from the SWP in the basement of a London college. The reason is that the premise of the meeting — that the US is about to invade or bomb Syria, and that the main issue for us in Syria is stopping the West — is nonsense.
Indeed, if the US is eagerly looking to use its troops and planes, it has a funny way of going about it. It is now over two years since the uprising in Syria began and — despite plenty of regime outrages that could act as a justification, and pressure from some on the American right — Obama has shown no appetite for a major intervention. He has applied diplomatic pressure favouring the opposition, but has also prevented advanced weaponry getting to the Syrian rebels.
In April US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Military intervention at this point could … embroil the US in a significant, lengthy and uncertain military commitment.”
US policy has shifted a little recently towards efforts to engage the regime and find a diplomatic process which can end the war. The US is working with the Russians to organise a peace conference in Geneva in June.
Western advocates for lifting the EU arms embargo on weapons for the Syrian opposition see their efforts as strengthening the opposition during negotiations, rather than helping the rebels overrun the state. The BBC comments, British Foreign Minister William Hague, “has argued that partially lifting the EU arms embargo… would complement, rather than work against, the peace process because it would strengthen the opposition’s hand in negotiations with President Assad.”
Unions should stop funding STW’s nasty little rump of a campaign
“As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge”
The title of the present post, and the opening quote both come directly from a piece written by one Glenn Greenwald that appeared on the Guardian‘s website on Tuesday 16 April. That’s just one day after the bombings.
Now, I don’t know anything about Mr Greenwald beyond the fact that he’s billed as “a columnist for Guardian US” and seems to be a fairly typical Guardianista: invertebrate- liberal, knee-jerk anti-American, routinely anti-Israeli, generally ignorant and probably quite well-meaning at a personal level. Sort of a Gary Younge without the intelligence and/or a Seumas Milne without the rank hypocrisy.
For a start, Greenwald’s claim that there was a “rush to blame Muslims” after the bombings (in a post he wrote just hours after the attacks!) is simply incorrect. Certainly the Obama administration didn’t do that: they warned against “jumping to conclusions” and didn’t even use the word “terrorism” in their initial reactions. There were suggestions in the media, largely as a result of premature and irresponsible social media speculation, that a Saudi national was involved. This man turned out to have been an innocent victim, but speculation about his possible involvement (mainly in the New York Times) hardly amounts to what Greenwald describes as “The rush, one might say eagerness, to conclude that the attackers were Muslim [which was] palpable and unseemly, even without any real evidence.”
Greenwald is on somewhat stronger ground with his point about “selective empathy”:
“The widespread compassion for yesterday’s victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers.”
Of course it is true that the western media gives far more coverage to killings that take place ‘at home’ than they do to comparable outrages elsewhere. Greenwald seems to suggest that this is the result of simple hypocrisy and possibly (though he doesn’t use the word), racism. At a certain level, it’s hard to disagree: an innocent victim (especially when it’s a child) should count the same whether he or she’s died as a result of a terrorist outrage in America or a US airstrike in Afghanistan.
But Greenwald fatally undermines his own case (insofar as he has a coherent case) by pointing out something that is undeniably and self-evidently true:
“There’s nothing wrong per se with paying more attention to tragedy and violence that happens relatively nearby and in familiar places. Whether wrong or not, it’s probably human nature, or at least human instinct, to do that, and it happens all over the world. I’m not criticising that. But one wishes that the empathy for victims and outrage over the ending of innocent life that instantly arises when the US is targeted by this sort of violence would at least translate into similar concern when the US is perpetuating it, as it so often does (far, far more often than it is targeted by such violence).”
So what point is Greenwald trying to make? If it’s simply an appeal to all those outraged by what happened in Boston to also consider the innocent victims of US military adventures abroad, then fair enough: no-one here at ‘Shiraz’ would argue with that. But I can’t help thinking that Greenwald really wants to go further than that, and what he’s really trying to say is something put much more bluntly by Lindsey German of ‘Stop The War’ and ‘Counterfire’:
“[I]t is not hard to conclude that western lives are valued much more highly than those of people in Afghanistan or the Middle East, and that bombs in the middle of major US cities are regarded as more newsworthy than those in the Afghan countryside or in Baghdad…Whatever the truth about this latest bombing, the continued refusal to acknowledge the widespread grievances against the US and its allies caused by the wars and US policies in the Middle East will lead to turmoil until solutions are found.”
Now that, I think you’ll agree, spells things out rather more plainly than Greenwald managed, or perhaps, dared: German is, essentially, saying ‘the US had it coming and deserves it.’
If you think that’s a bit unfair on Ms German, then remember: she and her partner, Mr John Rees, were effectively running the SWP at the time of the 9/11 attacks, when Socialist Worker‘s headline was “Horror in the United States: Bitter fruit of US policy”, and the de facto SWP ‘line’ (I know this from first-hand observation at Birmingham Trades Council, the Socialist Alliance and elsewhere) was to celebrate and gloat.
Look, comrades, it aught to be obvious: the lives of innocent American civilians are not worth more than anyone else’s: but neither are they worth any less.
NB: Greenwald has a new piece in today’s Graun objecting to the use of the word “terrorism” as anti-Muslim. It seems to me to be incoherent gibberish, but if anyone can explain it to me I’d be grateful. I may return to this latest piece shortly.