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.
The leadership of Stop The War find themselves in agreement with someone called Hitchens…
Lindsey German 02 March 2014. Posted in News at the Stop The War website:
The situation in Ukraine and the Crimea is developing into a new cold war, says Lindsey German, and the rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
- Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture. At the end of the Cold War, as agreed with the western powers, Russia disbanded the Warsaw Pact, its military alliance. But the United States and NATO broke their word to Russia, by adding most of Eastern Europe and the Balkan states to their own military alliance, and by building military bases along Russia’s southern border. Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and NATO have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’. In military expenditure, the US and its NATO allies outspend and outgun the Russian state many times over.
- The war in Afghanistan, now in its thirteenth year, was fought after the West lost control of its erstwhile Taliban allies, who the US had supported in order to bring down a pro-Russian regime.
- US secretary of state John Kerry has made strong statements condemning Russia, and British prime minister David Cameron has argued against intervention and for national sovereignty. No one should take lessons from people who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and bombed Libya. Last year, these war makers wanted to launch their fourth major military intervention in a decade, this time against Syria. They were only stopped from doing so by the unprecedented vote against military action in parliament, with MPs undoubtedly influenced by the widespread anti-war sentiment amongst the British public. Nor should we place any value on concerns for national sovereignty and international law expressed by people like Obama and Kerry, who launch illegal drone attacks against civilians in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and beyond.
- United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s statement that Russia is threatening the peace and security of Europe ignores a number of questions, such as the role of western imperialism in the region — including direct intervention in the formation of the latest Ukrainian government — and the role of fascists and far right parties in Kiev and elsewhere in the country. As in all these situations, we need to look at the background to what is going on.
- The European Union is not an impartial observer in this. It too has extended its membership among the east European states, expressly on the basis of a privatising, neoliberal agenda which is closely allied to NATO expansion. Its Member State foreign ministers, and its special representative Baroness Ashton, have directly intervened, seeking to tie Ukraine to the EU by an agreement of association. When this was abandoned by the former president Yanukovich, the EU backed his removal and helped put in place a new government which agreed to EU aims.
- The United States is centrally involved. It oversaw the removal of Yanukovich, and its neocons are desperately trying to develop an excuse for war with the Russians. Neocon former presidential candidate John McCain visited Ukraine and addressed the demonstrations in Kiev. As did Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the US state department. Nuland is most famous for her recently leaked phone conversation about micromanaging regime change in Ukraine, in which she declared ‘fuck the EU.’ Her husband is neocon Robert Kagan, who was co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, the ideological parent of the Bush/Blair war on Iraq.
- The talk of democracy from the west hides support for far right and fascist forces in the Ukraine. They have a direct lineage from the collaborators with the Nazis from 1941 onwards who were responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Jewish sources in Ukraine today express fear at the far right gangs patrolling the streets attacking racial minorities. Yet the western media has remained all but silent about these curious EU allies.
- The historical divisions within Ukraine are complex and difficult to overcome. But it is clear that many Russian speakers, there and in the Crimea, do not oppose Russia. These countries have the right to independence, but the nature of that independence is clearly highly contested. There is also the reality of potential civil war between east and west Ukraine. The very deep divisions will only be exacerbated by war.
- Those who demand anti-war activity here in Britain against Russia are ignoring the history and the present reality in Ukraine and Crimea. The B52 liberals only oppose wars when their own rulers do so, and support the ones carried out by our governments. The job of any anti-war movement is to oppose its own government’s role in these wars, and to explain what that government and its allies are up to.
- The crisis in Ukraine has much to do with the situation in Syria, where major powers are intervening in the civil war. The defeat for intervention last year has infuriated the neocons. They are determined to start new wars. After the US failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the neocons are looking for a defeat of Russia over Ukraine, and by extension, China too. The situation is developing into a new cold war. The rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
Source: Stop the War Coalition
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 »
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
Above: the explanation?
All too predicatably, the usual suspects have rushed to explain the Woolwich killing by means of the so-called ‘blowback‘ argument (utilised with varying degrees of obvious gloating). Comrade Clive dealt with this back in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 7/7 bombings. Obviously, the 7/7 attacks were somewhat different to what happened in Woolwich (though it seems likely that the Woolwich perpetrators intended to commit ‘suicide by police’), but I think Clive’s essential case remains incontrovertible – JD:
‘Blowback’: a banal non-explanation
Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).
And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.
But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.
And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.
Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.
It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.
But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.
And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.
And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islamists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all. Read the rest of this entry »
“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.
Like many readers of this blog, I was there on 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, nor the slightly more forgivable solipsism of Laurie Penny (who at least has -or had- the excuse of youth). Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the Stop The War Coalition into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, puts his finger (in the present issue of the New Statesman – no link presently available) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively puts it down to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local Stop The War email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well as I recall:
The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To
By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.