Diane Abbott MP was the Chair. There were the usual suspects as speakers plus Tory MP Crispin Blunt, whose Foreign Affairs Select Committee had just delivered a report against any British involvement in Syria. Plus Alex Salmond and Caroline Lucas. Conspicuous by their absence as speakers were Syrians, the STWC refused to give any a platform.
Salmond’s SNP did give a Syrian a platform, Dr Amer Masri, on stage at their recent conference (many in the audience wept). Praising this, the Syria Solidarity Movement (SSM) noted the STWC refusal this last Monday and that:
Nor were any Syrians invited to speak at Stop the War’s meeting on Syria for the Labour Conference fringe in Brighton; nor were any Syrians invited to speak at Stop the War’s meeting on Syria in Manchester. When Syrian civil society activists wanted to speak at a Stop the War meeting on Syria in London in September, they were told it was “not appropriate”.
SSM were also blocked from speaking at an April solidarity with refugees march – by STWC. This led to an apology from the march’s organisers!
Last month Birmingham STWC dared to invite a speaker from SSM but were forced to withdraw the invitation and were told SSM ‘backs imperialists’.
When SSM leafleted a “overwhelmingly white and middle aged” STWC conference in June they were insulted, and called in language which would make Kremlin propagandists proud “the pro-ISIS lot”.
On Monday at the House of Commons, says Peter Tatchell:
Some Syrian victims of Assad’s brutalities turned up anyway but were not allowed to speak. They eventually shouted out in frustration, turning the meeting into momentary chaos, as they were jeered by some of the audience and as STWC stewards tried to eject them – allegedly threatening that they’d be arrested. The police turned up soon afterwards.
Order was eventually restored.
When it came to questions from the floor, other members of the audience were asked to speak but not the Syrians.
Near the end of the meeting, I personally appealed to Diane Abbott to let the Syrians have their say but she refused and closed the meeting.
Said Omar Sabbour (of Sussex Friends of Syria):
To wind down the clock to stop Syrians speaking, Abbot literally allowed a history lesson by an old man (who said the Arab spring..was a fiction) to drone on, the license given him was so long (initially before panel was challenged only quickfire Qs were allowed) that even the crowd started to scorn, whilst Abbot sat listening with her head resting on her hand with her Umbridge-like smile.
(Dolores Umbridge is a Hogwarts villain in the guise of a respectable middle-class English lady).
Sabbour claimed that STWC had called police, that STWC stewards had threatened him with arrest and that ’emotional’ Syrians and other Arabs told STWC “you have become our oppressors.” The raucousness of the meeting was live Tweeted by the BBC’s Ross Hawkins.
Amr Salahi, an activist from the SSM, told James Bloodworth, Editor of Left Foot Forward:
Clara Connolly, an immigration lawyer and activist with Syria Solidarity UK, later told the STWC they were silent about Assad’s crimes but they didn’t care. I told the speakers they just wanted Assad to keep killing people. Clara kept trying to make the point to the speakers that they had nothing to say about what was happening on the ground. All she got in return was silence. Then some of the organisers went up to her and warned her that if she didn’t be quiet, she would be forced to leave.
I was shocked, surprised and saddened by Diane Abbott’s unwillingness to invite Assad’s victims to express their opinions. Not listening to victims of Assad’s war crimes is arrogant, insensitive and appalling. It has a whiff of ‘we know best’ and Syrian opinions ‘don’t count’.
Syrians are not allowed to have an opinion about their own country. Only Westerners are allowed to talk about Syria.
Yet in an increasingly angry back-and-forth on Twitter with Tatchell later on Monday evening STWC’s Lindsey German flat out denied that any of these events had happened, calling the Syrians ‘wreckers’. She even called the no-platforming of Syrians a, quote, “lie”!
The news from the meeting was the BBC saying that Labour Foreign Affairs Shadow Minister Catherine West (a speaker at the meeting) had promised to consult STWC on Syria policy, later headlined as Labour giving STWC a “veto”. This was untrue, she had been addressing Syrians in the room, as confirmed later by Syrians present and by her in a statement.
But it was highly noteworthy that as she addressed this the Labour PR team directly undermined her by saying that, yes, they would consult outside the party, specifically naming STWC. Labour PR is now run by Seumas Milne, a prominent ally of STWC working for a party leader who used to chair the group.
West was later reported to have spoken to Syrians before the meeting and to have expressed great concern to them that they be consulted by the Labour Party, which she confirmed in a tweet – She clarifies she wants to consult Syrians then Labour PR (Milne) clarifies will talk to STWC. What does that tell you?
Peter adds that it was ‘ironic’ that STWC would put Tory Crispin Blunt on their platform when Blunt has said “he would support military action in Syria in certain circumstances.”
Andrew Coates noted that Andrew Murray, another panelist and STWC Chair, is a leading member of the Communist Party (CPB) who “explicitly do support Russia “bombing” Daesh and backing Assad, explicitly!” Murray reportedly said at the Monday meeting that “only sovereign forces from Syria + Iraq” can defeat ISIS.
(See Andrew’s post on Murray and STWC’s ‘confused’ position on bombing.)
In a lengthy dialogue on Twitter the following day between myself and several others with a STWC treasurer, Stephen Bell, when pushed on why they refused to put a Syrian on their platform he claimed that all the Syrian solidarity groups support bombing, which is not true, and that STWC were within their rights to not give a platform to anyone who ‘supports bombing’.
To which SSM member Mark Boothroyd wryly noted that:
if you haven’t noticed Syria is still being bombed so your “victory” is meaningless for those actually affected.
The “victory” being claimed by Bell, of course, being news reports that Prime Minister David Cameron had delayed a vote on whether the UK would join in with bombing ISIS in Syria. This when Labour’s Catherine West had explicitly stated at the meeting that it was Russia’s intervention which had made the prospect of the UK’s intervention “more remote.”
But Bell’s emotive, deliberately simplistic and repetitive statement that STWC would not give an airing to anyone who ‘supports bombing’ was contradicted not only by the presence of Blunt and Murray but also by Lindsey German herself who in her Twitter exchange with Tatchell said that STWC would not have “speakers who support intervention.”
|*Pic actually from German satire website|
What ‘intervention’ might mean is, of course, something which the Syrian ‘Stop The War’ movement, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists have widely discussed. There are a number of proposals, many of which, for blindingly obvious reasons, do not include ‘bombing’.
Yet German could not have been more obvious in saying that STWC does not want to hear any of them and will, in fact, as long experience has shown, use their leading role to silence any Syrian who does not support Assad, whose crimes STWC always cover up. Of course she won’t listen to Syrians when STWC continue to paint all opposition to Assad as Islamic fascists.
In a lengthy explainer – ‘The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement‘, do go read – Mark Boothroyd nails where the toxic politics which led to Monday’s absurd scenes of so-called peace activists shouting down Syrian refugees comes from:
Too many leading figures in the British anti-war movement chose to view all these revolutions through their relation to the US/UK and its intentions. This approach erased the agency of the oppressed Syrian people engaged in struggle with the regime, and gave no responsibility to the role of imperialist powers like Russia in propping up the dictatorship. It served to obscure the complex reality of the multi-polar world system, split between competing imperialist powers, with no single dominant power overwhelmingly determining the course of events.
Instead of analysing the actual relationships of regional and global powers that were thrown into flux by the Arab Spring, the approach of the anti-war movement was shaped by a framework of Cold War power relations, massaged to fit leftist prejudices and domestic alliances developed during opposition to the “War on Terror” and Iraq War.
Syrian and pro-revolution Arab voices have been marginalised, while outright apologists for the Assad regime like George Galloway have been central to developing it and propagating the position of Stop the War.
Many, through social media, have this week witnessed the ugly true face of the so-called Stop The War Coalition in this rowdy silencing of Syrian voices.
It is to be hoped that this exposure does not get forgotten and that those drawn to them question harder how these people ever became leaders of the ‘peace’ movement. Already, Boothroyd notes, STWC inaction on supporting any solidarity with Syrians has alienated Muslims who have been engaged in humanitarian support.
However the news the following day was that another far-left project, ‘Stand Up To Racism’, which is a front for the Socialist Workers Party, has a ‘Refugees welcome here’ rally in London tonight. Thirteenth on the bill of speakers is a – faceless, nameless – ‘Syrian refugee’.
S/he’s inclusion is surely welcomed but plainly an afterthought.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
- Thanks for input from Peter Tatchell, Andrew Coates and Bob from Brockley.
Edited to add: I checked the timeline of ‘Stand Up To Racism’ after the event and they did not mention the ‘Syrian refugee speaker’ once. Though I did establish that the nameless refugee speaker was infact there, via, ironically, a SWP student tweet.
- In Plain Sight: The Kremlin’s London Lobby
- Trying to destroy ISIS by only attacking it on the Iraqi side of the border makes no sense
- Syria Solidarity Movement’s statement about Monday’s meeting
- Planet Syria’s open letter to Stop The War Coalition
- Syria Freedom Forever: Open letter to the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), or real solidarity is needed! (2012)
- Seven reasons Stop the War are wrong about Syria
- That time STWC got intervention in Mali completely wrong