Amnesty’s 2016/17 Annual Report and the effects of the Brexit vote

February 22, 2017 at 9:49 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, stalinism)

Amnesty International has released its 2016/17 Annual Report. Once again, I am indebted to the Morning Star for drawing my attention to a valuable publication. However (and once again) I have to note that the M Star’s coverage is – shall we say – misleading when it comes to the effects of the EU referendum campaign and result. The report notes (in the section on the UK), that “The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s official statistics in June and September showed a 57% spike in reporting of hate crime in the week immediately following the EU membership referendum, followed by a decrease in reporting to a level 14% higher than the same period the previous year. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concern in June. Government statistics published in October showed an increase in hate crimes of 19% over the previous year, with 79% of the incidents recorded classified as ‘race hate crimes’. In November, the CERD Committee called on the UK to take steps to address the increase in such hate crimes”.

As we’ve come to expect, the Brexit-supporting M Star makes no mention of this aspect of the report, but quotes (or is it a quote? There are no quote marks round it) Amnesty UK director Kerry Moscoguri saying that the attacks on migrants and refugees didn’t start with the Brexit campaign – a statement so banal and beside the point as to be meaningless.
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Below: Amnesty’s press release summarises the report:

‘Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear

  • Amnesty International releases its Annual Report for 2016 to 2017
  • Risk of domino effect as powerful states backtrack on human rights commitments
  • Salil Shetty, head of the global movement, warns that “never again” has become meaningless as states fail to react to mass atrocities

Politicians wielding a toxic, dehumanizing “us vs them” rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International today as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights around the world, covering 159 countries. It warns that the consequences of “us vs them” rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak.

“2016 was the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s. Too many politicians are answering legitimate economic and security fears with a poisonous and divisive manipulation of identity politics in an attempt to win votes,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs. Whether it is Trump, Orban, Erdoğan or Duterte, more and more politicians calling themselves anti-establishment are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.

“Today’s politics of demonization shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people. This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature.”

Politics of demonization drives global pushback on human rights

Seismic political shifts in 2016 exposed the potential of hateful rhetoric to unleash the dark side of human nature. The global trend of angrier and more divisive politics was exemplified by Donald Trump’s poisonous campaign rhetoric, but political leaders in various parts of the world also wagered their future power on narratives of fear, blame and division.

This rhetoric is having an increasingly pervasive impact on policy and action. In 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum, passed laws that violate free expression, incited murder of people simply because they are accused of using drugs, justified torture and mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers.

Governments also turned on refugees and migrants; often an easy target for scapegoating. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documents how 36 countries violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk.

Most recently, President Trump put his hateful xenophobic pre-election rhetoric into action by signing an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the USA; blocking people fleeing conflict and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria from seeking safe haven in the country.

Meanwhile, Australia purposefully inflicts terrible suffering by trapping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, the EU made an illegal and reckless deal with Turkey to send refugees back there, even though it is not safe for them, and Mexico and the USA continue to deport people fleeing rampant violence in Central America.

Elsewhere, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Thailand and Turkey carried out massive crackdowns. While other countries pursued intrusive security measures, such as prolonged emergency powers in France and unprecedented catastrophic surveillance laws in the UK. Another feature of “strongman” politics was a rise in anti-feminist and -LGBTI rhetoric, such as efforts to roll back women’s rights in Poland, which were met with massive protests.

“Instead of fighting for people’s rights, too many leaders have adopted a dehumanizing agenda for political expediency. Many are violating rights of scapegoated groups to score political points, or to distract from their own failures to ensure economic and social rights,” said Salil Shetty.

“In 2016, these most toxic forms of dehumanization became a dominant force in mainstream global politics. The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.

“The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the cross-hairs. The reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion. When we cease to see each other as human beings with the same rights, we move closer to the abyss.”

World turns its back on mass atrocities

Amnesty International is warning that 2017 will see ongoing crises exacerbated by a debilitating absence of human rights leadership on a chaotic world stage. The politics of “us vs them” is also taking shape at the international level, replacing multilateralism with a more aggressive, confrontational world order.

“With world leaders lacking political will to put pressure on other states violating human rights, basic principles from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum are at stake,” said Salil Shetty.

“Even states that once claimed to champion rights abroad are now too busy rolling back human rights at home to hold others to account. The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments, the more we risk a domino effect of leaders emboldened to knock back established human rights protections.”

The world faces a long list of crises with little political will to address them: including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Central America, Central African Republic, Burundi, Iraq, South Sudan and Sudan. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documented war crimes committed in at least 23 countries in 2016.

Despite these challenges, international indifference to war crimes has become an entrenched normality as the UN Security Council remains paralyzed by rivalries between permanent member states.

“The beginning of 2017 finds many of the world’s most powerful states pursuing narrower national interests at the expense of international cooperation. This risks taking us towards a more chaotic, dangerous world,” said Salil Shetty.

“A new world order where human rights are portrayed as a barrier to national interests makes the ability to tackle mass atrocities dangerously low, leaving the door open to abuses reminiscent of the darkest times of human history.

“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016: a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur. The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.”

Who is going to stand up for human rights?

Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to resist cynical efforts to roll back long-established human rights in exchange for the distant promise of prosperity and security.

The report warns that global solidarity and public mobilization will be particularly important to defend individuals who stand up to those in power and defend human rights, who are often cast by governments as a threat to economic development, security or other priorities.

Amnesty International’s annual report documents people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights in 22 countries in 2016. They include those targeted for challenging entrenched economic interests, defending minorities and small communities or opposing traditional barriers to women’s and LGBTI rights. The killing of the high-profile Indigenous leader and human rights defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras on 2 March 2016 sent a chilling message to activists but nobody was brought to justice.

“We cannot passively rely on governments to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action. With politicians increasingly willing to demonize entire groups of people, the need for all of us to stand up for the basic values of human dignity and equality everywhere has seldom been clearer,” said Salil Shetty.

“Every person must ask their government to use whatever power and influence they have to call out human rights abusers. In dark times, individuals have made a difference when they took a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world. We must all rise to that challenge now.”

Background

Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 2016 in 159 countries. Examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression highlighted by Amnesty International in its Annual Report include, but are by no means limited, to:

Bangladesh: Instead of providing protection for or investigating the killings of activists, reporters and bloggers, authorities have pursued trials against media and the opposition for, among other things, Facebook posts.

China: Ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassments of family members.

DRC: Pro-democracy activists subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention.

Egypt: Authorities used travel bans, financial restrictions and asset freezes to undermine, smear and silence civil society groups.

Ethiopia: A government increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices used anti-terror laws and a state of emergency to crack down on journalists, human rights defenders, the political opposition and, in particular, protesters who have been met with excessive and lethal force.

France: Heavy-handed security measures under the prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.

Honduras: Berta Cáceres and seven other human rights activists were killed.

Hungary: Government rhetoric championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants rights.

India: Authorities used repressive laws to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voices. Human rights defenders and organizations continued to face harassment and intimidation. Oppressive laws have been used to try to silence student activists, academics, journalists and human rights defenders.

Iran: Heavy suppression of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious beliefs. Peaceful critics jailed after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.

Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people – who remain deprived of a nationality – displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, state media published opinion articles containing alarmingly dehumanizing language.

Philippines: A wave of extrajudicial executions ensued after President Duterte promised to kill tens of thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

Russia: At home the government noose tightened around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. Meanwhile, dozens of independent NGOs receiving foreign funding were added to the list of “foreign agents”. Abroad there was a complete disregard for international humanitarian law in Syria.

Saudi Arabia: Critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists have been detained and jailed on vaguely worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, in Yemen. Coalition forces bombed schools, hospitals, markets and mosques, killing and injuring thousands of civilians using arms supplied by the US and UK governments, including internationally banned cluster bombs.

South Sudan: Ongoing fighting continued to have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations, with violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Sudan: Evidence pointed strongly to the use of chemical weapons by government forces in Darfur. Elsewhere, suspected opponents and critics of the government subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Excessive use of force by the authorities in dispersing gatherings led to numerous casualties.

Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.

Thailand: Emergency powers, defamation and sedition laws used to restrict freedom of expression.

Turkey: Tens of thousands locked up after failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.

UK: A spike in hate crimes followed the referendum on European Union membership. A new surveillance law granted significantly increased powers to intelligence and other agencies to invade people’s privacy on a massive scale.

USA: An election campaign marked by discriminatory, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric raised serious concerns about the strength of future US commitments to human rights domestically and globally.

Venezuela: Backlash against outspoken human rights defenders who raised the alarm about the humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s failure to meet the economic and social rights of the population.

For more information or to request an interview please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on

+44 20 7413 5566 or +44 (0)77 7847 2126

email: press@amnesty.org

twitter: @amnestypress

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Corbyn’s Brexit fiasco

February 12, 2017 at 6:59 pm (Anti-Racism, Champagne Charlie, democracy, Europe, internationalism, labour party, reformism, stalinism)

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn Seamas Milne
Above: Jeremy and his anti-EU adviser Seumas

First off, let’s be fair to Jeremy: Brexit has split the Labour party’s voters 60/40 (the majority pro-Remain), and even a latter-day Harold Wilson would struggle to bridge the divide.

But Corbyn’s decision to back Theresa May’s Brexit Bill, regardless of whether any amendments were passed (none were) was simply craven, and ended up pleasing no-one. Imposing a three-line whip that was ignored even by Labour whips, made matters worse. His tweet that “the fight starts now” – after having supported May’s Brexit plan – was little more than risible.

Let us be clear, as Coatesy explains in a brilliant piece here: Brexit is, by its very nature reactionary, backward, isolationist, nativist and – ultimately – racist. Any leftist who thinks any good can possibly come of it (or that there is a “People’s Brexit”/”Lexit” or some such nonsense) is a delusional idiot.

Corbyn’s weakness, lack of passion and general incoherence during the referendum campaign and in parliament since, merely serves to confirm the suspicion that, as an unsophisticated non-Marxist Bennite surrounded by Stalinist anti-EU advisers like Milne, his heart was never really in the pro-Remain cause. Even the Economist picked up on this:

“Mr Corbyn did not make his first pro-EU intervention until mid-April, fully two months after Mr Cameron called the referendum. Since then he has been a bit player at best. When researchers at Loughborough University ranked the ten most reported-on politicians in the second half of May, he did not even make the list (partly by his own design: he had spent part of the period on holiday). By refusing to campaign alongside Tories—doing so would “discredit” the party, sniffs John McDonnell, his shadow chancellor—he has ruled himself out of every important Remain event and televised debate.

“When Mr Corbyn does bother to intervene, he is a study in reluctance. His ‘pro-EU’ speeches are litanies of complaints about the union. Voters should back Remain, he says, because the Conservatives would not negotiate the right sort of Brexit. On June 2nd he declared Treasury warnings about the consequences of leaving as ‘hysterical hype’ and ‘mythmaking’.”

The Corbyn leadership is evidently terrified of May’s and the Brexiteers’ charge that anyone who even questions a hard Brexit is defying the “will of the people” (if not an outright “enemy of the people”); in fact, of course, had the 52/48% referendum result been reflected in parliament last week, the government’s majority would have been 26, not the 372 that May achieved with Corbyn’s backing.

The idea that “the people have spoken” and the referendum result cannot, therefore, be opposed, needs to be nipped in the bud once and for all; by that logic Labour would simply give up whenever it lost an election.

The 23 June vote represents no fixed-forever “decision of the British public” which obliges Labour to give away the rights of migrant workers (and British workers and young people who want to work, study, or live in Europe) by abandoning freedom of movement. In fact, since some Leave voters wanted something like EEA status, even on 23 June there was probably a majority for keeping freedom of movement. Plebiscitary democracy — democracy via referendum snap votes, on questions shaped and timed by the established powers — is the thinnest form of democracy. Usually it just serves those already in office. This time a strong sub-section of those in office (Johnson, Gove, etc.) were able to surprise Cameron, in a public debate which was essentially Johnson-Tory plus UKIP versus Cameron-Tory, with Labour voices weak and incoherent (Corbyn) or ignored by the media (Alan Johnson, the Labour right-winger leading Labour’s Remain campaign).

That does not make it more democratic. The referendum excluded 16-17 year olds, excluded EU citizens living in the UK (though they can vote in local authority elections), was run on poor registers missing out seven million people; and such a narrow snap vote is no democratic authority to deprive millions of freedom of movement and probably impose new borders between England and Scotland and between Northern Ireland and the South.

All but the thinnest democracy includes a process of the formation, refinement, revision, and re-formation of a collective majority opinion. Without such a process, and without organised democratic political parties which collectively distill ideas and fight for them, democracy means only rule by whatever faction of the rich and well-placed can sustain itself through judiciously-chosen successive snap popular votes. It has almost no element of collective self-rule.

Labour should fight for freedom of movement, for substantive democracy and against Article 50.

The internationalist, anti-racist left may now have lost that argument, in part because of the weakness and political ignorance of Corbyn and his advisers. But there is a further battle worth having: instead of issuing a ludicrous and ineffectual “final warning” to those front-benchers who voted against May last week, Corbyn should do something about Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart, Labour MPs who voted against basic rights for EU citizens. And if Corbyn won’t act, Labour members should start organising to deselect these scumbags.

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Corbyn’s Brexit capitulation – and the curse of consumer-politics

January 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm (campaigning, capitulation, Champagne Charlie, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, reformism, socialism, stalinism, workers)

Image result for picture Labour Party logo

Corbyn’s decision to support May’s plans for triggering article 50 is a craven capitulation to nationalism. It also won’t work: hard-line Brexiteers and racists will remain unconvinced, while to the rest of Joe and Joanne public it just looks like a combination of panic and opportunism – which it is. Even in Stoke Central, the so-called “Brexit capital of the UK”, my local contacts tell me that Brexit isn’t the key issue: the overall state of the party and the credibility of its local campaign, is.

This shambles also calls into question the kind of advice that Corbyn is receiving from the cabal of politically illiterate Stalinists in his inner circle.

It needs to be stated loud and clear that the referendum result represents no fixed-forever “decision of the British public” which obliges Labour to give away the rights of migrant workers (and British workers and young people who want to work, study, or live in Europe) by abandoning the EU and freedom of movement. In fact, since some Leave voters wanted something like EEA status, even on 23 June there was probably a majority for keeping freedom of movement. Plebiscitary democracy — democracy via referendum snap votes, on questions shaped and timed by the established powers — is the thinnest form of democracy. Usually it just serves those already in office. This time a strong sub-section of those in office (Johnson, Gove, etc.) were able to surprise Cameron, in a public debate which was essentially Johnson-Tory plus UKIP versus Cameron-Tory, with Labour voices weak and unconvincing (Corbyn) or ignored by the media (Alan Johnson and Labour’s official Remain campaign).

That does not make it more democratic. The referendum excluded 16-17 year olds, excluded EU citizens living in the UK (though they can vote in local authority elections), was run on poor registers missing out seven million people; and such a narrow snap vote is no democratic authority to deprive millions of freedom of movement and probably impose new borders between England and Scotland and between Northern Ireland and the South.

All but the thinnest democracy includes a process of the formation, refinement, revision, and re-formation of a collective majority opinion. Without such a process, and without organised democratic political parties which collectively distill ideas and fight for them, democracy means only rule by whatever faction of the rich and well-placed can sustain itself through judiciously-chosen successive snap popular votes. It has almost no element of collective self-rule.

Labour should oppose Article 50 and demand a second referendum, at which we advocate remaining in the EU.

Whether Labour activists should ally themselves with the newly-formed Labour Against Brexit remains to be seen, and largely depends upon whether it turns out to be a right wing campaign to simply get rid of Corbyn: something that isn’t as yet clear.

Finally, a frank word to those good comrades who are talking about resigning from the party over this: we are not in politics as consumers who simply buy into a political party when we like the look/sound of what’s on offer. The uncritical adulation of Corbyn in the early days of his campaign and leadership was as silly as the claims now of being let down and the suggestion in some quarters of dropping out of the Labour Party.

Labour under Corbyn was always going to have crap politics, because Corbyn himself has always had crap politics – as demonstrated by his half-hearted stance on the EU and willingness to endorse the Morning Star. Most of the PLP have crappier politics still. We are arguing and mobilising for socialism in a world where politics is shifting to the right and British politics is dominated by questions of Brexit and national identity, which is simply not the terrain on which to build class politics, in the way that the NHS, workers’ rights and inequality is.

Our job is to rebuild Labour as a working class party. That process is only just beginning and will take years. People need to get stuck into their branches, CLPs and Momentum (whatever its faults). Serious comrades need to get their hands dirty delivering leaflets and travelling to Stoke and Copeland.

On article 50 Corbyn is clearly wrong, and we should say so. But instead of getting bogged down on the minutiae of the Brexit process, we need a laser-like focus on the NHS, housing and workers’ rights. Workers need inspiration and hope: maybe Corbyn can’t give it but a mighty battle against tory destruction of the NHS can in a way that article 50 never will.

Finally, socialists should be in the Labour Party now and for the foreseeable future, just as we should have been (and some of us were) under Miliband. What’s crucial is the party’s class nature, not its leadership at any given time. If there was a better Labour leader with better politics we could elect tomorrow I’d be in favour of doing so. But there isn’t and we can’t. We must not follow the example set the right wing Labour MPs who are resigning their seats to cause by elections as a strategy to get Corbyn out. If socialists throw up their hands in despair  because things are not coming up roses just at the moment, how the hell do you think we’ll ever overthrow capitalism?

(NB: thanks to comrade Dave for the closing rant).

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Three arguments against free movement, and three responses

January 5, 2017 at 9:01 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Ira Berkovic (also published at the Workers Liberty website)

In the debate in the labour movement around “free movement”, which is in fact a debate about immigration, a number of arguments have been made by left-wing advocates of ending free movement – that is, leaving the EU on a basis which abolishes the rights of free movement to the UK that EU citizens currently have, and which UK citizens currently have to other EU states.

This article attempts to respond to some of those arguments, and present a positive case for defending and extending existing freedom of movement.

Argument One: “By ending free movement we can make Britain a giant closed shop”.

See: “Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit opportunity”, Clive Heemskerk, Socialism Today No. 201, September 2016.
“Standing in the way of control: thoughts on Labour post-Brexit”, Tom Muntzer, The Clarion, 28 November 2016
“Workers need safeguards and strong unions to make migration work”, Len McCluskey, LabourList, 5 November 2016

A closed shop is a workplace in which membership of the recognised union is a condition of employment. It is a gain which grows out of workplace organisation and strength, when a union is strong enough to impose it on the employer.

It was illegalised by Thatcher’s anti-union laws in 1990, and now exists only in a handful of places in a spectral form, where workers are able to establish a culture and a common sense in the workplace whereby choosing not to join the union is universally understood as a very bad idea.

So, what has any of that to do with the debate on immigration?

In what is simultaneously the most fantastical and, in some ways, the most offensively reactionary, “left-wing” argument against free movement, some have suggested that the existing free movement arrangements could be replaced by a form of immigration controls that legally compels bosses who wish to “hire abroad” to operate closed shops, so the foreign workers they recruit must be union members in order to get jobs, or be covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey puts it like this: “Any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.”

The implication is that if employers are legally forced to only hire union workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, there will be no financial incentive for them to hire cheaper, migrant labour.

The demand relies on two assumptions: one, that migrant labour necessarily has a depressing effect on the pay, terms, and conditions of domestic workers. And two, that employers deliberately and directly hire migrant workers in order to drive down their costs, because migrant workers will work for less.

But in a genuine closed shop, the enforcing body is the trade union. In this version, the British state will apparently become the enforcer. Quite how this is supposed to work in practise (whether, for example, it will involve uniformed border police checking people’s union cards at Calais and Heathrow) is not clear.

And why will the proposed law apply only to international migrants? Why will a Polish worker looking for work in London require a union card, but not an English worker from, say, Blackburn looking for work in London?

And why is it imagined that the existing labour movement, that has not been able to overturn the law banning closed shops in order to force employers to recognise them for domestic labour, will succeed in forcing employers to operate closed shops for migrant labour?

Some advocates of this policy on the revolutionary left justify the approach with reference to the First International, which did indeed set as part of its aim resistance to attempts by employers to “play off” workers from one country against those of another.

But two key differences with the contemporary situation are missed out. Firstly, the disputes to which the First International was responding were ones in which employers who faced strikes in Country A attempted to directly hire workers from Country B, in order to break the strike in Country A. Almost no migrant labour in Britain today is directly recruited abroad, and none of it on the conscious, explicit basis of doing the work of striking workers in Britain.

And secondly, the methods of the First International were solidaristic, linking workers’ organisations across borders to appeal directly to workers not to allow their labour be used to undermine the struggles of their brothers and sisters abroad. This approach has nothing in common with the hostile attitude to migrants and immigration implied by the policies of today’s anti-free-movement left.

There is a nationalist arrogance implied in this politics. The implication is that British workers are unionised, militant, and in an almost permanent state of struggle to defend their conditions – which is why bosses want to use migrant workers, who of course have no trade union consciousness and are little more than scabs, to undermine it.

The reality is quite different. As we know, strikes are at historically low levels and the labour movement has halved in size since its 1979 height. The picture of a militant and combative “native” labour movement having its struggles undermined by bosses shipping in migrant strikebreakers is simply false. In fact, some of the brightest spots in contemporary class struggle in Britain are migrant workers’ struggles, such as the organising by the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB) and United Voices of the World (UVW). As Jason Moyer-Lee of the IWGB puts it, these struggles mean migrant workers often leave their jobs “better than they found them”.

Overturning the law on closed shops, and reintroducing them as a feature of the industrial landscape in this country, is a worthy aspiration. But that will be achieved through organisation and struggle. To demand a state-enforced “closed shop” as a means of “solving” the largely illusory “problem” of migrant labour depressing wages for domestic workers is, at best, bizarre.

It either functions as a demand that migrant workers have adequate trade union consciousness before they move to Britain (again, why demand this of a Pole moving to Britain, but not a Geordie moving to London?), or is simply a dishonest obfuscation. Uneasy with straightforwardly expressing the political core of their demand – that immigration be reduced – the policy is wrapped up in “trade union” verbiage to make it appear like something other than what it is, a demand for boosting one group of workers at the expense of another, in this case on the basis of nationality and immigration status.

It is the very opposite of the politics of class unity and solidarity that the principle of the closed shop is supposed to express.

Argument Two: “We need fair immigration controls”.

See: “My cure for a divided Britain: a programme of managed immigration”, Stephen Kinnock, The Guardian, 19 September 2016

Versions of this argument are used by a range of people in the labour movement, from Blairite and soft-left MPs through to some on the far-left. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Why I will no longer write for the Morning Star”

December 15, 2016 at 6:51 pm (apologists and collaborators, CPB, genocide, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, Putin, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, solidarity, stalinism, Syria)

Rabbil Sikdar

By Rabbil Sikdar (reblogged from Mediumhere)

I wear my socialism on my sleeves and will never shy away from that. Every Political Compass test has me basically nailed down as a ‘hard left’ person. The things I believe in, radical to some, sensible to others define my sense of socialism: fair wages, fair taxes, strong public sector, social housing and a compassionate welfare system. My socialism comes from my experiences and values, in growing up in east London and seeing a community fall victim to poverty and gentrification.

In an age where compromise is needed to move forward, I won’t apologise for that. But I will for being so slow to realise how Morning Star was positioning itself across a wide variety of issues.

I’m not a factional socialist; I’d happily write for the Morning Star and at the same time agree with people from Progress. Mostly though, when I initially began writing for the Star I did so as someone so happy to be writing for a newspaper. I did not know Star’s history but I would come to learn of it later; I waved it away thinking these were different times. Besides, at the start we had more in common. We both wanted a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.

That was then. I no longer write for the Star and for a while had been winding down my contribution. By the end it was just sport content because of my respect for the sports editor. For the other part, I have a lot of things to be angry about with the Star.

For a newspaper that subscribes to left wing values, that should include free speech and right to criticise politicians. Unfortunately this never extended to criticism of Corbyn’s failing leadership, or Diane Abbott; it didn’t include the ‘Lexit’ vote — and where it mattered most crucially, it did not include Russia and Assad.

The paper has never criticised the Assad regime or Putin. Lines that go along with “we’re no fans of the Assad regime but…” are poor condemnations. In fact, they’re not condemnations at all. Someone recently described it quite well as imagining defenders of the British Empire dismissing the Amritsar Massacre. Likewise, saying “we condemn all bombings” gravely misunderstands who is doing the bombing and draws a false equivalence between aggressive actors and those responding to the violence. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in 2015 that the Assad regime was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths. ISIS, for all their barbarism, had killed just over a thousand. Since then, those statistics have continued in underlining the basic fact that Assad — backed up by Russia — has been responsible for the brutal carnage.

This is the humanitarian war crime of our time, a genocide that we watched live on television Facebook for years — and we did nothing. We have witnessed ethnic cleansing, repeated breaking of ceasefires and remorseless ruthlessness towards civilian population. The Syrian resistance against a fascist dictator desperately needed solidarity from the international community, and especially the left.

Some gave it; I’ve seen some fantastic leftist activists bravely holding everyone to account; Oz Katerji, Idrees Ahmad and James Bloodworth being some of them. The late Jo Cox was a strong supporter of the inspirational White Helmets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bevan’s Suez speech, 1956

November 4, 2016 at 12:11 am (Egypt, France, From the archives, history, imperialism, internationalism, israel, labour party, Middle East, posted by JD, protest, reformism, war)

From the New Statesman:

On 4 November 1956 Aneurin “Nye” Bevan delivered an impassioned speech at a Labour-organised rally in Trafalgar Square condemning the Tory government’s decision to take military action against Egypt during the Suez crisis.

Bevan was famously a versatile, charismatic and rousing public speaker, traits that were on display at this rally, and in a similar speech to the House of Commons a month later. John Selwyn-Lloyd, foreign secretary at the time, described the latter as the greatest ever Commons performance, even though “it was at my expense”.

The rally was attended by 30,000 or more people, in the biggest national demonstration since before the Second World War. Eyewitnesses recall chants of “One, two, three, four! We won’t fight in Eden’s war!” The protest tapped into popular discontent with the war, but in its sheer scale, it has been credited with waking thousands from apathy over the invasion.

Bevan challenged government aggression, accusing the Tories of “a policy of of bankruptcy and despair” that would “lead back to chaos, back to anarchy and back to universal destruction”. His criticism of the reasoning behind the war is reminiscent of events surrounding the Iraq war nearly five decades later.

We are stronger than Egypt but there are other countries stronger than us. Are we prepared to accept for ourselves the logic we are applying to Egypt? If nations more powerful than ourselves accept the absence of principle, the anarchistic attitude of Eden and launch bombs on London, what answer have we got, what complaint have we got? If we are going to appeal to force, if force is to be the arbiter to which we appeal, it would at least make common sense to try to make sure beforehand that we have got it, even if you accept that abysmal logic, that decadent point of view.

We are in fact in the position today of having appealed to force in the case of a small nation, where if it is appealed to against us it will result in the destruction of Great Britain, not only as a nation, but as an island containing living men and women. Therefore I say to Anthony, I say to the British government, there is no count at all upon which they can be defended.

They have besmirched the name of Britain. They have made us ashamed of the things of which formerly we were proud. They have offended against every principle of decency and there is only way in which they can even begin to restore their tarnished reputation and that is to get out! Get out! Get out!

Click here for a full audio version of the speech.

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Campaign to support Iranian workers launched

October 28, 2016 at 11:05 am (class, Human rights, internationalism, Iran, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

Shahrokh Zamani: 1963-2015

Remember Shahrokh: build a movement!

Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign officially launches!

The Campaign to build solidarity with the workers’ movement in Iran was officially launched last week on 20 October in London. The meeting, held at the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers heard contributions from a number of speakers from the labour and trade union movement and included veteran Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Opening the meeting, PCS activist and Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network (IWSN) supporter, Matt Wells outlined the aims of the campaign and the reason for launching it now, at the same time bidding farewell to IWSN, whose work the new Campaign will build on. The Iran regime’s opening up to ‘Western’ Capitalism had not paid off for the workers and youth of Iran and repression of the labour and trade union movement continued. The death of Shahrokh Zamani last year underlined this. His imprisonment and then, what we believed to be murder, for forming an independent trade union and refusing to be silenced even when behind bars, was meant as a warning to workers and youth from the regime. However, we refuse to be silenced inside and outside Iran.

Daniel Randall, activist in the RMT trade union and worker on the London Underground, then spoke. Daniel outlined the importance of solidarity for the workers’ movement; that the solidarity was based on class and not national borders. Daniel recounted how the petition to free Shahrokh and Reza (Shahabi) had been important not just in the aim to secure their release but also in raising the consciousness of his workmates about the importance of working class unity.

Omar Raii, executive committee member, National Union of Students, and NCAFC activist then spoke. Campaigning around the statements issued by the Campaign so far had helped to re-politicise the students’ movement in Britain and also raise awareness of the workers’ movement in Iran.

The meeting then heard from Aram Nobakht, a Workers’ Action Committee activist in Iran, who told the meeting about his shock and disbelief when he heard about Shahrokh’s death. Initially he thought it was rumour. When they were talking to Shahrokh exactly on the night prior to his untimely death “he was, as always, full of energy” But then it became clear that it was true. Shahrokh’s body showed signs of poisoning. But the activists had no time for sorrow. Aram went on to say: “It’s no coincidence that Shahrokh was killed at exactly the moment when the labour movement and its militancy and the radicals have been on the rise again, including daily strikes, including street clashes with the cops, even factory occupations and so on.”

“Shahrokh was tirelessly organising day and night from his prison cell. What made Shahrokh different from other typical labour activists was his obsession with building a revolutionary party. In the past we repeatedly asked him to tone down the language of his articles and his statements. He said ‘I have been sentenced to 11 years in prison, I have nothing to lose, there is no way out of here. … Can you assure me that I’ll be released alive from this prison? If … [so] then I will keep silent. … I don’t want to lose the chance to fight this regime.’

“The legacy of Shahrokh is still alive. … In his last days Shahrokh was emphasising the importance and significance of publishing a bulletin as an organising tool, as an organising organ for our committee. Over the past year we’ve been systematically involved in publishing and distributing bulletins in the labour areas, in areas around factories … along with distributing and handing out leaflets … in defence of other political activists …”

“We do believe that we are [following] on the same way as Shahrokh suggested and this is the only trustful and reliable way for founding a party, a revolutionary party from below … by finding the most militant workers, educating them, recruiting them, that’s the only basis for our future party. And this is the legacy of Shahrokh Zamani.”

Kelly Rogers, BECTU activist and leader of the strike movement amongst cinema workers then outlined how her own experience in the workplace had taught her the importance of solidarity in the face of attacks from the employers on the pay and conditions of workers. This had inspired her to organise with her workmates. Kelly said that while there was no comparison in Britain with the harshness of the conditions faced by Iran’s workers struggling against their employers and the regime, she understood that the attacks on workers come from the same place – the ruling class.

Peter Tatchell then gave a powerful and inspiring speech which concluded with a promise that the Iranian regime’s tyranny would fall.

The meeting agreed to launch a statement which will be published in the next few days and publish a model motion for trade union, labour movement and student movement organisations which is published below.

NB: all spoke in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.

Affiliate to the campaign!

A model motion for trade union branches, student and labour movement organisations:

SOLIDARITY WITH WORKERS IN IRAN

This branch notes
1. That the July 2015 nuclear deal between the Iranian, US and European governments has opened up trade and diplomatic relations. However there has been no “peace dividend” for Iranian workers, as shown by the shocking flogging of 17 gold miners for protesting against layoffs in late May.
2. The continuing plight of working people in Iran: unemployment is still 12.2%, with youth unemployment at 27.8%; high inflation and unpaid wages pushing many employed workers into poverty; around 18% of children suffering from malnutrition etc.
3. The continuing imprisonment and repression of workers, teachers and other political activists for exercising basic democratic rights such as forming independent trade unions, expressing dissent and calling for equality for women, national minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ people, etc.
4. That despite continuing repression there has been a resurgence in Iranian workers’ protests in many sectors – car workers, rail workers, miners, nurses, gas workers, steel workers, sugar cane workers, teachers …

This branch believes
1. That Western governments and organisations like the ILO agency cannot be trusted to push for genuine workers’ and human rights in Iran. Iranian workers and others fighting for their rights need international solidarity from labour movements around the world.
2. That above all, like workers everywhere, Iranian workers need the right to strike and independent trade unions freed from state control.

We resolve to
1. Publicise the struggles of workers in Iran as well as other battles for human rights against the dictatorship.
2. Invite a speaker from the newly formed Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign, named for the Iranian trade unionist and socialist jailed for campaigning to form independent unions and found dead in prison last year (September 2016).
3. Support and publicise the SZAC’s activities and protests.
4. Affiliate to the SZAC (which is free) and make a donation of £…

(Bank account: ‘WSN’ – Sort code: 60-83-01 -Account Number: 20018467)

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What’s behind Stop the War’s aversion to Syrian voices?

October 19, 2016 at 4:15 pm (apologists and collaborators, internationalism, Libya, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War, Syria)

From The New Arab:

What's behind Stop the War's aversion to Syria voices?

Above: a Stop The War Coalition protest outside Downing Street, 12 Dec 2015 [Getty}

By Joey Ayoub

Date of publication: 17 October, 2016

Comment: The problem with the Stop the War coalition, is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-western intervention, writes Joey Ayoub.

On 15 November 2015, Diane Abbott went on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ show to defend herself and the Stop the War (StW) coalition against a rather odd accusation: that they refuse to give a platform to Syrians when discussing Syria.

It followed a heated exchange just days prior, in which Syrian activists challenged StW’s leadership on the matter during a talk on Syria. They were backed by Peter Tatchell, the veteran anti-war activist who had also been criticising StW for what many perceive as its intolerance towards left-wing, democratic and anti-Assad Syrian activists.

This was not a new accusation. StW has prevented Syrian activists from speaking at their rallies or from taking part in any “anti-war” campaign, while giving a platform to pro-Assad apologists and inviting Assad’s own allies like the Ghouta massacre-denier Fadia Laham, also known as “Mother Agnes”, for years.

This exposes two fundamental aspects of StW today: A de facto tolerance and acceptance of Assad’s tyranny translated as the problem of people “over there” which “we” must not get involved in, regardless of the repercussions, and a hatred for subaltern voices, in this case Syrians, who do not fit the accepted narrative.

This, in turn, works hand in hand with an outdated cold war-era framework, still plaguing much of the western and Arab Left, which romanticises (read: whitewashes) the Kremlin’s politics.

Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the no-fly zone in Libya

Fastforward to October 2016. Chris Nineham, the Vice Chair of StW, writes an article entitled “Don’t Believe the Start the War Coalition – Ask Libyans About No-Fly Zones” (NFZ). On reading that article, filled with oversimplifications and vague warnings, one notices something fairly obvious: In an article asking “us” to ask Libyans, Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the NFZ in Libya.

Indeed, the only six mentioned in that article are Andrew Mitchell, Boris Johnson, Hilary Clinton, Joseph Dunford, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn (who was also recently heckled by a pro-Syrian activist). Had StW followed their own advice and asked Libyans about the NFZ, they might have found inconvenient answers which challenge their de facto isolationist politics.

Indeed, the NFZ was seen as the lesser of many evils by countless Libyans who rose up against Gaddafi. A 2012 Gallup poll interviewing approximately 1,000 Libyans showed that 77 percent “broadly support several forms of potential assistance from the West, particularly military support”.

The idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves

One Libyan activist, Rema Abdulaziz, even recently wrote in The Independent that she and many more are actually grateful for the NFZ. In other words, the idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves.

Furthermore, what is often ignored about the NFZ in Libya is that not a single member state of the Security Council, including Russia, opposed it and that it was another Arab country, Lebanon, which officially proposed the NFZ to the Security Council.

To the isolationists, “they” needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for “we”, as owners of great social capital, know best. To borrow from Bell Hooks, Libyans, like Syrians today, were and are told that “there is no need to hear your voice, when ‘we’ can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself.

No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk.”

This is no mere detail in this story. In fact, it is the central one: If, as leftists, we wish to support revolutionary emancipation regardless of man-made borders, we must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots.

The problem with StW is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-Western intervention regardless of the realities on the ground. This is why it is an isolationist movement, a deeply conservative one at that, and one which has dangerous repercussions in an age of increasing xenophobic nativist rhetoric.

‘They’ needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for ‘we’, as owners of great social capital, know best

As StW proudly wrote on their own website, they are accused “of having a doctrinaire rejection of western intervention in the Middle East” which, they add, “is correct – our doctrine has been fully vindicated by the consequences of such interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.”

Perhaps the StW is led by people who are not aware of the definition of doctrinaire, namely “one who attempts to put into effect an abstract doctrine or theory with little or no regard for practical difficulties”.

The ‘abstract doctrine’ is anti-western imperialism (not anti-imperialism in itself) and anti-western intervention, of any kind. As for the ‘practical difficulties’, they are nothing less than the aspiration of Syrians who took to the streets in 2011 demanding justice, those same Syrians who were, and are, tortured in their tens of thousands in Assad’s gulags and slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands.

We must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots

As we’ve seen over the past few years, the slogan “Assad or we burn the country” of the Assad regime and its state-sponsored militias known as the Shabiha, is meant literally.

The fact that StW always refers to Iraq in particular as ‘proof’ speaks volumes, given the fact that there was no revolution in Iraq nor is there a western invasion and occupation in Syria remotely comparable to the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation.

To quote the Lebanese Marxist intellectual Gilbert Achcar, commenting on Corbyn being heckled, this reactionary isolationism represents “a national-selfish attitude that doesn’t care about what happens to the rest of the world as long as ‘we’ are not directly concerned and our well-being is not affected – or (the leftwing version) as long as our ‘anti-imperialist’ conscience is not troubled by any of the complexities of the real world.

They’d rather see Benghazi or Aleppo razed to the ground and their inhabitants massacred, than see the UK or any Western government attempt to do something about it, let alone call on them to do something, even when there are no other forces capable of preventing the massacre.

In that balance, one Libyan or Syrian killed by ‘our’ government is more unbearable to our conscience than ten thousand killed by the local despots: this may be a form of ‘anti-imperialism’, but it is as far away from ‘internationalism’ (a leftwing value that seems to have completely vanished) as isolationism is.”

By ignoring a fundamental principle, that “critiquing our own governments and their crimes is a necessary but not sufficient part of the fight for justice”, we end up giving ammunition to a xenophobic rhetoric that is already gaining momentum.

This has been repeated so many times since the beginning of the Arab Spring that no honest observer can claim ignorance. Cynical indifference, however, is always available, and those who wish to adopt it should express no surprise at the continuing rise of nativism and xenophobia within Fortress Europe’s borders and beyond.

Joey Ayoub is the MENA editor at Global Voices as well as a Lebanese researcher from Beirut currently living in London. He is the founder of Hummus For Thought and mostly writes on Syria, Israel-Palestine and Lebanon.

Follow him on Twitter: @joeyayoub

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

See also: Tendance Coatesy

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Immigration: Corbyn’s principled stance shames Socialist Party

October 14, 2016 at 1:16 pm (Anti-Racism, capitulation, Europe, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party)

Image may contain: 1 person , text

This article first appeared in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website

One of the best bits of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour conference speech was his defence of migrants.

“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages; it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.

“It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS; it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training.

“It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.

“Immigration can certainly put extra pressure on services… What did the Tories do? They… demonise migrants for putting pressure on services…

“We will act decisively to end the undercutting of workers’ pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour and agency working… And we will ease the pressure on hard-pressed public services – services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations”.

Socialist Party of England and Wales logo.gif

It should put to shame the Socialist Party, which has presented immigration controls as a sort of working-class “closed shop”, thus feeding the myth that migrant workers, and not the exploitation of migrant workers, drive down wages:

“The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days”, declares the SP, “has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

“It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists”.

Were those sentences a bit of bad writing? An aberration? Not at all. The SP has opposed free movement of labour consistently, in many articles, for instance this one by their leader, Peter Taafe, that contains the following:

“The alleged benefits of the ‘free movement of labour’ are in reality a device for the bosses to exploit a vast pool of cheap labour, which can then be used to cut overall wage levels and living standards”.

“The EU’s free movement of labour rules… have helped the bosses to inflict a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and conditions, rather than stemming from workers’ interests and a raising of living standards across the board”.

Even conventional academic research has shown that any depression of wage levels which follows increased immigration at a time of diminished trade union rights and inadequate solidarity is confined to particular categories of labour, and is much smaller than the wage gain which would result from stronger union rights and greater workers’ unity.

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Palestinian leftists rebuke Western apologists for Assad

October 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm (Human rights, internationalism, left, liberation, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, Syria, terror)

Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016

A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”

An activist sprays the Free Syrian flag next to the Palestinian one on the wall built by Israel in the West Bank

Above: the Free Syria and Palestinian flags painted on the wall in the West Bank

Eulogizing the late Samir Kassir forty days after his 2 June, 2005, assassination, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lauded the Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian writer’s wide-ranging “liberation project,” which he said encompassed everything from “the child’s right to question his father, to the woman’s right to divorce her husband, to […] the poet’s right to shed the strictures of rhyme, to […] the right of citizens to change their ruler, to the right of the individual and society to resist both despotism and occupation simultaneously”(italics added).

This was, on one level, an obvious nod to Kassir’s extraordinarily courageous opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime that cost him his life (“Was it for this that Samir Kassir deserved to be killed?” Darwish then asked rhetorically). It was also, however, consistent with the argument Darwish and other democratic Arab leftists had been making since at least the early 1970s; namely, that long-term liberation necessitated a fight against Arab dictatorships no less than Israeli occupiers.

It’s this crucial chiaroscuro that tends to get missed by the sort of self-styled leftist in the West whose only real use for Darwish and other Palestinians is one-dimensional. In their designated roles imagined as eliminationist anti-Zionist fanatics (the same distortion, ironically, made by the toxic Israeli right-wingers who liken Darwish to Hitler), Arabs are ultimately no more than cameos and extras in a story that has no time for their suffering – not even the slaughter of 500,000 Syrians – if it can’t be made, as Trump might put it, to be about America First.

Not surprisingly, a number of Palestinians happen to not much enjoy their misfortune being appropriated in this fashion. A pair of articles published last weekend by the renowned American Israel critic Max Blumenthal – in which he portrayed the Syrian first-aid volunteers known as The White Helmets, who’ve pulled tens of thousands of civilians from the rubble left by Syrian and Russian air strikes (including the famous shell-shocked 5-year-old, Omran Daqneesh), as sinister agents of American neoconservatism – was evidently a last straw for some. In a new statement titled ‘On The Allies We’re Not Proud Of: A Palestinian Response to Troubling Discourse on Syria,’ over 120 Palestinian signatories state they are “concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”

Calling the “Syrian revolution […] a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule,” they directly address Blumenthal by dismissing as “nonsense” the “notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy.”

In perhaps their most interesting reflection, they say they regret their past “tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war.” They conclude they have “no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected,” and “encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.”

The full statement (which one hopes will also be published in Arabic) is reproduced below:

We, the undersigned Palestinians, write to affirm our commitment to the amplification of Syrian voices as they endure slaughter and displacement at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. We are motivated by our deep belief that oppression, in all of its manifestations, should be the primary concern of anyone committed to our collective liberation. Our vision of liberation includes the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, regardless of whether or not their struggles fit neatly into outdated geopolitical frameworks.  

We are concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In particular, we are embarrassed by the ways in which some individuals known for their work on Palestine have failed to account for some crucial context in their analysis of Syria.

The Syrian revolution was in fact a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule. The Assad regime, with the support of its foreign financial and military backers, is attempting to preserve its power at the expense of the millions of Syrians whom the regime has exiled, imprisoned, and massacred. We believe that minimizing this context in any discussion of Syria dismisses the value of Syrian self-determination and undermines the legitimacy of their uprising.

We also believe that an important consequence of all foreign interventions, including those purportedly done on behalf of the uprising, has been the setback of the original demands of revolution. The revolution is a victim, not a product, of these interventions. It is imperative for any analysis of Syria to recognize this fundamental premise. We cannot erase the agency of Syrians struggling for liberation, no matter how many players are actively working against them.

Though we maintain that the phenomenon of foreign aid demands thorough critique, we are concerned by the ways in which foreign aid has been weaponized to cast suspicion on Syrian humanitarian efforts. Foreign aid is not unique to Syria; it is prevalent in Palestine as well. We reject the notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy. Such nonsense has the effect of both undermining humanitarian efforts while simultaneously whitewashing the very crimes against humanity that necessitated the aid in the first place.

Furthermore, we object to the casual adoption of “war on terror” language. Enemies of liberation have historically used this rhetoric to target humanitarians, organizers, and community members. From Muhammad Salah to the Midwest 23 to the Holy Land Five, our community is all too familiar with the very real consequence of employing a “war on terror” framework. Therefore, we reject a discourse that perpetuates these old tactics and peddles harmful and unwarranted suspicion against Syrians.

Along these lines, it is our position that any discussion of Syria that neglects the central role of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in the destruction of Syria directly contradicts the principles of solidarity by which we abide. We have reflected on our own tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war, as well as those living in the diaspora whose voices have been dismissed as they have watched their homeland be destroyed.

We will no longer entertain individuals who fail to acknowledge the immediate concerns of besieged Syrians in their analysis. Despite reaching out to some of these individuals, they have shown an unwillingness to reflect on the impact of their analysis. We regret that we have no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected.

We would like to encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.

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