The story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, on BBC Radio 4

August 15, 2016 at 4:58 pm (BBC, good people, humanism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, Kurds, Middle East, music, youth)

BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week is Upbeat, Paul MacAlindin’s inspiring account of the creation of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

I’m proud to recall that back in 2009 Shiraz Socialist publicised and supported this initiative and its brave young founder, Zuhal Sultan, then 18.

Inevitably, an “anti-imperialist” idiot sent in a BTL comment to the effect that Zuhal and the Orchestra were collaborators: we were surprised and honoured to receive this reply from Zuhal herself:

I wonder, if creating a youth orchestra is a propaganda? As the one who created it, it took me a year of hard work and sacrifice, and yes, I needed help from abroad as my voice wasn’t heard by my own governement when this initiative was just an idea. I needed help from abroad as there were no coaches to teach those young musicians, I needed help for reasons beyond anything you can think of. Later on, the office of the deputy prime minister noticed and helped funding a large amount of the project. It has nothing to do with politics.

I really hope that you can appreciate all the hard work that went into this by myself, the team who pulled this through and the hard working young musicians rather than being cynical.

Bests,
Zuhal Sultan
Founder and Artistic Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

Anyway, here’s what we posted back in August 2009; you can still follow the justgiving link to make a donation, as well:

Iraq: amidst the carnage, the music of hope

As the fascists who seek to deny the peoples of Iraq any form of reconciliation, stability or civil society strike again in Baghdad, it is easy to despair. Perhaps, then, this is the right moment to draw your attention to another face of Iraq, the inspiring  young Baghdad pianist Zuhal Sultan.

 

Zuhal - Music for a change

Zuhal, still just 18 years old, has formed the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI), bringing together 35 young musicians from across the religious, racial and regional/national divides. It includes Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds. The orchestra’s repertoire includes Beethoven, Haydn, Gershwin, a commissioned piece by NYOI’s composer-in -residence Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and new pieces by Iraqi Kurdish and Arab composers. They have toured throughout Iraq and Zuhal has visited the Wigmore Hall in London as a soloist and accompanist for the British tenor Andrew Staples. She would like nothing more than to take the orchestra on a similar tour. Internationalists, liberals, the left and humanitarians have, quite rightly, hailed the bridge-building work of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Zuhal Sultan and her young colleagues deserve similar support as they embark on their brave musical journey of hope and reconciliation: send a donation,  large or small, to the grassroots fundraising site  http://www.justgiving.com/nyoiraq/

You’ll not only be supporting a brave young woman and her colleagues, but putting another nail in the coffin of sectarianism, nihilism and fascism.

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Neo-conservatism: a lament

July 11, 2016 at 11:27 pm (democracy, Harry's Place, Human rights, humanism, internationalism, iraq war, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria, tragedy)

This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:

In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.

There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.

The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for DemocracyBush also recommended his aides read the book.  Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.

With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.”  Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)

At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.

Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.

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The irrelevance of Chilcot and the real issues at stake over Iraq

July 6, 2016 at 1:19 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, Galloway, imperialism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, Middle East, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, Stop The War, SWP, Tony Blair, tragedy, war)

The Iraq Inquiry commitee

The long-awaited Chilcot Report is – understandably – of immense concern to those who lost family members in this ill-conceived adventure. But it was never going to deal with the crucial political issues at stake, nor help socialists develop a worthwhile programme for Iraq (the Worker-communist Party of Iraq made a serious attempt at this back in 2004).

Like many readers of this blog, I was on the massive anti-war march of 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, and the loathsome, misnamed, ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (STWC) 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 STWC 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, put his finger (in the New Statesman) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively ascribed it 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 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, in 2003, 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 STWC email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well. The issues it raises are still the crucial ones neither Chilcot nor the STWC are able to address:

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.

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The six “fathers” of ISIS

November 25, 2015 at 2:12 pm (fascism, Iran, iraq, iraq war, islamism, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, religion, Syria, terror)

By Ziad Majed

The organization abbreviated as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is not new in the region, nor is it a newfound expression of the crises afflicting Arab societies at a moment of profound transformations, initiated by 2011 revolutions.

To the contrary, ISIS is the offspring of more than one father, and the product of more than one longstanding and widespread sickness. The organization’s explosive growth today is in fact the result of previously existing, worsening conflicts that were caused by the different fathers.

ISIS is first the child of despotism in the most heinous form that has plagued the region. Therefore, it is no coincidence that we see its base, its source of strength concentrated in Iraq and Syria, where Saddam Hussein and Hafez and Bashar Al-Assad reigned for decades, killing hundreds of thousands of people, destroying political life, and deepening sectarianism by transforming it into a mechanism of exclusion and polarization, to the point that injustices and crimes against humanity became commonplace.

ISIS is second the progeny of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, both the way in which it was initially conducted and the catastrophic mismanagement that followed. Specifically, it was the exclusion of a wide swath of Iraqis from post invasion political processes and the formation of a new authority that discriminated against them and held them collectively at fault for the guilt of Saddam and his party, which together enabled groups (such as those first established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) whose activities have been resumed by ISIS to get in touch with some parts of Iraqi society and to establish itself among them.

ISIS is third the son of Iranian aggressive regional policies that have worsened in recent years — taking Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria as its backyard, feeding (directly or indirectly) confessional divisions and making these divides the backbone of ideological mobilization and a policy of revenge and retaliation that has constructed a destructive feedback loop.

ISIS is fourth the child of some of the Salafist networks in the Gulf (in Saudi Arabia and other states), which emerged and developed throughout the 1980s, following the oil boom and the “Afghan jihad”. These networks have continued to operate and expand throughout the last two decades under various names, all in the interest of extremism and obscurantism.

ISIS is fifth the offspring of a profound crisis, deeply rooted in the thinking of some Islamist groups seeking to escape from their terrible failure to confront the challenges of the present toward a delusional model ostensibly taken from the seventh century, believing that they have found within its imaginary folds the answer to all contemporary or future questions.

ISIS is sixth the progeny of violence, or of an environment that has been subjected to striking brutality, which has allowed the growth of this disease and facilitated the emergence of what could be called “ISISism”. Like Iraq previously, Syria today has been abandoned beneath explosive barrels to become a laboratory, a testing ground for violence, daily massacres and their outcomes.

ISIS, an abominable, savage creature, is thus the product of at least these six fathers. Its persistency depends on the continuation of these aforementioned elements, particularly the element of violence embodied by the Assad regime in Syria. Those who think that they should be impartial toward or even support tyrants like Assad in the fight against ISISism fail to realize that his regime is in fact at the root of the problem.

Until this fact is recognized — that despotism is the disease and not the cure — we can only expect more deadly repercussions, from the Middle East to the distant corners of the globe…

Ziad Majed

Translated from Arabic (first published in June 2014) by Jeff Regger

Publié par Ziad Majed زياد ماجد

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Clive on Paris: “Just some thoughts. No conclusions.”

November 17, 2015 at 8:46 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Cities, Clive Bradley, democracy, Europe, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, iraq war, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, misogyny, murder, secularism, solidarity, Syria, terror, turkey)

By Clive Bradley (via Facebook):

For what they’re worth, my feelings about Paris, etc. Friday was personally upsetting because Paris is a city I know quite well: I’ve never been to the Bataclan, but for sure I’ve walked past it. I have friends in Paris. Elia and I have been to Paris for our anniversary in the past. It brings it home to me in a way which – to be honest – other recent atrocities don’t.

The reason for posting now, though, is that I’m frustrated by some of what I’m seeing in social media and in the news about the politics of this. It’s horrific to see the racist, nationalistic, xenophobic nonsense spouted in some quarters. It seems to me the single most important thing we have to do to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh is fight for the rights of migrants and refugees, both because what Daesh want is to stir up Islamophobia and other kinds of hate – that’s the aim of the attacks – and because genuine democracy, equality and freedom are the real weapons in any meaningful struggle against terrorism and religious fascism.

It’s true, of course, as some of my friends have pointed out, that a big factor in explaining the rise of Daesh is Western intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, French colonialism played a particularly appalling role in the Middle East and Arab world more generally (Algeria). If you had to pick a moment when the fuse was lit which led to the current crisis, I think it might have been when the French kicked Faisal out of Damascus just after World War One (the British gave him Iraq as a consolation), thus preventing the independent state the Arabs had been promised in the war against the Turks. (This is one reason among many I won’t update my status with a French flag – or indeed any national flag).

But what events like Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad (many times) and everything that’s been happening in Syria (and Libya), and so on – and on – show is that Daesh nevertheless has to be fought. Their chilling statement about the Paris attacks – Paris as a den of perversion, and so forth – brings home that I, for instance, am a target of their hate. Everything I stand for and everything I am. How, then, to fight them?

Sadly, they won’t go away just because we don’t retaliate by bombing them. The single greatest victory against them in recent weeks was the retaking of Sinjar by the Kurds (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p037klpq).

To fight Daesh/IS, we should give the Kurds, the main military force opposing them on the ground with an agenda of democracy and human rights (ie not the murderous Assad regime), all the support we can.

But the uncomfortable fact is that the Kurds won this battle with US military air support. So maybe not all Western intervention is bad; or at least, if the Kurds want it and need it, shouldn’t we do what they want? And while Western intervention has mainly had disastrous consequences – the Iraq war being only the most obvious example – Western non-intervention in Syria has been pretty disastrous, too. We need to face the fact that this stuff is difficult. I’m not, here, advocating anything, just pointing out the complexity.

And there’s another question to do with Western ‘involvement’ which is harder to tackle. Daesh is the product of Western involvement up to a point; but it is much more directly the product of Saudi Arabia. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia…). A big thing the West could do to fight Daesh is break links with Saudi Arabia – but of course this they don’t want to do for obvious reasons, namely oil. The very least they could do is not promote Saudi Arabia as ‘moderate’ or champions of human rights. But in fact, something much more profound in the way the Western world works needs to change (and for sure this will have consequences in my own little bit of it).

Another thing we could do is challenge ‘our’ NATO ally, Turkey, who have been consistently more concerned to subvert the Kurds than to fight Daesh, and whose repression of the Kurds, which of course has long historical roots, is now deepening again. (I posted this the other day: https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-end-the-siege-of-…).
Just some thoughts. No conclusions. Might try to go back to sleep.

Kurds take Sinjar from the Islamic State group

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Charles Kennedy: what Labour could learn

June 3, 2015 at 9:02 pm (good people, iraq war, labour party, Lib Dems, mental health, reformism, RIP, tragedy, war)

By Alan Theasby

RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015

I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.

When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)

When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.

In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!

In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.

Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have  massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).

So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?

JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:

All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.

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Neither Washington nor the ‘Ubers’

September 14, 2014 at 9:25 pm (Afghanistan, Guest post, internationalism, iraq war, islamism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, socialism, solidarity, stalinism, Stop The War)

Pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine: our enemy’s enemies are our friends?
Guest post by Dave McGuire

Since the break-up of Yugoslavia the British left has been split along the following lines; one side of the divide has come to fetishise imperialism becoming uber anti-imperialists on the other side are the third camp socialists. Here I consider the consequences of the ubers approach to some of the major events of the last two decades.

One of their most striking characteristics has been the reworking of the Stalinists framework for viewing the world. The Stalinists divided the world between the socialist and imperialist camp. Behind this division was the idea that Stalin’s Russia was building socialism and so was progressive in relation to capitalism. In the 1930s much Marxist literature including that of the Trotskyists, was devoted to showing the superiority of the planned economy.

This was always a monstrous calumny against the idea of workers power and socialism, Stalin’s Russia was the victory of the counter revolution and a regression from capitalism. By the early post war years this was plain to see to anyone who cared to look – what society could be called an advance on capitalism were slave labour was integral to its economy?

Today the Uber anti-imperialists look at the world through a similar bi-polar lens. The division however is no longer based on the positive, if erroneous, view that the Stalinist states were an advance on capitalism. Rather they divide the world solely on the negative; opposition to whatever the imperialists and `their stooges’ (such as the Maidan revolt, the Iraqi trade unions and the Kurds) do, and support for nearly anyone who is seen to be opposing them. In this redrawn view of the world there is no need for any concrete analysis of the forces ‘fighting imperialism’ – whether these forces are progressive, reactionary or working class – all are lumped together into a single undifferentiated mass, the “anti-imperialist” camp. Most powerful of those aligned against the West is Russia and its satellites and allies, such as the mass murderer Assad. From the struggles in Eastern Europe, through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, into the Arab spring and now around the Ukraine, almost all international confrontations all are understood through this bi-polar analysis – either one is in the imperialist or anti-imperialist camp. Even the struggle against the barbarians of Isis is seen by some through this lens.

The most significant consequence of the Ubers’ view is that they lose the centrality of the working class both as the driving force in history and as the focus for socialists. Filling this vacuum is not there abstract catch all notion of anti-imperialism but the political results of their campist view nihilism. They have switched tracks from being consistent democrats, supporters of labour movements and advocates of socialism to being cheer-leaders for countries and movements who are against the West and in many instances against progress itself.

The starting point for this regression is their assertion that any military intervention by the west is always wrong. While socialists should never give positive support to their governments, and in most instances should be against interventions …  “most” does not mean not “all.” In some cases the rule should be broken, for example NATO bombing in Kosovo, and Libya to name two, in both instances the consequence of non-intervention would have led to massacres and the enhancement of Serb nationalism/imperialism (Kosovo) and Gaddafi (Libya). So why would one be against intervention in principle? For sure the Ubers would be sorry to see massacres happen, but they simply have to oppose anything the West does, as the ‘principle’ of non-intervention transcends all other considerations. Read the rest of this entry »

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Workers Liberty on the collapse in Iraq

June 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm (AWL, Cross-post, iraq, iraq war, islamism, kdp, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, secularism, terror, war)

Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck. Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck.

The following article, by Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty, carries weight because it is largely based upon interviews with representatives of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan. It first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:

On Wednesday 11 June, the Al-Qaeda-oriented Sunni Islamist group ISIS seized control of Iraq’s second-biggest city, Mosul.

It has taken several other cities in the Sunni-majority north and west. Before 11 June it already had control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, and of significant areas in Syria.

Nadia Mahmood of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq told Solidarity:

“What’s going on now with ISIS is a new phase of the sectarian violence which reached its peak in 2006-7 with the bombings in Samarra”.

That simmering sectarian civil war died down in 2007-8 and after. But, said Nadia: “After the Arab Spring [in 2011], the Sunni [minority in Arab Iraq] became more assertive.

“In 2013, [Iraq’s Shia-Islamist prime minister] Maliki ended the [peaceful, and not sharply Islamist] protest camps outside the roads to Fallujah and ignored their demands.

“Now in 2014, after the election two months ago, Maliki wants to stay in power and has marginalised even the other Shia parties.

“Because of the sectarian nature of the government, this sort of violence will happen again and again. Socialists need to call for a secular state.

“The left and the labour movement in Iraq are not powerful right now, so first of all we need a secular state without religious identity which will give us ground to build. The target now is to end the sectarian nature of the state”.

Some of the roots of this collapse of the Iraqi state lie in what the USA did after invading in 2003. It disbanded much of the Iraqi state machine, including low-ranking people, and promoted “de-Baathification”.

At first the USA hoped that pro-US and relatively secular people like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi would create a pro-US Iraqi government. But those neo-liberals turned out to be good at schmoozing US officials while in exile, hopeless at winning support from Iraqis in Iraq.

Amid the chaos and rancour which followed the invasion and the destruction of everyday governance, the mosques and the Islamist factions won hegemony.

The US adapted and worked with people like Maliki. As Aso Kamal of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan told Solidarity: “The Americans made a political system that depended on balancing three ethnic and sectarian identities.

“Iraq had been a modern society, with sectarian divisions not so deep. These events are the product of the new system America brought to Iraq. Especially with other powers like Turkey and Iran intervening, seeking their allies within the Iraqi system, it has been a disaster”. Now Saudi Arabia has seized on the current crisis to call for the fall of Maliki and his replacement by “a government of national consensus”.

Nadia Mahmood explained: “I think some of the Ba’thists saw the de-Ba’thification policy as targeting Sunnis more than Ba’thists. In fact there were Shia Ba’thists who held powerful positions in the state, and they were protected because they were Shia.

“So the Sunni Ba’athists went to the Sunni side and the Islamist side, not the Ba’thist side. They held to their religious identity”.

According to Aso Kamal, Maliki’s government is seen as a Shia government, and that rallies groups like ISIS and ex-Ba’thists against it.

For us in Workers’ Liberty, the horrible events confirm the arguments we made during the previous simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq (especially 2006-7) for slogans of support for the Iraqi labour movement and democracy against both the US forces and the sectarian militias, not the negative slogan “troops out”. The two-word recipe “troops out” then certainly entailed a sectarian collapse like this one, only worse. Now it is happening, even those who previously most ardently insisted that anti-Americanism must be the first step, and everything else could be be sorted out later, dare not hail the ISIS advance and the Shia counter-mobilisation as “liberation” or “anti-imperialism”.

Of course, rejecting the slogan “troops out” did not mean supporting the US, any more than being dismayed at the ISIS advance means endorsing Maliki.

The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army as the relatively small ISIS force advanced shows how corrupt and discredited the state has become.

Nadia Mahmood explained: “Soldiers from Mosul were saying that even when ISIS were still far away from the city, the leaders of the army took off their military clothes and left the soldiers. The Mayor of Mosul told the soldiers to leave. Some of the soldiers are saying that there was a deal”.

The knock-on effect of the ISIS victories is a sharpening on the other side of Shia sectarianism. As Nadia Mahmood says: “Now the Shia political parties are becoming closer to each other and calling for resistance. There is a sectarian agenda against the Sunni”. Aso Kamal adds: “Sistani and Maliki are also calling for a holy war. This is taking Iraq back centuries. It could become like Somalia. That will destroy the working class. It is a very dark scenario”.

Workers’ Liberty believes that defence of the labour movement in Iraq, which will be crushed wherever ISIS rules and in grave danger where the Shia Islamists are mobilising, should be a main slogan now, alongside the call for a secular state.

“ISIS”, says Aso Kamal, “have announced what they are going to do. Women must stay at home. Nothing must be taught in schools outside the Quran. There will be no freedom of speech. They are like the Taliban”.

“I’m not sure how ISIS came to Iraq”, says Nadia Mahmood, “and whether they are popular even amongst Sunnis. Maybe they are allied with the Ba’thists. But are there more Sunnis supporting them? Many Sunnis seem very scared and oppose ISIS.

“It is horrible what is going on”. But, now they have power and access to big arsenals, “ISIS may keep hold of the Sunni cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit, for some time. It’s obviously not the same for Baghdad.

“Bringing in Iranian groups to fight ISIS will only encourage sectarian discourse and maybe accelerate Shia-Sunni polarisation. Already Maliki is accused by ISIS, and by the Ba’thists, of being an Iranian agent. Whether Iranian intervention calms the situation or it worsens it is unclear.

“Many people in Iraq would prefer the United States to attack ISIS. They have come all the way from Mosul to 60km outside Baghdad, killing in their wake. I don’t know if they stay longer how many crimes they will commit, how many tragedies are going to happen. People in Baghdad feel very scared now”.

That doesn’t mean endorsing US bombing. The US’s 12 years of bombing in Afghanistan have not installed a secular state, but rebuilt a base for the once-discredited Taliban.

As Aso Kamal explains: “The Americans have a common front against ISIS now. But the Americans are playing with both sides. They do whatever they think will stabilise the region and the markets, and ignore the future of the people. In reality, they are supporting reactionary forces in Iraq.

“The effect of the developing sectarian war will be to inflame nationalism in Kurdistan. Already the KDP and the PUK [the main parties] are asking people to support them in order to keep the territory which Kurdish forces have conquered”.

For the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, “the main issue is to keep Kurdistan separate from this war. We say there should be a referendum and independence for [Iraqi] Kurdistan”.

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Sami Ramadani’s claim that Zionists bombed Baghdad synagogues in 1950-51

June 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, history, iraq, iraq war, israel, Jim D, Middle East, Stop The War, terror, zionism)

 
Registering for Aliya, Baghdad, 1950                                                                       Landing in Israel

Sami Ramadani is a periodic contributor to the Guardian, always billed as “a political refugee from Sadam Hussain’s regime.” In fact, that billing doesn’t really do him justice: during the Iraq war he was a supporter of the murderous, anti-working class Iraqi “resistance” and is a demagogue, much loved by the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’, who routinely blames the “West” and “Zionists” for all the ills of Iraq in particular, and the Middle East in general.

Shiraz has commented on his politics in the past.

In his latest Guardian piece, arguing that prior to the 2003 occupation, there was no “significant communal fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities”, Ramadani mentions two incidents that would seem to contradict his thesis:

“[T]he only incident was the 1941 violent looting of Jewish neighbourhoods – still shrouded in mystery as to who planned it. The bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in 1950-51 turned out to be the work of Zionists to frighten Iraq’s Jews – one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – into emigrating to Israel.”

I’ll leave aside the 1941 looting for now (though, whether by accident or design, it’s worth noting that Ramadani’s choice of words would lead the uniformed reader to assume that it, too, was probably the work of “Zionists”).

What I want to discuss here, is Ramadani’s bald statement that the 1950-51 bombings “turned out to be the work of Zionists”, as though that is an established, incontrovertible fact. Far from it: the matter is hotly disputed to this day, as a visit to Wikipedia will confirm. I want to make it clear that I am not ruling out the possibility that the bombings (or, perhaps, just some of them) were the work of Zionists, either operating on a free-lance basis or under orders from the Israeli leadership. But that thesis is far from being the established fact that Ramadani makes it out to be, as a glance at Wikipedia will confirm.

It is generally acknowledged that the two best accounts of the bombings, arguing diametrically opposed positions, are by Abbas Shiblack, in his 1989 book The Lure of Zion: The Case of the Iraqi Jews (later slightly revised and republished as The Iraq Jews: A History of Mss Exodus), who argues that Zionists were responsible, and Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951 which presents the case for Arab nationalist responsibility. They also disagree on the question of how important the bombings were in causing the exodus of Jews from Iraq.

The two accounts were analysed and weighed up against each other in a review of Shiblack’s book by Rayyan Al-Shawat, writing in the Winter 2006 edition of Democratiya magazine:

The other significant study of this subject is Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus  from Iraq, 1948-1951, which was published in 1997. A shorter encapsulation
of Gat’s argument can be found in his 2000 Israel Affairs article ‘Between Terror and Emigration: The Case of Iraqi Jewry.
’ Because of the diametrically opposed conclusions arrived at by the authors, it is useful to compare and contrast their  accounts. In fact, Gat explicitly refuted many of Shiblak’s assertions as early as 1987, in his Immigrants and Minorities review of Shiblak’s The Lure of Zion. It is unclear why Shiblak has very conspicuously chosen to ignore Gat’s criticisms and his pointing out of errors in the initial version of the book. The republication of Shiblak’s book 19 years after its first printing afforded him the opportunity to enact revisions, but where modifications were made they are minor, and almost no corrections are to be found. This article will highlight the major differences…

Al-Shawat’s admirably objective and even-handed article concludes as follows:

It is likely that we will never know for sure who the perpetrators of the attacks were.
As for the final word on the effect of the bombs, it is distressing to note that neither
Shiblak nor Gat saw fit to conduct a survey among surviving Iraqi Jewish emigrants
in order to ascertain, in the emigrants’ own words, their reasons for leaving Iraq.
This would have been of inestimable value in determining whether or not the
bombings were in fact the main reason for the exodus. Without evidence, Iraqi
Jews are not necessarily more qualified than anyone else to opine as to the identity
of the terrorists responsible for the bombs. Yet who could be more qualified than Iraqi Jews to explain which factors impelled them to leave Iraq for Israel?!

There is much anecdotal evidence to support the contention that the bombings – whoever
perpetrated them – were the decisive factor behind Iraqi Jews’ emigration. Personal
testimonies to this effect abound. Yet, inexcusably, there has apparently been no
organised effort to collate such testimonies within the framework of a scientific
survey. Though Shiblak cannot prove that Zionist emissaries from Israel were responsible for the bombings, he succeeds in demonstrating that these bombings were a major factor in the flight of Iraqi Jewry. Had Shiblak included a scientifically conducted survey of explanations provided by Iraqi Jews as to why they left, results might have proved that the bombings were the overriding reason – and not simply a major factor behind the exodus.

That seems to me to be a fair and balanced conclusion – ie: we simply don’t know who was responsible. But for the likes of Ramdani that’s not good enough: the Zionists must be to blame for bombing the synagogues – just as they’re to blame for so much else…

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The horror of Iraq

June 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm (iraq, iraq war, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, Syria, terror, tragedy)

 ISIS murdering Iiraq Security Forces after breaking open a prison in Mosul

Above: ISIS murdering Iraq Security Forces after breaking open a prison in Mosul

 Like most people, I’m watching in horror as Iraq disintegrates and the Islamist barbarians of ISIS continue to gain ground. I have no particularly profound insights to offer at the moment, so would recommend readers to check out the ever-reliable Juan Cole at the aptly-titled Informed Comment blog, and one Kyle Orton at this interesting blog, previously unknown to me.

B/t:  Bob From Brockley (for Syrian Intifada tip-off) 

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