The announcement today of the death of Günter Grass brings to mind the late Prof Norm‘s wise words following the Israeli government’s decision to declare Grass persona non grata in the light of the poem published below. This row erupted in 2012 – six years after Grass confessed to having been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager.
What Must Be Said
by Günter Grass
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel’s atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because – burdened enough as Germans –
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
wil not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
Yesterday Eamonn McDonagh posted about the Israeli government’s decision to declare Günter Grass persona non grata. With the aid of a couple of counterfactual analogies, he argued that Israel was ‘entirely justified’ in excluding Grass from its territory for representing the country as a danger to world peace. As Eamonn also wrote:
There’s no reason for the victims of genocide and their descendants to feel themselves obliged to allow Grass or anyone with a similar history or views to enter their country to lecture them on their immorality and how they continue to pose, just like when he was a young man, a special danger to the world.
Also yesterday, Nick Cohen put up a post of contrary tendency. ‘The only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’, Nick wrote, ‘is if his words will be a direct incitement to crime.’ It was, he added, an insulting assumption on the part of the Israeli government that its citizens ‘cannot listen to arguments they do not like and respond to them with better arguments’. This was a logic of censorship and cultural boycott:
To the Israeli government’s mind, Grass is wicked and therefore cannot be heard.
I have intimated here that the feature of Grass’s poem that was most repugnant was not the world peace stuff but his suggestion that Israel might be contemplating an attack on Iran which could wipe out the Iranian people – so making the Jewish state, on the basis of nothing but his own fancy, an agent of nuclear annihilation. In any case, in what follows I shall argue – though not in this order – that the Israeli government should not have banned Günter Grass as persona non grata; but that Eamonn is right (subject to one reservation) and Nick is wrong on the fundamental principles at stake.
Let’s begin with the opinion of someone else altogether – Salman Rushdie, who said on Twitter:
OK to dislike, even be disgusted by #GünterGrass poem, but to ban him is infantile pique. The answer to words must always be other words.
This sounds good, and of course it’s only a tweet, which doesn’t allow room for contextualization and qualification; but it isn’t true. Generally it is a good principle to meet words with words, and governments certainly shouldn’t prohibit people’s views (unless they incite violence) simply on account of disliking them. But there are other ways that people may legitimately choose to deal with opinions they find odious: for example, they may decline to keep company with those who propagate such opinions, decline to host them in their homes, decline to publish their writings when they have this power of decision, and so forth. Not every exclusion of someone from a space – whether physical, literary or virtual – amounts to censorship.
A government should not ban opinions which don’t constitute incitement; but, to the best of my knowledge, the Israeli government has not done this with respect to Günter Grass’s views. It has not done it on its own territory, where presumably anyone is free to articulate those views, publicize them, support them, criticize them, or whatever; and it has not done it anywhere else for obvious reasons, since it does not have that authority. It has simply declared that Grass is no longer welcome in Israel – and this is a matter that Israel may, with perfect legitimacy, decide. When Eamonn says, therefore, that Israel has no obligation to admit Grass, he is right: as a country it has a definite right to decide on who is and who isn’t welcome to visit. This is not the same thing, however, as saying that Israel is entirely justified in excluding Grass. It has a right to exclude him, but there may be reasons why it should not do so nonetheless (reasons I will come to shortly). It’s the same as saying that someone has the right not to let another into her house, but that she was wrong on the specific occasion to insist on her right, because (say) the putative visitor was cold, wet and exhausted and needed shelter for a short spell to get out of the raging storm.
On the other hand, Nick’s ‘only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’ – namely, direct incitement to crime – applies to the opinions that should be expressible within a government’s territorial jurisdiction, but not necessarily to the admissibility of persons. It strikes me as not at all unreasonable for national communities to decide that there are individuals whose ideological track record renders them unwanted as guests. At the same time, contrary to what Nick suggests, by the exclusion of Grass the Israeli government is not preventing its citizens from listening to arguments they do not like or suppressing Grass’s views. Neither is his exclusion from the country comparable to the logic of cultural boycotts. The latter target whole categories of people independently of anything they have done or of what they have said or may think, simply on the grounds of their national identity.
Why, then, do I say that the Israeli government is wrong to have declared Grass persona non grata? I say this because it has made it a matter of authoritative political decision who is welcome as a guest in Israel, when (or at any rate so I assume) it does not actually know whether there would be a national consensus to this effect. If it had security and intelligence reasons for the exclusion that it could not disclose, this would be a relevant consideration. But I cannot believe Israeli intelligence would back the view that a visit from Günter Grass could pose a serious threat to Israeli society or public order. In free and democratic polities, who may be invited into the country as a guest is generally left to private individuals and organizations. The interests of Israel would have been better served by leaving it so in the present case. If some group of Israelis should be stupid enough to think the opinions expressed in Grass’s latest ‘work’ are worth hearing out of his own mouth, then bevakasha, let them host him and enjoy the privilege of hearing him malign their country, just like numberless Jew-haters the world over, as exterminationist and genocidal. The political health and reputation of Israel will likely suffer less from indulging this stupidity than from putting in place a ban which may be entirely pointless anyway.
Another interesting, well-researched article by the Australian-Greek-Cypriot Castroite Mike Karadjis. This originally appeared atSyrian Revolutionary Comment And Analysis. As ever, when we republish such articles, Shiraz does not necessarily endorse everything the author says, nor his overall politics. But it’s an important piece because it takes on some myths about the origins and funding of ISIS that are increasingly widely believed on the left – sometimes in a spectacularly crude and conspiratorial form.
By Michael Karadjis
The November 6 London Review of Books has published Patrick Cockburn’s latest article, ‘Whose Side is Turkey On?’. Now, as I support the struggle of the Syrian Kurds, led by the PYD and its armed militia, the YPG, against ISIS’ genocidal siege, I have no interest in defending Turkey’s shabby role in this, even if I think both the US and Turkey, in their current difference on this issue are both being totally cynical in their different ways. So this critique will not deal with these issues.
Unfortunately, the angle from which Cockburn criticises Turkey is full of the same contradictions that significant parts of the left espouse, basked in an overall hostility to the Syrian revolution. Valid criticism of Turkey’s sabotage of the defence of Kobani – connected to Turkey’s own oppression of its Kurdish minority – is mixed in with criticism of Turkey for allegedly wanting to help overthrow the Syrian tyranny of Bashar Assad. As if there were something wrong with wanting the overthrow of a tyrant who has burnt his whole country, sending 1.5 million Syrian refugees into Turkey.
Indeed, the fact that Turkey plays an otherwise positive role (for its own reasons which I can’t go into here) in allowing Syrian resistance fighters to cross the border is labelled “facilitating ISIS”, as if the Syrian rebellion has anything to do with ISIS, its vicious enemy. Don’t get me wrong – Turkey may well be facilitating ISIS around the Kurdish regions of the north-east for specifically anti-Kurdish regions, but that simply has nothing to with its *rightful* facilitation of the anti-Assad rebellion elsewhere.
Unless one held the view that only the Syrian Kurds had the right to resist massacre, torture, ethnic cleansing and so on. After all, the Syrian rebellion, based largely among the vast impoverished Sunni Arab majority, has faced a regime that makes ISIS’ tyranny appear amateurish in comparison, and considering how barbaric ISIS is, this is a big claim, yet one that is simply empirically true.
Indeed, and I digress a little here – not understanding that it is the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni Arab populations that have been bombed to pieces, ethnically cleansed, dispossessed physically, politically and in every other way, by both the American invasion of Iraq and the Assad regime’s burning of its whole country to keep a narrow mega-plutocracy in power, is one of the keys to the left’s misunderstanding of many of these issues. It is the Sunni Arab populations of both countries that have suffered a decade-long apocalypse, not, overall, the Shia, Alawites or Kurds.
Who arms “jihadis”?
Referring to the “coalition” that the US has built to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Cockburn writes:
“When the bombing of Syria began in September, Obama announced with pride that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey were all joining the US as military partners against Isis. But, as the Americans knew, these were all Sunni states which had played a central role in fostering the jihadis in Syria and Iraq.”
Solidarity with democratic, workers’ and socialist forces in the Middle East resisting ISIS! Mobilise for 1 November!
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty conference (London, 25-6 October) sends solidarity to democratic, working-class and socialist forces resisting ISIS in Kurdistan, Syria and Iraq, including our comrades in the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan and Iraq.
We support the people of Kurdistan in their fight for self-determination and self-rule. More broadly, people in Kobane and elsewhere are fighting a life and death battle to defend basic human freedoms, particularly freedom for women.
Even when they may aid a liberation struggle, we do not endorse or have trust in bombing or the sending of ground forces by the US and its allies, or by Iran. The US has bombed ISIS units attacking Kobane; but it helped create the conditions for the rise of ISIS; it continues to ally with a variety of reactionary regimes and forces in the region; and by its very nature it acts for reasons that have nothing to do with democracy or liberation.
We protest against the Turkish government’s undermining of the fight against ISIS, motivated by fear of a challenge to its rule in Kurdistan.
We call for the free movement of refugees, including their right to come to the UK.
We will build solidarity with democratic forces in the region – but particularly working-class and socialist organisations. We will continue to work with our comrades in the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan, Iraq and Iran; the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency; and Marksist Tutum in Turkey – and the workers’ and people’s organisations they are building. We invite others on the left and in the labour movement to work with us to build solidarity with these comrades and with the class-struggle left throughout the Middle East.
One of Shiraz‘s proudest achievements, over the years, has been the debunking of the ‘blowback‘ explanation / excuse for terrorist attacks.
In the light of Rhodri Evans’s shrewd analysis of how ISIS has forced the ‘anti- imperialist’ left to re-examine its stance on Islamist terrorism, I was about to comment upon how ‘blowback’ has been absent from most of the liberal-left’s response to events in Canada…
The BTL comments are, in the vast majority, superb in their contempt for this shit. Sarah AB also does a very good fisking job, over at That Place.
James Bloodworth has also done an excellent job over at the Spectator, fisking the creepy ‘blowback’ promoter Glenn Greenwald and more or less writing the article I was going to come up with. So he’s saved me the trouble … here it is:
Anti-NSA crusader Glenn Greenwald published an article on Wednesday morning where he explained that the recent murder of a Canadian soldier by a radicalised Muslim convert was down to Canadian foreign policy. The important sentence in Greenwald’s piece is this one:
‘A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it.’
To put it another way, it was inevitable that the jihadists would come after Canadians, given that Canadians had meted out some fairly ripe treatment to the jihadists – first in Afghanistan and now against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (I’m being generous to Greenwald here, I grant you).
In an exclusive interview with the daily Radikal, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) Spokesperson Polat Can says they are officially working with the International Coalition against ISIS, and their representative is in the Joint Operation Command Center.
Mr. Polat Can, you have been leading a fierce struggle against ISIS in Kobane for almost month. The world is watching Kobane. What is the situation there?
In the morning, the Kobane resistance will be on its 30th day and a new, long-winded process will start. Everyone knows that the resistance that YPG put up against ISIS is unprecedented by the forces in the region, especially in comparison to the Iraqi army. Cities ten times the size of Kobane surrendered to ISIS in a few days and those cities were not even besieged with considerable force. However, when they started attacking Kobane, they gathered their forces from around the region, from places including Minbij, Raqqah, Jarabulus, and Tal Hamis. What I mean by considerable force is tanks, cannons, heavy artillery and thugs whose numbers were in the tens of thousands. They wanted to capture Kobane within a week, but they did not succeed. Then, they wanted to say their Eid prayers in Kobane, and they could not do that either.
Since last week, they seized some streets in East Kobane, and now they want to capture the whole city, but they can’t advance. As they try to make their way, they sustain considerable losses. Especially within the last few days, both YPG attacks and the air strikes against ISIS terror led by international coalition forces have increased. They sustained major losses, many of their bodies and weapons passed into the hands of the YPG.
So, can we say that Kobane is relatively safe from danger?
No, saying this would be major heedlessness. Because ISIS still controls a large portion of Kobane. In addition, all of the villages in Kobane are occupied by ISIS. The resistance we started both within and around Kobane is ongoing. ISIS continues to receive renewed assistance. This war is a matter of life and death for us in every way. Thus, it is not yet possible to say that there is no danger.
You are saying that ISIS consists of tens of thousands of people and constantly renewed support. Your numbers are very small in comparison. Do you receive any kind of support?
Kobane has been under an embargo for the last year and a half. None of the major forces from other cantons have been able to reach Kobane. Kobane is resisting with its own efforts. Some Kurdish youth have been able to reach Kobane from the north of Kurdistan, especially through Suruç. Some arrived Kobane in small groups from the cantons of Afrin and Jazira. In addition, some of the youth from Kobane who were living abroad came to Kobane to protect their city. Some of the small groups from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are here under the name of “The Volcano of Euphrates.” This is all of our power and support. Unfortunately, we did not receive any additional military support, neither from the South, nor from other places.
What can you tell us about the air strikes by the coalition led by the United States?
For the last few days, the air strikes have been numerous and effective. We can clearly state that, had these attacks started a couple weeks ago, ISIS would not have been able to enter Kobane at all. ISIS would have been defeated 10-15 kilometers away from the city, and the city would not have turned into a war zone.
Alright, why did effective air strikes start one week before, and not two? Or, to ask in another way; What happened over the course of the last week that the strikes intensified?
The YPG’s relationship with the coalition, then, had just started recently. I will be blunt; some regional powers, especially Turkey was a serious obstacle. They made every effort to prevent any help from reaching us and to prevent the air strikes. At first, coalition jets could get no closer than 10 kilometers to the Turkish border, because Turkey would not allow it. Of course, there were other problems as well such as logistics and distance. The coalition had not yet made a serious decision to help the YPG.
Moreover, everyone thought that Kobane would fall in a week or two and be forgotten easily, but that did not happen. Kurds all around the world and their friends have risen up, supported by calls by world-famous intellectuals, and the resultant public opinion. This situation has affected shift on some countries’ policies towards us and created pressure for more effective and intensified air strikes and assistance for the YPG.
What sort of help? There are calls to provide arms to the YPG, has any such assistance been provided?
Up until now, we really can’t speak of the provision of arms to Kobane. The YPG is trying to bring certain arms which we require to Kobane through certain means. Because we are in serious need of arms. Not only for Kobane, but also for Jazira and Afrin. It’s important that we have fighters that come and fight, but it’s equally important that there be arms for them to use. It’s very difficult to fight using light weaponry against ISIS, who possess heavy weaponry. In the current situation, under such circumstances, we are throwing ourselves heroically in a fight against a force utilizing the latest weapons technology.
You mentioned the coalition’s being late. What sort of relationship does the YPG have with the US and other countries in the coalition? Can you elaborate on this?
Long before the Kobane resistance, we had relations with many countries including the USA. When Kobane was attacked, our relationship became more substantial and our exchange of ideas was realized in practice. In a way, urgent situation on the ground expedited some things. True partnership comes to realization when the situation is difficult and parties support each other.
Can we say there is an official relation between the YPG and the coalition?
Yes, we are acting in concert with international coalition forces. We are in direct contact with them, in terms of intelligence, on a military level, and in terms of air strikes.
I guess the coordinates for the airstrikes are coming from you then?
Yes. One of our special units in Kobane gives us coordinates, and the YPG transmits these coordinates to coalition forces, and then air strikes are directly realized. I would also like to mention that we also benefitted from the assistance of certain Kurdish factions, and this assistance is ongoing.
Some media outlets reported that these airstrikes are carried out through peshmergas?
No. We have a direct relation with the coalition without any intermediaries. YPG representative is physically ready in the joint operation command center and transmits the coordinates. Indeed, no airstrikes would be possible militarily without YPG taking part in the process because the clashes are ongoing and the situation on the ground changes rapidly.
But, I would like to acknowledge efforts of some Kurdish parties and individuals in regard, and their assistance for the YPG is still onging.
For a while, news agencies from around the world have been discussing the fall of Kobane. In fact, last week, some of them announced that the city fell. However, now the American press has started to applaud the resistance by the YPG, comparing it to the famous Alamo resistance. What is your take on American and other peoples’ support for Kobane?
We have 5-6 American fighters in YPG. One of them was wounded during combat. The fact that they are fighting for us is making us proud. There are fighters from other peoples as well. We are thankful for all the people who have been appealing to their politicians on our behalf to get their attention, to help us.
Especially some European armies and their commanders are working vigorously towards providing help to the YPG. Yes, right now YPG is fighting against ISIS, but in reality this fight belongs to the whole world; the world should fight ISIS. The fighters of ISIS are from 81 different countries which will be responsible for the terror that ISIS will unleash on us. Therefore, everyone should take responsibility. If Kobane falls, a possibility we never consider, ISIS will attack many other territories motivated with the fervent of so-called conquest. Hence, the victory of Kobane resistance means a victory for Kurdistan, coalition forces, USA and for every human being with a conscience.
The global public was first introduced to the YPG during the Sinjar Massacres against Yezidi Kurds. Now, the whole world is talking about the outstanding resistance of the YPG in Kobane. Can we consider the YPG as one of the main actors in the war against ISIS?
Kurds are the strongest people fighting on earth today, be it YPG or the Peshmergas, it is the Kurds! There is of course a surprising element to this: a relatively small number of young people, equipped with light arms, stage an unprecedented resistance against heavy weaponry. I state this cut and dried; if there was any army of even 500 thousand soldiers in our place, they wouldn’t be able to resist, even for one week. We don’t possess one thousandth of the resources and arms that those who lost to ISIS in Mosul, Tikrit and Anbar had. But we have a will and we have faith, and we protect our lands. This is why the coalition forces must consider YPG as one of the main actors in this war. Many high ranking officials of the coalition forces have congratulated us and expressed their admiration for our struggle.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to say to the whole world which has been watching you with admiration?
We respectfully salute all the peoples of the world who support the YPG, Kobane and the Kurds. We promise to millions of Kurds and the friends of the Kurds who can’t sleep, whose hearts beat for us this: We will fight until the last person falls, until our last bullet, our last drop of blood, and we will win this fight. We will embellish this resistance worthy of the Kurdish people with victory and dedicate it to first to the proud Kurdish people and to all the peoples of the world. The resistance against Nazis in Stalingrd and in Alamo is what is repeating in Kobane. We invite everyone to support Kobane, the YPG and Kurdistan until the day of victory.
If you want my participation to a show, interview me or get a quote on Kobane and other Kurdish related issues, please contact me at email@example.com
The meeting then turned to motions submitted by NEC members. Unfortunately this part of the meeting was no feast of reason. There are two motions I want to focus on: Iraqi solidarity and Israel/Palestine. I urge you to read the motions before continuing.
The “Iraqi solidarity” motion had been worked on with Roza Salih, a Strathclyde university student of Kurdish descent (she submitted an almost identical motion to the Scottish equivalent of the executive, the Scottish Executive Council, which I will post later, which, incidentally, did pass! One must ask Scottish executive members why vote for a motion in Scotland, but not in England?!).
The motion was opposed by Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, for astonishing and bewildering reasons. Bouattia argued that the motion was “Islamophobic” and “pro USA intervention” – (see Aaron Kiely, a fellow NUS NEC member’s, tweet during the meeting as reflective of the position). The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political Left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement.
(I must also put on record that after only a single round of speeches, Toni Pearce moved the debate on. This was wrong: there was no opportunity to respond to Bouattia’s allegations. I had my hand up to speak in response, but was not called.)
Let us look at Bouattia’s arguments: is the motion anti-Muslim or pro US intervention?
The motion was partly written by a Kurdish student activist, and presented by the International students’ officer, Shreya Paudel. I have looked again and again at the contents of the motion, yet I cannot track any Islamophobia or racism.
The US occupation, and its aftermath, has been an utter disaster for the people of Iraq. Resulting governments, led by Nouri Al-Maliki, have been authoritarian and carried out virulent Shia sectarianism. A civil war in the mid 2000s killed 34,000 civilians. Today there are 1.6 million refugees.
The dynamics in 2014 are complex. ISIS, who have grown out of Al-Qaeda, have seized huge swathes of the country; there is a new, shaky, shia-sectarian government; and a Kurdish regional government, whose self determination I believe we should support.
The ultra-Islamist group ISIS is a threat to all the people of Iraq. It is repressing and persecuting minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Sunni Muslim Arabs. On the 29th June it declared a “caliphate” (a religious dictatorship). It has carried out rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas.
These developments have been exacerbated and driven by US policy deliberately fostering sectarianism.
The situation is desperate.
In this situation, it is fundamental that the political Left, trade union and student organisations, like NUS, show our solidarity with the Iraqi people, in particular the hard-pressed student, workers and women’s organisations, and those fighting for democracy and equality.
It is unclear whether Western forces (which congregated in Paris the day before the NEC meeting, on the 15th of September, to announce a “game plan” to defeat ISIS) will send boots onto the ground in Iraq. We know already that French aircrafts have begun reconnaissance flights over Iraq; and that US aid has assisted the Kurds and Yazidis. However it is unlikely they will want a re-run of a war that even they believe to have been a colossal failure. It may be more likely that the USA assists established forces from afar to defeat ISIS.
However, the motion cannot be clearer in saying that such forces cannot be relied upon to deliver democratic change in Iraq: “no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.” If one were to believe it is not sufficiently clear or that the motion is not worded strongly enough, fine: make an amendment to the motion; or seek to take parts to remove or strengthen a particular aspect. Instead, the whole motion – which calls for solidarity with oppressed forces in Iraq – was argued as wrong. This is a grave shame!
It is also true – and Left-wingers should think this over – that the Kurds and Yazidi’s thus far would not have been able to survive if it had not been for aid from the Americans. Calling simply for an end to this intervention is the same as calling for the defeat of the Peshmerga forces by ISIS. The policy is based on a negative criteria – opposing the US and UK – instead of positive critera – solidarity with the oppressed.
Perhaps this is what Bouattia meant when saying that the motion is pro-intervention? Such a suggestion is arrived at only when one’s “analysis” becomes an issue of principle: that even within limited parameters, that to suggest that imperialism is not the only problem is somehow to “support” imperialism. This is the basis of “Stalinist” politics on international questions: that one considers forces that oppose the US as either progressive or, at worst, not the real issue -no matter how barbaric and reactionary and fascistic that force is. This is not a useful or effective way of looking at the world.
Two interrelated issues struck me about this debate.
Firstly, there is a stranglehold of “identity politics” on the student movement. This is an issue which needs to be discussed in more depth, but essentially the idea is widespread that if a Liberation Officer opposes something, it must be bad. Of course this idea is not applied consistently (and could not possibly be) – eg the majority of the NEC has not accepted current and former Black Students’ Officers’ defence of Julian Assange or the SWP. But I think it was a factor here, perhaps because people see or claim to see debate on the Middle East as something that the BSO should somehow have veto power over, regardless of the issues and the arguments made.
Combined with this, there seems to be a low level of political education and even engagement and interest in the NEC. Some appear not to research issues, work out what they think, engage and take ideas forward. Instead, some are not very interested and vote on basis of who they want to ally with on NEC. In other words, many people who voted against didn’t seem to care about is happening in Iraq.
Another motion I believe deserves some discussion was on solidarity with an organisation, Workers’ Advice Centre/WAC-Ma’an, that organises Jewish and Arab workers in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This was voted down by both the Left and Right on NEC, for different reasons.
At the last NEC policy was passed favouring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy (BDS) – which I voted against. Policy was also passed favouring a two states settlement for the region, which I proposed.
For the Right on NEC (the “Right” on NEC are not Conservative party members but are certainly on the “Right” of debates on the NEC), the possibility of giving a tiny sum of our national union’s money to anyone – whether that is a student attacked by the police on a demonstration, or striking college workers, is unthinkable. We must challenge this! According to NUS estimates at national conference, there is a cumulative £4 million expenditure for 2014/15. Offering our resources to those that share our morals is important and potentially highly useful.
Unfortunately, this argument was also pursued by the Left-winger opposing the motion. Left-wingers: this is not something we should be in the business of doing. If left-wingers disagree with a motion, they should argue it on those grounds, not on the basis the right-wing argument that NUS “doesn’t have enough money”.
WAC Maan was established in the 1990s. It is one of the rays of hope in a bleak situation in Israel/Palestine. It’s an independent, grassroots trade union centre which organises in sectors and industries often neglected by the mainstream trade unions.
It shows that organisation and politics that unite Jewish and Arab workers on the basis of internationalism, anti-racism, opposition to the occupation, and basic class solidarity, are possible.
Currently WAC Maan are set to enforce the first collective agreement against bosses in the West Bank, in the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, at the Zafarty Garage. This is precedent setting. It is also important as it is forcing the courts to look at how Israeli employers manipulate entry permits as a way of getting rid of militants.
If workers across the occupied territories were organised, they would be able to exert considerable influence over the Israeli government, and over the future of the occupied territories.
To conclude: there are clearly disagreements amongst the NEC, and political Left, about international politics. I hope we can continue to have those discussions openly and frankly. I would certainly encourage those on the NEC to write down their opinions on the subject, particularly if they disagree.
I will continue to write reports of NUS NEC activities, and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a woman. I am a Kurd. And since I entered this world, this is the second time that my family and my people are experiencing a genocide and massacre. And this is the story of our life.
This is the second time in 23 years, because of the threat of a genocide, there has been a mass exodus of my people to the borders of a hostile state, only to be shot at and beaten as they sought refuge from a greater evil.
This is the second time, in 23 years, that our girls have been carried away, erased from history; left only in the memory of those who loved them, forever left wallowing in the pits of the darkness that the evil in the hearts of some men forced on them. Their lives, their hopes, the love that they carried in their young hearts blowing away in the wind like the barely written pages in the rarest books; and surely each and every one of them was as rare and as precious as the next.
There is a certain beauty in the fleeting nature of life. The meaning of life is in the nature of our experiences and what these experiences teach us. Some of us go through life never knowing any better, never questioning life or our value or place in the scheme of things. We know with certainty that the wheel of time spins a life of joy and immense privilege. We know that only good things come to us tomorrow, and we lay ourselves to sleep each night knowing the certainty of a blessed life.
And then there are others who carry a load so heavy that the weight of their pain is enough to break a lessor person a million times over. And I think of the elderly Yazidi woman who had no one left but a son that she raised with the tears of her loneliness; only for him to be lost careless in the dozens of massacres by ISIL. As if his life was not worth every ache in the bones of this mother, whose hopeless weeping should have shamed a thousand men- if we lived in a better world. I think of the force of her despair as her tears burst from her broken heart, and I wonder, as my own heart bleeds in response, “how can she persevere?”. And I think of the five year old boy who carried his 18 month old sister across miles, in extreme heat, with no water or food with his little feet, so that he could escape from grown men meaning him harm his innocent mind could not fathom; and I think a child should never have to live such a terror- but I am only reminded of my own childhood, and I realize my heart is twisting because he reminds me of my older brother and how we grew up in war, in refugee camps, escaping another genocide, another massacre, in hunger and poverty and I KNOW that reality is different. And still, I think of the Yazidi girls, renowned for their beauty, being carried away for the pleasure of men who, surely if hell existed, deserve no better place. And I think of the mother whose six daughters and new bride had been carried away by this same evil, and I struggle to understand; and surely, “how can we ask them to bear such pain?”
And YET, today is Eid- the Festival of Sacrifices. And TODAY my people were meant to be sacrificed by ISIL as a gift to their people. And today is day 19 of the siege of Kobane. 19 days in which no support, food, aid and supplies have entered Kobane to the YPG AND YPJ forces simply because they are Kurds, and they are homeless, and because they dare to ask for the same right that so many people enjoy each and every single day. And, YET, against all odds, they persevere; because their brave hearts hope that one day they will leave this world a little bit better than when they entered it. One in which the Yazidi girls are safe and the little children are safe and in which Kurdish mothers do not celebrate their Eid in the graveyards of their sons and daughters, lost for a homeless nation.
And yet, we persevere. We persevere despite our tears. We persevere, because we must
(right: Marx addresses the inaugural meeting of the First International)
150 years ago today the First International (the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ ) was in founded in London by the likes of Marx, Engels and Bakunin. It earned establishment hatred for its support for the Paris Commune in 1871.
Today, in Kobanê, northern Syria, Kurdish women and men are heroically resisting the barbarous forces of ISIS – with almost no international support.
Don’t believe the media hype about US air strikes – in Syrian Kurdistan these have so far been minimal and ineffective, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan where US jets have protected Erbil, a city of Western consulates and oil companies.
ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan is using US tanks and heavy artillery seized when it captured Mosul in northern Iraq. It spreads inhuman terror: when these mercenaries captured one Syrian Kurd village last week they decapitated a disabled woman who had no legs.
The brave Kurds of the YPG/YPJ are resisting with AK47s and largely home-made armour. And with their hearts.
They draw courage from their national pride and their democratic, secular, egalitarian values. The same values that inspired those internationalists who gathered in London on 28 September 1864. And those who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
The decision by President Obama to launch missile and air strikes against Islamic State (IS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate “Khorasan” in Syria draws the United States ever closer to yet another prolonged military confrontation in the region.
But there’s a difference this time: the participation of a coalition of Arab states, variously offering diplomatic, intelligence and military support. So far, the partner states have been named as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Jordan.
From Washington’s perspective, the importance of Arab participation is obvious: a synchronised display of high-level multinational cooperation is clearly meant to head off the usual criticism of the often unilateral nature of US foreign policies.
This is of particular importance for President Obama, who has invested considerable capital over the years in distancing himself from the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
As he put it in his brief statement announcing the strikes: “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
The White House clearly hopes that the participation of Arab partners will undermine that radical Islamist narrative of “the West versus Islam”, and instead reframe the conflict as another chapter in the decades-old struggle between the vast moderate Muslim majority and a tiny minority of radicals.
But aside from these explicit American goals, Obama’s new Arab partners have interests of their own.
Regional rivals: Saudi and Qatar
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia can hope to shift attention away from the criticism for their attitude to Islamist extremism. Over the years, they have been charged not only with supporting radical Islamists in Syria, but also with allowing their religious elites to propagate a version of Islam that is open to easy manipulation at the hands of radical jihadist recruiters.
Both countries will also hope that weakening the radical Islamists of IS will help moderate elements of the Syrian opposition regain the initiative against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some among the elites of Riyadh and Doha might even be hoping Washington will realise the threat of IS will never be extinguished while Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains in place – and that Obama will see the job is finished.
Finally, Saudi Arabia in particular clearly has to be concerned with preventing the success of an organisation which aims to establish the perfect “Islamic state”.
IS’s claim to ultimate leadership of the world’s Muslim community as put forward by its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is a direct challenge to the Saudi claim for global religious leadership based on King Abdullah’s role as “custodian of the two holy places” in Mecca and Medina.
Saudi authorities are fully aware that al-Baghdadi’s radical Islamist fringe project has attracted followers from Saudi Arabia, with recent estimates putting the number at up to one thousand.
As Nawaf Obaid and Saud al-Sarhan have pointed out, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate target for any “serious” radical Islamist organisation, whether IS now or al-Qaeda in years past.
Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (which consists not just of Yemeni Islamists, but also Saudi Islamists), driven out by Saudi counterterrorism measures over the last decade, is now beginning to mutter words of approval and support toward IS, and Riyadh will be deeply concerned about the spectre of being engulfed in an arc of Islamist instability to its south and north. Read the rest of this entry »