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.

Permalink 3 Comments

NUS now led by a bizarre kind of “left”

April 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm (anti-semitism, censorship, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, iraq, islamism, israel, Kurds, left, Middle East, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, students, zionism)


Above: Bouattia speaks

By Champagne Charlie

Malia Bouattia, the new President of the NUS, stood on a supposedly “left wing”  platform consisting largely of identity politics, simplistic, reactionary anti-imperialism and undifferentiated hostility towards Israel and most of its people in the name of supposed “solidarity” with the Palestinian cause.

Normally, student politics are not of much interest to us at Shiraz, but the politics behind Bouattia’s victory are of significance to the left – and a warning  of what can happen when the serious class struggle left fails to vigorously oppose identity politics and reactionary anti-imperialism.

Bouattia made headlines last year after opposing a motion to the NUS executive condemning Isis and supporing the Kurds, claiming that to do so would be “islamophobic”, “racist” and “imperialist”.

This brought criticism from Kurdish and left wing students, but when the press picked up the story, she responded by whipping up a storm against the proposer of the motion, Workers’ Liberty supporter Daniel Cooper (see Cooper’s statement on this below).

The left majority on the NUS executive has repeatedly discredited itself by taking ridiculous positions – to take one example, voting down support for Palestinian workers fighting Israeli bosses in Israel’s settlements, on the grounds that this would supposedly legitimise the occupation…

On the issue of free speech on campus, which has been a major issue this year, the majority NUS left has been on the wrong side, promoting the idea that suppression of views they don’t approve of, and the promotion of so-called “safe spaces”,  is the way to challenge oppression and backward ideas.

NUS has campaigned against the government’s Prevent programme, but done so by promoting the thoroughly reactionary Islamist campaign Cage. It has helped promote a “left” politics where the idea that Germaine Greer (or indeed, following their rape scandal, the SWP) should be banned from speaking and/or organising on campus, is combined with a sympathetic attitude towards an organisation, Cage, whose central leaders admire the Taliban.

Almost everyone in NUS is in favour of support for the Palestinian struggle. But the unthinking, absolute “anti-Zionism” which all too often shades into a form of political anti-Semitism, does a disservice to the Palestinian cause and can only set back any prospect of a just peace (not that Bouattia & Co want peace – see the video at the top of this post).

The new NUS President is representative of all these problems. Her record is defined not so much by being a leader of struggles as a spokesperson for these kinds of political ideas and positions.

Workers Liberty made many of these points (perhaps slightly more tactfully worded) in a statement, adding:

We remind the movement of this because we believe that Bouattia behaved like a petty and unprincipled factionalist, putting her resentment at her bad luck, her prestige and the chance to attack a political grouping she doesn’t like above the massive issue of the Kurdish struggle. Although the NEC eventually, two months later, passed a motion about Kurdistan, NUS circles spent far more time and energy on the row than on supporting the Kurds. So much for anti-imperialism!

We have little confidence that an NUS led by Malia Bouattia would be more habitable for political minorities and dissenters, more democratic or more serious about political debate and discussion than one led by [the “right wing” incumbent] Megan Dunn.

Workers Liberty, however, decided to give Bouattia critical support against Dunn:

Bouattia and co are more left-wing than Dunn and co on a whole series of class struggle-type issues. In the context of a Tory government attacking all along the line, and important battles against them – junior doctors, other strikes, anti-academies fight, Labour Party struggle – breaking the grip of the old right over NUS is of no small importance. That is why our position is to vote for Malia Bouattia above Megan Dunn – not because we can in any real sense endorse her candidacy, let alone her politics. (Although it is secondary, we also think NUS electing its first black woman, and first Muslim-background, President would be positive.)

Daniel Cooper’s statement on his motion on Iraq, ISIS and the Kurds

I have read on social media various criticisms of my report of the September NUS National Executive Council meeting. Here are some thoughts in response.

Didn’t you go to the press about the NUS Black Students’ Officer, the row about Kurdistan and ISIS?

No. I have had a number of requests from newspapers to comment and I have turned them all down, the ones from the Sun and Daily Mail very rudely. This is because I am a socialist, anti-racist and feminist and have no intention of helping any right-wing campaign. I also have my own experience of being witch-hunted by the political right and the press: in late 2012 and early 2013 there was a major national campaign against me for publicly declining to take part, as ULU Vice President, in a pro-war/pro-imperialist “remembrance” ceremony (see here).

I condemn the press, right and far right attacks on Malia Bouattia, many of which are disgusting examples of racism and sexism.

After I published my report of the September NUS NEC meeting, it was covered by some (left-wing) blogs and then noticed more widely. At that point the story was picked up and repeated, naturally in distorted form, by the right-wing online student paper the Tab, and from there by the mainstream press. It is absurd to suggest I am responsible for this, unless you think people on the left should never publicly criticise each other in case the right makes use of it.

Didn’t you accuse Malia of not condemning ISIS?

No. Read the report. I never said anything of the sort. I objected to Malia opposing the motion on Iraq proposed by me, Shreya Paudel and Clifford Fleming, and responded to her claims that it was Islamophobic and pro-imperialist. Some people have claimed I misrepresented Malia. The only justification I have heard for this is, firstly, that I did not state that Malia condemned ISIS. That is because it was so blindingly obvious: before the right-wing attacks on Malia, the idea that anyone on NUS NEC would not condemn ISIS had not even occurred to me. And, secondly, that I failed to report that Malia offered to support a different motion on Kurdistan at the next NEC if it fitted with her politics. Whether or not I should have reported this or not, it is hardly decisive! Does anyone seriously believe that if I had stated either of these things it would have prevented right wingers distorting and making use of what I wrote?

Why didn’t you talk to Malia about the motion before the meeting?

Firstly, I am under no obligation to consult Malia, who has different politics from me, about what motions I want to submit to the NEC.

Secondly, I did. I specifically sent Malia the motion after it was submitted (she will also have received it as normal in her NEC papers) and asked for her views. She responded saying that she would have liked to be consulted before the motion was submitted, but when I replied and asked for her views on the actual contents of the motion, she did not reply.

Malia and her political allies could have moved amendments in advance, through the normal process, or moved parts to delete particular lines or elements on the day. They didn’t.

I would add that we had submitted a very similar motion to the previous NEC in July (it fell off the agenda for lack of time), so the general contents were available to consider and discuss for even longer than normal, and Malia had ample opportunity to move her own motion about Kurdistan in September. Again, failing that, she could have amended mine.

Isn’t “resolves 5” of the motion (“Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers”) Islamophobic? Doesn’t it effectively propose that MI5 spies on Muslim students?

Resolves 5 was a point that Roza Salih, NUS Scotland International Students’ Officer, wanted in the motion. In general (not always), I am opposed to be boycotts as I believe they are ineffective and strip agency of people on the ground to bring change. I also think that there are indeed issues about seeking to establish who ISIS supporters are. I considered removing this line after Roza proposed it, but then didn’t. I should have. If anyone had emailed me stating their opposition to it (or replied to my emails asking for opinions!) I would almost certainly have removed it.

But it’s worth noting that in Bouttia’s speech in the NEC meeting she did not state why she believed the motion to be Islamophobic.

It’s only after the meeting that I have been informed that this particular point was contentious. I am still confused about why, then, it was not amended or deleted from the motion in the meeting itself, rather than opposing the whole motion outright.

I understand that, in a society such as ours, in which anti-Muslim feeling is wide-spread, this point in the motion might be misconstrued. However, it was clearly never intended in this way, by Roza or by me.

I am also curious as to how most of those that opposed the motion, especially on the left, square this with their support for boycotts of Israel.

Why are you attacking the NUS Black Students’ Officer?

I’m not attacking her as a person, much less because she is BSO. I’m expressing a political criticism of a position she took and arguments she made, because I disagree with them.

Why did you single out Malia in your report?

Because she was the person – the only person – who spoke against the motion. There was one speech for and one against – Shreya Paudel and Malia. I moved for another round of speeches, but Toni Pearce, as chair, over-ruled me. That is why that section of my NEC report focuses on Malia’s arguments (plus the tweet from Aaron Kiely celebrating the motion being defeated).

Why did you call Malia a Stalinist?

Again, read the report! I said the political approach she argued in opposing my motion – putting flat opposition to everything US imperialism does above questions of democracy, liberation and working-class struggle, in this case the democratic liberation struggle of the Kurds, as well as Iraqi socialists, feminists and labour activists – was informed by the legacy of Stalinism. I stand by that. That is the real political disagreement here, and one that few if any of my critics seem willing to engage with.

Why have you done this now?

Actually I submitted a similar motion about Iraq in July, for the obvious reason that I was concerned about what was happening in Iraq and Syria. (I have worked and still work closely with Iraqi Kurdish socialists in London.)

Please note: between the two NEC meetings, an almost identical motion to the one defeated at the NEC was passed, I believe unanimously, at NUS’s Scottish Executive Committee, where it was proposed by Roza. I’m not sure, but I think some people voted one way at the Scottish EC and another at the NEC. That’s ok if they genuinely changed their minds because of the arguments, but not ok if they were doing what they thought would make them popular (at both meetings!)

I resubmitted a motion in September because, far from going away, the issue had got bigger and more urgent. That is surely the point of being on NUS NEC: to raise important issues and try to agitate and mobilise people about them.

Support the Kurdish struggle!

That is the absurdity of all this: hardly anyone in NUS, in the leadership or on the left, has done anything to support the Kurdish struggle and other democratic, feminist and working-class struggles against the odds in the Middle East. While hundreds if not thousands of Kurdish students in the UK have taken action to protest against genocide and extreme oppression, their national union is failing them. And in this debate, the voices of Kurdish left activists have been largely ignored.

Right-wing attacks on student activists and officers, particularly attacks on black activists motivated by racism, must be opposed, condemned and fought. At the same time, the fact is that Malia and others on the NEC did the wrong thing when they voted down the Iraq motion at the NEC.

I’d urge everyone to read this interview with Roza Salih about the Kurdish struggle, and get active to support it.

If anyone would like me to respond to a different argument or objection, please feel free to drop me an email: daniel.cooper@nus.org.uk

Permalink 9 Comments

AWL statement: US-UK bombing won’t stop Daesh!

December 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm (AWL, fascism, internationalism, islamism, Kurds, labour party, Middle East, posted by JD, Stop The War, terror, war)

Logo of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty

Statement issued today by the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

The House of Commons will shortly vote on proposals to extend UK air strikes to Syria. As Jeremy Corbyn has given Labour MPs a free vote, Cameron is likely to have a majority for extending the bombing.

The government says the renewed military campaign, now including UK, US, France, Turkey and the Gulf States, will be aimed at pushing back Daesh (Islamic State). But it is unlikely to make a decisive impact on Daesh’s position. It is more likely to perpetuate the current stalemate between all the military-political forces in Syria. That is, in fact, the preferred option of the military-political alliance the UK is joining. They want containment of the conflict until a deal on the future of Syria can be agreed.

At the very best the bombing may push back Daesh… in favour of some other Sunni-sectarian Islamist militia. 14 years of US bombing in Afghanistan have left the Taliban and jihadi-terrorism more widely stronger, not weaker, than at the end of 2001.

Cameron’s stance is political, not humanitarian. This is not an attempt to secure security for the ordinary people affected by Daesh’s recent atrocities in Paris or Beirut or over Sinai. It will not create peace in Syria or stem to the flow of refugees fleeing that country. There is no plan to destroy Daesh or end the Syrian civil war.

Cameron wants to look like a statesman in the eyes of the UK’s allies, and have a seat in US world-policy circles.

Meanwhile the Russian state continues to pursue its own political aims, bombing targets in Syria that are of most threat to the Assad regime. That regime has killed and displaced more people in Syria than any other single force fighting there. The primary target of Russian bombing is groups under the “Free Syrian Army”, the same forces which the US, France et al now refer to.

David Cameron claims there are 70,000 FSA fighters in Syria ready to be mobilised in a fight against Daesh. In fact the FSA is only an umbrella term for various forms of political Islamist, from relatively moderate to more hard line. Their main concern is to fight Assad, not Daesh. They are often intensely Sunni-sectarian. They offer no hope of a progressive outcome. Socialists cannot support them and, in fact, the US and UK and France have no plans to endorse them either.

Corbyn’s decision to allow Labour MPs to have a free vote is a big political mistake and will neither heal the deep divisions in the Parliamentary Labour Party nor close the gulf between Labour members, who are mostly against bombing in Syria, and the PLP. In fact it will galvanise Corbyn’s enemies.

We support Jeremy Corbyn and others in the Labour Party and labour movement in their opposition to the bombing and regret they haven’t been strong enough to make the Labour MPs stick by the Labour conference decision against bombing.

In doing so we in no way follow the pro-Assad and phoney anti-imperialist line of the Stop the War Coalition, who have continually refused to condemn the murderous regime of Assad. That regime has killed and displaced millions of people within Syria and caused millions more to flee the country. Our opposition to Western bombing endorses neither Assad nor his allies in Lebanon, Russia and Iran.

The Syrian Solidarity Campaign has rightly criticised the Stop the War Coalition saying, “If Stop the War’s slogan ‘Don’t bomb Syria’ is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.

“If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.”

Unfortunately the SSC downplay the number of people killed by Daesh and other Islamist forces. Mass graves have been found in the wake of Daesh. They may not have killed hundreds of thousands, as Assad has, but they have butchered many more than we yet know about.

We reject the notion that Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in France or against Russia, are “blowback” against military action.

Daesh’s actions are not rooted in a knee-jerk response to western imperialism. Daesh has its own interpretation of and programme for the world. It is a far right political-religious movement, and we are fundamentally opposed to it, just as we are to every other far right and fascistic movement. It is in fact Eurocentric to characterise the actions of Daesh in Paris, Beirut and Sinai as just reactions to the foreign policy of the European powers or the USA.

We do not oppose the bombing of Syria because it will make people in “Britain less safe” (i.e. “provoke” Daesh into further atrocities as many on the left we argue), but because the bombing is fundamentally not aimed towards an end to the ongoing and vicious sectarian conflict, and will not bring that end closer. It will serve only to keep the UK, France, and the USA “in the game” — a bloody and reactionary game.

Solidarity with the Kurds!

After the Gulf states, the US and UK’s strongest ally in the region is Turkey.

Turkey has the deepest involvement with some of the anti-Assad forces, including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh itself. Much of Daesh’s oil is transported out of Syria via Turkey.

Turkey is also engaged in fighting the force most able to push back Daesh and Assad in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria — the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). These Kurdish forces represent a predominantly secular and largely non-sectarian force in the bloodbath of Syria.

While the Kurds have come under sustained attack from Daesh, Turkey has intervened directly against the Kurds, including attacking YPG supporters and affiliates in Northern Iraq, closing the border to Kurds wishing to join the fighting, repressing Kurdish activists within Turkey.

The UK government’s response to Turkey, its NATO ally, has been to tolerate repression.
The FSA has also taken an Arab chauvinist position against the Kurds, for example excluding them from negotiation.

While not endorsing the politics of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK, the group behind the YPG), we unequivocally back the right of the Kurds to military aid and assistance including their demand for arms.

• They should be able to accept military aid from wherever it can be obtained in order to secure their fight against Daesh, Assad and where necessary the Turkish state.

• The PKK should be removed from the EU and US lists of terrorist organisations.

• If the Kurds demand a “no-fly”, or more accurately a “no-bombing” zone, in order to improve their military position, — an option which is unlikely to be included in the current plans of major imperialist powers, as long as Turkey is hostile to the Kurds — we should not oppose this as we would big-power bombing.

Permalink 29 Comments