by Michael Karadjis, at Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis
US bombing of Syria did not begin on April 7, it began in September 2014, two and a half years ago. Nearly 8000 US air strikes have been launched, thousands of civilians have been killed, including hundreds just in recent weeks in some horrific strikes, like the slaughter of some 57 worshippers in a mosque in western Aleppo – which Trump’s Russian friends defended as aimed at “terrorists” – and the massacre soon after of dozens of displaced people in a school in Raqqa. Not to mention the mass killing of 200 civilians in Mosul in Iraq, just a few of the thousands killed in recent months in the joint US, Iranian and Iraqi regime (ie, the US-Iran joint-venture regime) offensive in that city.
No “anti”-war movement has protested all this US bombing. No “anti”-imperialists have ever cared less about any of this. Because all these years of US bombing have been of opponents of Assad, have often been in direct collaboration with Assad, and have had the tacit support of the Syrian regime.
Then in recent months, under both the late Obama administration and Trump, this US role had become even clearer. From December, the US launched a more intense bombing campaign against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in Idlib and western Aleppo, thus joining the Assadist and Russian slaughter from the skies in that region. Hundreds of JFS cadre were killed, and the bombings also hit other rebel groups at times. The US role alongside Assad, Russia and Iran in the latest reconquest of Palmyra was widely reported on. Calculating all US bombings in February from the US CentCom site (ie, the site of the US-led Coalition bombing Syria) shows that while 60 percent of US bombings were carried out in alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, mainly the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, YPG), most of the other 40 percent was in alliance with Assad in Deir Ezzor, Palmyra and Idlib, some 195 strikes of the 548 in total (). And that was in a month when the bombing of Idlib was minimal, compared to January and March. Even in SDF-controlled Manbij, the US landed forces to patrol the region with Russian and Assad troops to block the Turkish-led FSA Euphrates Shield forces from advancing.
Despite countless assertions that Trump’s Syria policy was “unclear,” everything Trump has said was very clear: for many months, he insisted the US must ally with Russia and Assad to “fight ISIS,” as he believed Russia and Assad were doing; and that the US should cut off whatever remaining fragments of “aid” he believed were still going to some vetted Syrian rebels. Even Defence Secretary James Mattis, who many have mistakenly seen as more anti-Assad than Trump, has always opposed “no fly zone” plans and announced several years ago that “the time to support Syrian rebels against both Assad and ISIS is over,” ie, he agreed with the Obama-Kerry line that the US would only support rebels who fought ISIS and Nusra only, not the regime.
Then In the very days just before Assad’s monstrous chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, three prominent US leaders made Trump’s US policy even clearer, announcing that Assad should be allowed to stay. US UN representative Nikki Haley announced that the US was “no longer” (sic) focused on removing Assad; the Russia-connected US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, used Assad’s very words that it is up to “the Syrian people” whether Assad ruled or not – an obvious statement, of course, if one assumed Syrian people could hold a democratic election under a tyrannical dictatorship; and White House spokesman Sean Spicer talked about how “silly” it would be to not accept the “political reality” of Assad. Of course this had long been unofficial US policy; and had even become partly official under Obama and Kerry when they agreed that Assad could continue to rule in an allegedly “transitional” regime following a political process. But the Trump team made this clear.
Then Assad goes and blows it by throwing sarin in their faces! The interesting issue is why Assad was stupid enough to do this, just days after he received so much explicit US support. Presumably, he was encouraged precisely by all this US verbal and actual military support, and so he decided to test the waters, to see if this meant that even sarin could now be re-normalised. But that just highlights the arrogance of power. The US was giving him everything; Obama’s “red line” against chemical weapons in 2013, and then his withdrawal from action, in the US-Russia-Israel deal that saw Assad’s chemical weapons removed, was saying to Assad you can use everything else except chemical weapons; and thus Assad did use everything else in the four years since, in unbelievable quantities, with complete US indifference, if not support. For Assad to then go and use the very weapons that the deal supposedly removed, and show off that he still has them, was simply impossible for the US to ignore in terms of its “credibility.” Assad was reading the messages correctly from this last week, that US leaders were encouraging him; he just read it wrongly that this could include sarin. Look at Nikki Haley, fuming in the UN; she had to fume, because three days earlier the same Nikki Haley had made the official announcement about Assad being good to continue ruling. Assad should have been more gracious about being kissed like that.
The US thus had no choice but to respond in some way for the sake of its alleged “credibility.” Many are claiming Trump is “taking advantage” of Assad’s action to launch a war, just because he likes war, to show what he is made of, to show that he did what Obama didn’t have the spine to do and so on, or alternatively that the strike aims to cover up Trump’s Russia connections that are under investigation at home, by showing he can stand up to the Russians, and so on. This is all a misunderstanding. Certainly, these may well be useful by-products of “taking action” for Trump. But they do not explain the action at all. No, Trump sent a bunch of missiles against the Assadist military facility responsible for the chemical attack, going against everything he wanted to do, and that his entire team wanted to do, as seen by their declarations in the very days beforehand, because Assad’s use of sarin had put US “credibility” at stake.
That is all from the point of view of US imperialism. But from the point of view of supporters of the Syrian revolution, and of liberation and humanity in general, can I ask in all honesty, what is the big deal? Why are 8000 strikes on opponents of Assad (and not only on ISIS), killing thousands of civilians, not “intervention,” yet when you finally get one strike against the biggest, most heavily armed and most highly dangerous terrorist group in Syria, the one currently occupying Damascus, after it slaughters dozens of children with chemical weapons, only that is considered “intervention,” that is supposedly something more significant, that is something we should protest. Really, what is the difference? Surely, if we oppose all US intervention on principle, then this particular bombing is nothing worse than all the other bombings against Anyone But Assad the last two and a half years; and if the left, on the whole, has not been actively demanding the end of US bombing of Syria – far from it – then surely we can say in as much as the US is already there, at least this particular bombing hit the most appropriate target to date.
Frankly, whoever has not been protesting the US bombing of Syria all along the last two and a half years, and who now suddenly protests this US “intervention” today, cannot in any sense be considered anti-war, or anti-imperialist, but simply an apologist for the Assad genocide-regime. As Joey Husseini wrote, “For those who care, this is 7,899th US airstrikes in Syria since 2014. I don’t remember 7,898 waves of outrage or concern.”
And that is only noting the absence of protest against US bombings before this one. One might rightly criticise my post for focusing on these US crimes, terrible as they are, rather than the truly massive crimes against humanity that have been carried out by the Assadist regime, its airforce and torture chambers, and the Russian imperialist invader that backs it, the crimes that have left at least half a million dead and turned the entire country to rubble, even before this latest horrific atrocity. That is simply because I have been focusing on the issue of the inconsistency of those allegedly “opposing US imperialism,” indicating that this is entirely fake. But from the point of view of humanity, from the perspective of the part of the left that still believes in the politics of liberation, the malignancy of those “anti-imperialists” who only protest bombing now, but who have never protested the Assadist and Russian bombing, or in fact support this genocide, is far worse.
Meanwhile, while launching a singular “punishment” strike may have the potential to escalate beyond its purpose, this seems almost certainly not the intention of any wing of the Trump regime. As State Secretary Rex Tillerson explains, this punishment strike should not be confused with a US change of line on Syria:
“US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the attack showed the President “is willing to take decisive action when called for. ‘I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today’, he said. ‘There has been no change in that status. I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they’ve made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways’.”
This article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website
A report by Amnesty International released on 7 February 2017 says that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were murdered in a secret prison in Syria from 2011 to 2016. Inmates at the prison were mostly civilians who supported the opposition to President Bashar al Assad. The information comes from interviews with 84 people who were former prisoners, guards, judges and doctors.
The report describes killing and torture on an industrial scale, “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, mass hangings of between 50 and 80 people that took place twice a week. The hangings were conducted extremely cruelly, with those who weighed less taking hours to die. The beatings that took place were extremely severe, and psychological torture was also employed, including forcing prisoners to rape each other.
Prisoners were also denied food and water. Many suffered from scabies, but were denied healthcare. Amnesty says that it is likely that “thousands more” people have been murdered by the regime since 2016, as there is nothing to suggest that the practices have been stopped: the field court is still in operation and people are still being transferred to Saydnaya prison.
A former guard stated in his interview: “Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity.” The accounts of Saydnaya are reminiscent of the accounts of survivors of Auschwitz. This is not the first report of its kind on the practices of the Syrian regime. As the report notes, people have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and “disappeared” since the 1980s under former President Hafez al Assad.
Since the popular uprising in 2011, and as the crisis in Syria worsened “tens of thousands” of citizens have been arrested and detained. Viewed in this context, the soft approach of much of the British left to the Russian and Syrian governments’ actions is both inexcusable and sickening.
In December last year, Peter Tatchell wrote in the Independent: “Stop the War Coalition has betrayed the Syrian people who protested peacefully for democracy in 2011 and have been massacred by Assad ever since. The principles of internationalist solidarity have been dumped. Responding to critics it its own ranks, the coalition belatedly, and somewhat mutedly, condemned the Assad and Putin bombing of civilians but has never organised a march against them.
“Indeed, although quick to demonstrate in opposition to any and all Western interventions, the coalition has failed to even once rally against the military intervention in Syria by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”
Workers’ Liberty have been a long-standing critic of the left’s Stalinised “two-pole” view on imperialism. Chris Nineham’s response as Vice Chair of Stop the War Coalition was that the organisation had to “focus on what our government is doing” as protests wouldn’t “make the blind bit of difference” to what Putin does to prop up Assad’s regime. Yet STWC protests against Trump, another leader whom Brits do not have democratic control over.
Tatchell wrote, “STWC has refused requests to have Syrian democrats and left-wingers opposed to Assad speak at its Syria events; but it has offered a platform to Syrians Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes, who have respectively defended the Damascus regime and claimed that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad’s forces are fabricated.”
The report from Amnesty shows the extent of the brutality of the Assad administration. The left should stand against this torture and murder of Syrians and not be silent.
By Rabbil Sikdar (reblogged from Medium, here)
I wear my socialism on my sleeves and will never shy away from that. Every Political Compass test has me basically nailed down as a ‘hard left’ person. The things I believe in, radical to some, sensible to others define my sense of socialism: fair wages, fair taxes, strong public sector, social housing and a compassionate welfare system. My socialism comes from my experiences and values, in growing up in east London and seeing a community fall victim to poverty and gentrification.
In an age where compromise is needed to move forward, I won’t apologise for that. But I will for being so slow to realise how Morning Star was positioning itself across a wide variety of issues.
I’m not a factional socialist; I’d happily write for the Morning Star and at the same time agree with people from Progress. Mostly though, when I initially began writing for the Star I did so as someone so happy to be writing for a newspaper. I did not know Star’s history but I would come to learn of it later; I waved it away thinking these were different times. Besides, at the start we had more in common. We both wanted a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.
That was then. I no longer write for the Star and for a while had been winding down my contribution. By the end it was just sport content because of my respect for the sports editor. For the other part, I have a lot of things to be angry about with the Star.
For a newspaper that subscribes to left wing values, that should include free speech and right to criticise politicians. Unfortunately this never extended to criticism of Corbyn’s failing leadership, or Diane Abbott; it didn’t include the ‘Lexit’ vote — and where it mattered most crucially, it did not include Russia and Assad.
The paper has never criticised the Assad regime or Putin. Lines that go along with “we’re no fans of the Assad regime but…” are poor condemnations. In fact, they’re not condemnations at all. Someone recently described it quite well as imagining defenders of the British Empire dismissing the Amritsar Massacre. Likewise, saying “we condemn all bombings” gravely misunderstands who is doing the bombing and draws a false equivalence between aggressive actors and those responding to the violence. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in 2015 that the Assad regime was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths. ISIS, for all their barbarism, had killed just over a thousand. Since then, those statistics have continued in underlining the basic fact that Assad — backed up by Russia — has been responsible for the brutal carnage.
This is the humanitarian war crime of our time, a genocide that we watched live on television Facebook for years — and we did nothing. We have witnessed ethnic cleansing, repeated breaking of ceasefires and remorseless ruthlessness towards civilian population. The Syrian resistance against a fascist dictator desperately needed solidarity from the international community, and especially the left.
Some gave it; I’ve seen some fantastic leftist activists bravely holding everyone to account; Oz Katerji, Idrees Ahmad and James Bloodworth being some of them. The late Jo Cox was a strong supporter of the inspirational White Helmets. Read the rest of this entry »
The front page of the paper that claims to represent the British labour movement:
While the UN and all reputable news sources report on pro-government forces in Aleppo executing dozens of civilians including women and children, British Stalinists hail the massacres as a “liberation”.
The Morning Star‘s uncritical support for Assad and parroting of Putin’s propaganda throughout the Syrian war has been a disgrace that must call into question the financial support that this filthy, lying rag receives from major unions.
The only – small – thing to be said in the rag’s favour, is that it has published a few letters from a couple of readers who retain some shreds of human decency and critical thinking. As they don’t appear on the rag’s website, we reproduce them here:
December 3-4 2016
GIVEN that the United Nations estimated in October 2016 that there were no more than 900 Nusra Front fighters in Aleppo out of a maximum of 8,000 rebels in total, I’m confused by the recent Morning Star headline: “Thousands freed from jihadist grip in eastern Aleppo” (M Star November 30)
I realise the make-up of rebel groups in Syria is complex but I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest the rebels in Aleppo are all jihadists.
Furthermore, rather than cite the Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry as the article does, perhaps it would be wiser to focus on reports from NGOs such as Amnesty International which has called on Russia to “end indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks” in Syria, including the “use of cluster munitions and dropping unguided bombs on civilian areas.”
IAN SINCLAIR London E15
December 7 2016
I HAVE read recent reports and an editorial on Syria in our paper with dismay. I note the use of such expressions as “solidarity with the nation’s struggle against foreign-backed aggression” but never is there any mention of the people of Syria’s struggle against the hated and feared Assad regime.
Has everyone forgotten that the conflict in Syria started when the people came out on the streets, in the tail end of the Arab Spring, in revolt against the brutal repression of President Bashar Assad and his torturers?
Of course, much has changed since then, with the intervention of many other forces in this complex war but there is overwhelming evidence that the Assad regime, aided by the Russians, has been bombing civilians, hospitals and schools: murdering Syrian civilians because they oppose the regime and then describing them as “terrorists”.
It seems convenient for some to forget what the Assad regime stands for, the repression and brutality, the torture used not just to extract information but to put fear into the population so that no opponents of the regime will challenge it.
Perhaps readers are not aware that, to give just one example, a 13-year-old boy was arrested in 2011 during a protest and then tortured, castrated and his body mutilated while in the custody of the Syrian government.
I support the position of the Stop the War Coalition which I believe is that there should be no intervention or bombing, including by Russia and that we must do everything possible to achieve a negotiated settlement.
There is no easy solution but surely we must not gloss over decades of appalling human rights abuses in Syria and express solidarity with the regime at the expense of the Syrian people?
DAVE ESBESTER London SW19
December 9 2016
IN A RECENT editorial the Morning Star argued “there would be no advantage for Assad in carrying out atrocities” such as bombing hospitals and schools (M Star November 29).
If one is trying to force a large city into submission through the application of overwhelming and deadly force, as the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo, then it is logical to target hospitals in an attempt to make life unbearable for the rebels and the population they are living amongst. Furthermore, bombing hospitals significantly reduces the fighting capability of the opposition relying on the hospitals to patch up their wounded.
Surely it is the duty of all thinking and humane people to raise their voice in opposition to this illegal, murderous and morally depraved military tactic — whether it is carried out by Western/Western-backed forces or Syrian/Russian forces?
IAN SINCLAIR London E15
NB: see also Comrade Coatesy, here.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined with supporters of Syria Solidarity to intervene at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday. The reason was obvious: Corbyn and the Labour front bench have remained silent while Assad and Putin have bombed hospitals, aid convoys and civilians in Syria. This has been the biggest massacre of a civilian population since World War Two.
East Aleppo has been besieged for months, with Assad using his favourite tactic against civilians (after barrel bombs, that is): starvation and the denial of water, shelter and medical treatment. The UN has predicted that Aleppo will become “a giant graveyard” if Assad and Putin continue to refuse a cease fire.
Yet the so-called Stop The War Coalition, which Corbyn continues to support, says nothing. Perhaps because its current Chair supports the Russian bombing.
The politically bankrupt and morally depraved Morning Star (reflecting the policy of its political master, the Communist Party of Britain) openly supports Assad’s attacks and cheer-leads for Putin’s intervention, parroting his propaganda.
Now, the Morning Star (a paper, remember, funded by the subs of Unite members and other rank and file trade unionists, without their knowledge or consent) attacks Tatchell for disrupting Corbyn’s speech and, supposedly, “diver(ing) attention away from the crucial issue of women’s rights and domestic violence”. The M Star goes on to quote the repugnant pro-Assad convenor of the so-called “Stop The War Coalition” and professional liar, Ms Lindsey German, spreading her typically dishonest poison about Tatchell: “He claims to be on the left and a supporter of Stop the War initially but the reality is that he has supported every war since we were established”.
In the face of these Stalinist lies, and pro-Putin/Assad apologetics, we republish below, Peter Tatchell’s statement about this incident:
Syria Solidarity UK activists were joined by Peter Tatchell when they protested during a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 10 December. They urged the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day. Syria human rights campaigners walked to the front and stood in front of him with placards saying: “Action not words: Back UK aid drops now. Protect civilians.”
Protest participant, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said:
“The protest was organised by Syria Solidarity UK. It was not against Jeremy Corbyn or Labour. It was an appeal for them to act, to defend the human rights of Syrian civilians, by actively campaigning for a parliamentary vote on humanitarian aid drops, sanctions and war crimes charges against the Assad and Putin regimes, UN-supervised evacuation of civilians and White Helmet rescue teams to safe havens, and for Syria to be suspended from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire and stops blocking aid deliveries. Neither Labour nor Jeremy are actively campaigning for any of these initiatives.
“We urged Jeremy Corbyn to press for a parliamentary debate and vote to mandate UK aid drops of food and medicine to besieged civilians in Aleppo and other cities. He declined to give that commitment when I asked him. Why isn’t he holding the government to account for its inaction, and publicly demanding that it agree to a vote in parliament on air drops of humanitarian aid?
“Labour has never organised even one event in solidarity with Syrian democrats, socialists and civil society activists. It never promoted or campaigned for the passage of Canada’s UN Syria resolution under 377A – Uniting for Peace – which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid access and an end to all sieges.
“The protest was polite and lasted five minutes. Jeremy was briefly delayed but not stopped from speaking. He addressed all the issues he originally planned to speak on.
“It was initially a silent protest until Labour officials indicated they wanted to know what it was about, which is when I spoke.
“Jeremy thanked us for raising the issue of Syria and we will now be pressing him for dialogue and action to help save lives in Syria. I will continue to support much of what Jeremy is striving for. Both of us remain friends.
“Jeremy’s speech rightly condemned Saudi war crimes in Yemen but made only a passing reference to Syria and offered no proposals to remedy the humanitarian crisis there. This has a whiff of double standards.
“What action has Labour taken to protect civilians in Syria? Nothing, so far. Aleppo is the Guernica of our age. Labour’s fine words need to be backed up with deeds. It is not listening to the appeals for action from democratic civil society activists inside Syria. We heard their cry for help and acted at their request. Our protest gave effect to their appeal for action.
“On Human Rights Day, Labour gathered to celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian military are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals and civil rescue teams from the White Helmets. Hundreds of boys and men have allegedly gone missing from the areas seized last week by Assad regime forces. At least 100,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and a million others elsewhere in Free Syria.
“Labour must act, not just speak. So too must the Conservatives – and all parties. We call on Theresa May and Boris Johnson to also heed our call. We will protest against them in due course. There must surely be a cross-party consensus on humanitarian air drops. Why aren’t they happening? Labour should give a lead by initiating a House of Commons vote to make them happen,” said Mr Tatchell.
Clara Connolly from Syria Solidarity UK added:
“Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres.”
Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party MPs and members to publicly and vocally:
• Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
• Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
• Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
• Request UN-supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.
From Avaaz (6 Dec):
The UN just announced Aleppo is fast becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ and residents risk ‘extermination’. Not one of our governments is in there saving lives, but an extraordinary group of Syrians are: The White Helmets.
73,530 lives in fact. That’s how many people they have saved, rushing to the scene of bombings to pull people from the rubble and carry them to safety.
What’s amazing is these heroes are just ordinary people — bakers, teachers, tailors — who felt they couldn’t stand by, and threw themselves right into the line of fire. For their bravery, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the $1 million of critical funding it comes with — but they lost!
Forget the Nobel Prize — together we have the power to give the White Helmets the recognition they deserve and the funding they desperately need.
Avaaz will send them 100% of funds raised — let’s give hope to these heroes, and a country in need:
For their heroic efforts, White Helmets volunteers are often targeted — Russian and Syrian regime planes bomb civilians, then circle back to bomb the rescue workers who scramble to help.
It’s just a part of the picture of horror that’s rocked Syria for almost six years and killed as many as 470,000 people. It’s become harder and harder to stop — and has turned into the greatest shame of our generation.
As the conflict continues to spiral, the White Helmets are doing work that no one else can, or will. They’re standing up as heroes while the world watches and fails to stop the conflict. But they’re constantly struggling to keep their work going.
If enough of us pitch in a few pounds or dollars, we can replace equipment they’ve lost in the bombings, buy tools to pull concrete slabs off people buried in the rubble, and provide medical care for the wounded. Let’s help them get their people’s million — join in now:
The White Helmets aren’t from an international aid organization, and they need every dollar they can get. They’re succeeding where the rest of the world is failing — in giving hope to millions of Syrians. Our community can join them, and keep up the fight for a safe, peaceful future in Syria.
Danny, Ricken, Mais, Alice, Spyro, Nataliya, Nick, and the rest of the Avaaz team
Who are the White Helmets? (The Atlantic)
Syria’s White Helmets Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (Al Jazeera)
How the White Helmets of Syria Are Being Hunted in a Devastated Aleppo (Al Jazeera)
Syria’s White Helmets (The Daily Beast)
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From The New Arab:
Above: a Stop The War Coalition protest outside Downing Street, 12 Dec 2015 [Getty}
Date of publication: 17 October, 2016
Comment: The problem with the Stop the War coalition, is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-western intervention, writes Joey Ayoub.
On 15 November 2015, Diane Abbott went on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ show to defend herself and the Stop the War (StW) coalition against a rather odd accusation: that they refuse to give a platform to Syrians when discussing Syria.
It followed a heated exchange just days prior, in which Syrian activists challenged StW’s leadership on the matter during a talk on Syria. They were backed by Peter Tatchell, the veteran anti-war activist who had also been criticising StW for what many perceive as its intolerance towards left-wing, democratic and anti-Assad Syrian activists.
This was not a new accusation. StW has prevented Syrian activists from speaking at their rallies or from taking part in any “anti-war” campaign, while giving a platform to pro-Assad apologists and inviting Assad’s own allies like the Ghouta massacre-denier Fadia Laham, also known as “Mother Agnes”, for years.
This exposes two fundamental aspects of StW today: A de facto tolerance and acceptance of Assad’s tyranny translated as the problem of people “over there” which “we” must not get involved in, regardless of the repercussions, and a hatred for subaltern voices, in this case Syrians, who do not fit the accepted narrative.
This, in turn, works hand in hand with an outdated cold war-era framework, still plaguing much of the western and Arab Left, which romanticises (read: whitewashes) the Kremlin’s politics.
||Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the no-fly zone in Libya
Fastforward to October 2016. Chris Nineham, the Vice Chair of StW, writes an article entitled “Don’t Believe the Start the War Coalition – Ask Libyans About No-Fly Zones” (NFZ). On reading that article, filled with oversimplifications and vague warnings, one notices something fairly obvious: In an article asking “us” to ask Libyans, Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the NFZ in Libya.
Indeed, the only six mentioned in that article are Andrew Mitchell, Boris Johnson, Hilary Clinton, Joseph Dunford, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn (who was also recently heckled by a pro-Syrian activist). Had StW followed their own advice and asked Libyans about the NFZ, they might have found inconvenient answers which challenge their de facto isolationist politics.
Indeed, the NFZ was seen as the lesser of many evils by countless Libyans who rose up against Gaddafi. A 2012 Gallup poll interviewing approximately 1,000 Libyans showed that 77 percent “broadly support several forms of potential assistance from the West, particularly military support”.
||The idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves
One Libyan activist, Rema Abdulaziz, even recently wrote in The Independent that she and many more are actually grateful for the NFZ. In other words, the idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves.
Furthermore, what is often ignored about the NFZ in Libya is that not a single member state of the Security Council, including Russia, opposed it and that it was another Arab country, Lebanon, which officially proposed the NFZ to the Security Council.
To the isolationists, “they” needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for “we”, as owners of great social capital, know best. To borrow from Bell Hooks, Libyans, like Syrians today, were and are told that “there is no need to hear your voice, when ‘we’ can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself.
No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk.”
This is no mere detail in this story. In fact, it is the central one: If, as leftists, we wish to support revolutionary emancipation regardless of man-made borders, we must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots.
The problem with StW is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-Western intervention regardless of the realities on the ground. This is why it is an isolationist movement, a deeply conservative one at that, and one which has dangerous repercussions in an age of increasing xenophobic nativist rhetoric.
||‘They’ needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for ‘we’, as owners of great social capital, know best
As StW proudly wrote on their own website, they are accused “of having a doctrinaire rejection of western intervention in the Middle East” which, they add, “is correct – our doctrine has been fully vindicated by the consequences of such interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.”
Perhaps the StW is led by people who are not aware of the definition of doctrinaire, namely “one who attempts to put into effect an abstract doctrine or theory with little or no regard for practical difficulties”.
The ‘abstract doctrine’ is anti-western imperialism (not anti-imperialism in itself) and anti-western intervention, of any kind. As for the ‘practical difficulties’, they are nothing less than the aspiration of Syrians who took to the streets in 2011 demanding justice, those same Syrians who were, and are, tortured in their tens of thousands in Assad’s gulags and slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands.
||We must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots
As we’ve seen over the past few years, the slogan “Assad or we burn the country” of the Assad regime and its state-sponsored militias known as the Shabiha, is meant literally.
The fact that StW always refers to Iraq in particular as ‘proof’ speaks volumes, given the fact that there was no revolution in Iraq nor is there a western invasion and occupation in Syria remotely comparable to the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation.
To quote the Lebanese Marxist intellectual Gilbert Achcar, commenting on Corbyn being heckled, this reactionary isolationism represents “a national-selfish attitude that doesn’t care about what happens to the rest of the world as long as ‘we’ are not directly concerned and our well-being is not affected – or (the leftwing version) as long as our ‘anti-imperialist’ conscience is not troubled by any of the complexities of the real world.
They’d rather see Benghazi or Aleppo razed to the ground and their inhabitants massacred, than see the UK or any Western government attempt to do something about it, let alone call on them to do something, even when there are no other forces capable of preventing the massacre.
In that balance, one Libyan or Syrian killed by ‘our’ government is more unbearable to our conscience than ten thousand killed by the local despots: this may be a form of ‘anti-imperialism’, but it is as far away from ‘internationalism’ (a leftwing value that seems to have completely vanished) as isolationism is.”
By ignoring a fundamental principle, that “critiquing our own governments and their crimes is a necessary but not sufficient part of the fight for justice”, we end up giving ammunition to a xenophobic rhetoric that is already gaining momentum.
This has been repeated so many times since the beginning of the Arab Spring that no honest observer can claim ignorance. Cynical indifference, however, is always available, and those who wish to adopt it should express no surprise at the continuing rise of nativism and xenophobia within Fortress Europe’s borders and beyond.
Joey Ayoub is the MENA editor at Global Voices as well as a Lebanese researcher from Beirut currently living in London. He is the founder of Hummus For Thought and mostly writes on Syria, Israel-Palestine and Lebanon.
Follow him on Twitter: @joeyayoub
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
See also: Tendance Coatesy
Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016
A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”
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Chris Nineham: wretched Putin-appeaser
These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one’s eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads — they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late – George Orwell, Looking Back At the Spanish War, 1943.
In a car crash of an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Chris Nineham, deputy chair of the Stop The War Coalition, was questioned about Boris Johnson’s call for people to protest Russia’s involvement in the war by demonstrating outside the country’s embassy in London. Nineham concluded by stating that the STWC’s guiding principle is to “oppose the West.”
The Foreign Secretary’s comments came after Labour’s Ann Clwyd urged those who care about the plight of Syrian civilians to gather outside Russian embassies across the globe until the country stops its bombing campaign.
Johnson also called for a war crimes investigation into the bombing of an aid convoy last month in which at least 21 people died.
Today host, Sarah Montague, began the segment on Wednesday morning by asking what the Stop the War Coalition was doing to oppose the conflict.
“But we were set up as a coalition as a response to 9/11 and in response to the Western, British-supported drive to war back in 2001 and that is our focus.
“There’s a good reason for that…”
Montague interrupted, pointing out “we are in 2016 now” with a conflict raging in which “Aleppo is being destroyed”.
She added: “You have a Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, saying ‘where’s the rage, we should have two million, three million, four million people outside the Russian embassy…’
“Should people demonstrate outside the Russian embassy?”
Nineham replied: “This is not a serious argument being put [forward] by Boris Johnson, he’s characteristically trivialising the situation. If they want to protest outside the Russian embassy, they know where it is.”
“As I was saying, there’s a very good reason for this because we can make a difference to what Britain does, we can make a difference to what our allies do to a certain extent and we have done.
“But if we have a protest outside the Russian embassy it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to what Putin does because we are in the West and we are in Britain.
Montague said: “So you would urge people not to demonstrate against Russia?”
Nineham replied: “We’re not worried about it but what we’re saying is that there’s a hysteria that’s being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.
“Syria is a multi-faceted war that involves Saudi Arabia, it involves the US and Britain who have been bombing the country as well.
“The real problem here is you have people who regard themselves as responsible politicians like Andrew Mitchell and John Woodcock and Boris Johnson to a lesser extent who are seriously saying that what Syria needs is more Western bombs, more Western munitions.
“And Andrew Mitchell actually came on this programme yesterday and seriously said it wouldn’t be a problem if RAF fighter pilots attacked Russian planes.”
“And anyone who has a responsibility for peace or the future of the planet quite frankly needs to mobilise against that…”
At this point Montague cut off the interview but Nineham managed to get in a last few words.
“… and that means opposing the West.”
The Stop The War Coalition has now confirmed what many of us have been saying for a long while: the remnant of the group which ten years ago organised big marches against the invasion of Iraq, is now merely a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” lash-up with Putin, Assad and any reactionary force or regime that happens to find itself in conflict with the West.
The STWC has made a conscious decision not to criticise Assad’s filthy regime. Why? Because in this war Counterfire and Socialist Action (the main political forces within the STWC) are effectively siding with the regime.
Stop the War’s organisers are seriously politically disorientated. And that leaves them sharing platforms with a ridiculous Stalinist, Kamal Majid, and a Syrian academic, Issa Chaer, who when interviewed by the Iranian state’s propaganda outlet, Press TV, said, “I see President Assad as the person who is now uniting the country from all its backgrounds, all factions and all political backgrounds… anybody who calls for President Assad to step down at this stage; would be causing Syria an irreversible destruction.”
In theory, the STWC opposes Russian bombing. But, in reality they don’t: after all, Stop The War’s Chair supports the Assad regime and Russian imperialism in Syria.
It’s time for the serious left – including Jeremy Corbyn and Unite – to withdraw support from this nasty, reactionary bunch of apologists and appeasers.
NB: the quotes used in this piece come from the Huffington Post
Above: Syria Solidarity campaigners outside Stop The War’s conference today
It’s come to something when it takes a Guardian columnist to call the supposed “left”, the lying wretches of the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and Jeremy Corbyn to order on their elementary duty towards the people of Aleppo:
We’re watching as Aleppo is destroyed. Where is the rage?
Where are the demonstrations in western capitals to denounce the brutal onslaught on Aleppo? Around 300,000 people are exposed to carpet bombing, including bunker-busting and fragmentation ordnance. Is the weather so bad that no one wants to stand on a square, or in front of a Russian embassy? Or does no one care? Does no one think protesting would make a difference? (read the rest here)
Statement from Syria Solidarity UK:
Protect the Children of Aleppo: Stop the War in Syria
250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.
On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.
The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.
Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.
Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.
What will you do to stop the war in Syria?
READ: Left activists call on Jeremy Corbyn to speak out on Syria
Below: Syria activists leafleting outside today’s Stop The War conference in London.
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