Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top posts of 2015

Here are the posts with the most hits of the year.

1. Who is Milo Samuels?

I'm not sure why this is such a best-seller. It summarises the suggestion (made originally, I think, by Sadia Jabeen) that Martin Smith, the SWP's thoroughly discredited sax-playing "anti-fascist" organiser, might have re-invented himself as Milo Samuels and be funded by trade unions such as the NUT to write boring articles about jazz. If you like that post you'll like these ones.

2. Seymour on the Paris attacks

This was a guest post by my comrade Contested Terrain. It is a critique of Richard Seymour's response to the Paris attacks that opened 2015. I think it got so many hits (a) because we all became obsessed with Paris and Je Suis Charlie for a while, (b) because so many people like to see Seymour getting a (verbal) kicking, and (c) because Seymour linked to it and he has many more readers than I do.

This, from November, was a response to Stop the War's response to the growing calls in the Autumn, from across the political spectrum, for a No Bomb Zone in Syria, A No Bomb Zone was proposed as part of a coherent Syria plan, at a time when Cameron was promising (after four years of war in Syria) to come up with a plan. (Cameron's desperate attempt to avoid committing to anything has been perversely called a "rush to war" by people who should know better.) Spoiler alert: Cameron never came up with a plan and instead decided on effective but muscular-looking air strikes on ISIS. Anyway, the indefatigable Peter Tatchell, one of the advocates of a No Bomb Zone, championed this post on social media, which is why it got so many hits. If you liked that post you'll like these ones.

This post was a short response to Jeremy Corbyn's decision to make Stalinst fellow traveller Seumas Milne his head of communications and strategy. This was one of my most tweeted posts ever, tweeted almost entirely by despairing Labour party members. 

This was a response to the Lewisham East UKIP candidate, former left-secularist turned semi-intellectual outrider for the new far right. The post got some local juice during the election, and then another bounce when Waters teamed up with fake reformed proto-fascist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka "Tommy Robinson") in one of the many attempts the "counter-Jihadi" right has made to relaunch itself this year. 

This post looked at the links between the far right Lyndon LaRouche cult and the then new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and didn't like what it saw.

7. Assad v ISIS? Patrick Cockburn's economy with the truth

This was an attempt to fisk an article by Patrick Cockburn, widely considered (e.g. by both Tory "realists" like Julian Lewis and Jeremy Corbyn) an expert on Syria but in my view fundamentally dishonest and malignant. 

Another Syria post, arguing for us to help to really stop the war.

9. On extremism, jihadism and counter-jihadism

An excessively long post making a series of arguments about Islamist and far right "extremism", how they relate to each other, and how we might counter them. 

10. Strange alliances: Jeremy Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers

This is another Corbyn investigation, this time into his associations with a bunch of Holocaust deniers on the fringes of the anti-Israel milieu. If you liked that post, you'll like this one.

Nice that one celebratory post has snuck into the top 20 alongside all of these unpleasant negative posts. This one is about the revolutionary miracle that is Rojava, with loads and loads of links.

12. Kick George Galloway out of British politics

This was part of my May general election series. It is one of the few posts I've ever called for something to happen which subsequently happened: Galloway lost his seat in Bradford. Unfortunately, he seems to have not removed himself to a seraglio in Amsterdam or a retirement home in Tehran, as we might have hoped, but instead is attempting to insert himself back into London politics, standing against Sadiq Khan as the ultra-Corbynite candidate in the mayoral election. If you like that post, you'll like these ones.

Gratifying that this, a summary of a decade of blogging, made the top 13 posts. 

This entry in my May general election series now seems quaintly anachronistic, as it runs through a whole bunch of left-wing electoral alternatives to Labour, which have almost all now dissolved themselves into Corbyn's capacious church. I was grimly pessimistic about the left's chances then; I turned out to be wrong but now I'm pessimistic for the Labour party instead. Interesting comment thread. 

Briefly charts the concept of "Jewish privilege" as it travelled from American Jewish liberals to hardcore anti-Zionists to neo-Nazis. 

16, F*ck aspiration, we don't need another Tory party

This was a rant against the idea that Labour needed to turn right after its electoral defeat, but an argument for it having to re-connect with its working class roots as its English working class support leaks to UKIP. Obviously thousands of people read the first half of the post, joined Labour and elected a left-wing, explicitly anti-austerity leader - but failed to read the second half and have not yet worked out how to also reach out to the left behind and pissed off post-industrial proletariat in deepest England.

Finally, a post close to my heart (my decision to feature the un-round top 17 posts of the year was made to be able to include it). This post is about the Palestinian city of Yarmouk, its slow and awful destruction by Assad's regime, and how the British left has failed to hear its cry. If you only re-read one of the seventeen, re-read this one. 

Google's Blogger platform is not as good as Wordpress for stats so it's impossible to see which posts (as opposed to which 2015 posts) were the most-read in 2015. However, one post seems to have been clicked on an awful lot, and has been among the most popular most weeks of the year. 

This was a guest post written back in 2008 by someone who studied or worked at Goldsmiths, University of London, where one Jennifer Jones was a student union activist, in response to Jones standing for the GLA. The post is quite a devastating indictment of her, of student politics, and of Galloway's Respect (then still tied up with the SWP). The comment thread, which I probably should have moderated more strictly, adds several allegations about her personal conduct, although some of them are probably motivated by misogyny or homophobia so should be taken with a pinch of salt. Anyway, I never encountered her directly, but felt that it was worth publishing as a local blogger to hold accountable someone standing for public office. I subsequently forgot all about her. About a year ago, I got in to a conversation or two on Twitter with one "Jen Izaakson", who then started making bizarre allegations about me, and then I twigged that her and Jones are one and the same person. As Izaakson is a mini-celeb on fringe-left Twitter, a kind of dumbed-down Laurie Penny, and as she bullies a lot of people online, I assume her victims google her and find this post; I have no other explanation for its perennial popularity. 

All, in all, quite a year folks. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 in first lines

I've been doing this every year for a while now (here's last year), after a habit of the late Norman Geras. There was one month (February) when I didn't blog at all, so I've included my first tweet, which actually relates to the last post of the previous month.

January: There is a strange pattern of intellectual retardation on the Left, when otherwise sophisticated individuals are encountered with the nexus of topics relating to anti-Muslim racism, antisemitism, political Islam, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, etc.

February: Celebrating ten years of blogging...

March: As an anonymous blogger, I recognise that there are lots of good reasons why someone might want to be anonymous online or to have multiple identities.

April: The last five years of Conservative-led Coalition government have, I believe, been disastrous for the country, in many ways.

May: From the moment of [George Galloway's] victory in what he called the "Bradford Spring", when he tweeted about his "Blackburn triumph", it was clear he couldn't give a monkeys about his new constituency.

June: I was very sad to read today of the passing of Morris Beckman, a great anti-fascist, mentsh and citizen historian.

July: As a London resident, I took the 7/7 attacks personally

August: This post is prompted by David Cameron’s recent speech setting out a new agenda on addressing the threat of Islamist violent extremism, and also by the recent launch of a whole series of “counter-jihadi” initiatives on the British right, including the planning of a Mohammed cartoon exhibition in London in September.

September: Lots of people believe that it is basically too late to do anything about Syria. It's such a mess.

October: You'll have heard by now that Seumas Milne has been appointed executive director of strategy and communications for the Labour party. This is a disastrous decision for (at least) three reasons.

November: Stop the War (StW) have a track record of denying a platform to Syrian voices when they hold events about Syria.

December: 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria? Never has a figure been so universally doubted.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

What Cameron said about 70,000 moderate fighters, what he didn't say, and what he should've said

70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria? Never has a figure been so universally doubted.

Some people doubt it because they simply doubt any number and specifically any politician who uses a number, especially in justifying a war. The last time a figure was used to justify a war, everyone knows, is Blair's 45 minutes, and we were wrong to believe that so we don't believe this.

Some people doubt it because David Cameron's been caught being economical with the truth before and, well, he is a Tory isn't he?

Some people doubt it because they don't really read about what's going on in Syria apart from the occasional headline about ISIS atrocities, so they assume there's nothing going on apart from that. They mistake their own ignorance for proof that Cameron is lying.

Some people doubt it because they have a basically racist view of Sunni Muslims and especially Arabs. They're all fanatical savages who like beheading people, so how can any of them be called "moderate"? (The same racism underlies the idea that they need strong men like Assad or Mubarak to keep their fanatical savagery in place.)

Given the scale of the doubt, it's worth looking at what Cameron said, what he didn't say, and what he should have said. First, this is what he did say, first as a written statement then out loud in parliament:
"Although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.” 
"we believe there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally the Free Syrian Army, who do not belong to extremist groups and with whom we can coordinate attacks on ISIL."
Note what he didn't say:
  • that we have an exact figure for these fighters
  • that all of them are moderate
  • that they form a single cohesive fighting force
So, what should he have said to be even more accurate? Something like this:
Although the situation on the ground is complex, it can be estimated that there are well over 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.  
The word "moderate" is relative, and therefore pretty meaningless. However, although some of them are far from "moderate", these groups are sharply opposed to Daesh and are credible allies in our fight against Daesh and legitimate partners in building a post-dictatorship Syria.  
They do not form one single cohesive force, but we can work with them to make them more cohesive. 
Their motivation to work with us increases if we show that we are serious about removing Assad and if we show that any air-borne intervention we undertake is not reckless with Syrian civilian lives. 
At the core of these are some 45,000 fighters in the two main FSA coalitions, the Southern Front and the Northern Free Syrian Army. Among these are the 14 Free Syrian Army units vetted by the CIA. (If you read Arabic, many of these groups are on social media, e.g. the Knights of Justice Brigade or the Falcons of al-Ghab,) 
There are dozens of other groups, making up a further 30,000 fighters or more, some in large effective coalitions, which are on the spectrum towards al-Nusra but which are first and foremost about creating a free Syria. This analysis from the Institute for the Study of War shows which ones are independent (marked in green) or allied to or separable from al-Nusra (marked in yellow). 
Add to these several tribal or ethnic militias. An example would be the Turkmen regiments (with 3,000 or more fighters) who came to Western notice the other week when they shot a Russian pilot. 
In addition, there are Kurdish fighters. Most of the Kurdish fighters in Syria are part of the YPG/YPJ, the male and female militias of the political party PYD, although there are other smaller groups too. Estimates of  the size of the YPG/YPJ force vary between 25,000 and 50,000, but the more plausible claims are at the lower end of that scale. It has proved to be the most effective and reliable force against ISIS, and it has allied with four major Syrian predominantly Arab groups and a number of fighting groups in the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, which now has some 14 units giving allegiance to it and has made important advances in the North,  with US support. However, the Kurds are not interested in advancing into non-Kurdish territory, which means we cannot work with them alone.  
Finally, there are a further 15,000 fighters in Islamist-dominated coalitions which have worked with other rebels but are also allied with al-Nusra. It may be possible to work with them, but we need to be very wary.
In short, not all "moderate", not a cohesive force, but definitely real, and definitely worth our solidarity.

That doesn't mean Cameron is right about anything else, that his Syria plan is the right one, or that everything is cool. Air strikes alone will not solve the problem and may be counter-productive. Our first solidarity should be with Syrian civilians and the non-violent resistance which represents them. But the anti-government, anti-ISIS fighters described here are a key part of any solution.

Cartoon by Chris Riddell, Guardian 29 November 2015

Further reading:

Monday, December 07, 2015

"Zio-trolling gets you bitchslapped onto the death camp train"

This is a brief account of an unpleasant experience in Twitter I had on Friday night. I thought it gave a fascinating insight into the convergence of various kinds of bigotry. Warning: not for the squeamish.

So, one of the main issues I follow on Twitter is the war in Syria. I have been a strong supporter of the Syrian Revolution, and opponent of the Assad dictatorship. One of the arguments made by supporters of that dictatorship is that Syria faces a choice between Assad and jihadism, the latter represented by ISIS or, in some accounts, by all Sunni Arab rebels.

The blurring of that last distinction - i.e. between ISIS and other Islamist rebels, and between Islamist and democratic or nationalist rebels - has been a major weapon in that pro-Assad propaganda arsenal. The blurring is widely accepted because of the prevalence of a basically racist worldview about Sunni Muslims and especially Sunni Arabs, which imagines them as all essentially fanatical savages. The success of the narrative was evidenced in the widespread scepticism about the UK government claimed that there are 70,000 "moderate" fighters in Syria - which is actually a wholly credible claim.

It has been bitterly ironic to watch "anti-war" activists now embracing the rhetoric of the War on Terror, which they so stridently opposed in 2001 and 2003, to try to discredit Syrian revolutionaries as jihadi savages.

1. The pro-Hezbollah sectarian
Today's story starts with a tweet from Leith Abou Fadel, a Beirut-based pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah journalist, which basically says that supporters of anti-Assad fighters are supporters of Sunni Islamism:

Fadel has some form. You might recall the hoax he started about the Syrian refugee soccer coach, Osama Abdul Mohsen, who was kicked by a Hungarian camerawoman; Fadel smeared him as an Al-Nusra supporter:
Among those promoting the claim that Mr. Mohsen was a supporter or member of the Nusra Front was Leith Abou Fadel, the Syrian editor of a pro-government news site. Writing on Facebook and Twitter, Mr. Fadel drew attention to what he called evidence of Mr. Mohsen’s extremist sympathies on Sept. 13, five days after Mr. Mohsen was tripped by the Hungarian journalist Petra Laszlo while trying to avoid detention in Hungary.
The false story was of course widely circulated by right-wing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim voices in the West:
Two days later, the screen shot of Mr. Mohsen’s Facebook page shared by Mr. Fadel was presented as evidence of the coach’s support for terrorism by Ezra Levant, a conservative Canadian political commentator (who has been faulted in the past for failing to check his facts and going out of his way to insult Muslims).
As a side note, Fadel is often used as a source by Kremlin media outlets. And if you look at the tweet you see how much it is amplified by supporters of the LaRouche cult that we met back here.

2. The Ba'athist

Then another tweeter jumps on Fadel's tweet to introduce him to me, describing me as an FSA "fan boy":

This guy is the first person I ever blocked on Twitter, as he regularly sends me snuff porn pics of beheadings, purportedly to "prove" that all anti-Assad fighters are jihadi. I won't reproduce or link to them here for obvious reasons.

The picture he tweets, by the way, is of a former FSA officer photographer with the U.S. ambassador and then with an ISIS fighter, which presumably is meant to "prove" the CIA are behind ISIS and that ISIS and the FSA are the same thing. Or something.

Because I blocked him, I wouldn't have seen the tweet. (This is a major flaw in Twitter's harassment policy. Shouldn't blocking stop bullies tweeting at their targets, rather than just make the tweets invisible to their targets? Blocking actually encourages bullies to up the aggression.)

The tweet about me was hearted by Fadel, and by a woman whose Twitter profile describes her as a "commie pinko liberal feminazi", and retweeted by a Finnish leftist (her profile says "Loves Wikileaks OWS Anonymous") with over 25,000 followers.

3. The Holocaust denier

Then someone else joins in, with more photoshopped pics of fighters in Syria, purporting to "prove" that not just the CIA but also Mossad are behind ISIS. (I won't go into details here, but basically there's a guy in a red beard who is a Georgian ex-soldier who had some contact with US military trainers then was radicalised in prison in Georgia and joined ISIS. Add those dots together and clearly the whole Syrian revolution is a neocon/Rothschild plot.)

I then made the stupid mistake of one tweet engaging him. (Referring to the black person labelled "African" in his photoshopped pic, I said "because Africa is a country right?") I should have known better, as this unleashed a slew of invective, accelerating to Holocaust references immediately, in the tweet quoted in the title of this post. Although I'd not mentioned Israel one single time, my support for Syrian democrats was enough for me to be labelled a "Zionist" and "Ziotroll".

In a couple of tweets I was told I should get on the death camp train, given a choice between being made into a lampshade or being made into soap, and told to give his best regards to Ann Frank.

Not to mention this:

Within minutes, two more guys had piled in with him: one, who tweets that his "heart bleeds for Palestinians", who points out this isn't antisemitism because Jews aren't Semites, and someone whose Twitter profile is a link to the new-Nazi website Stormfront, calls the Holocaust a "narrative", and rants about "Talmudism" and such like:

Here are screenshots of the media tweeted by the the lampshade guy and the second guy who piled in. You'll see a full house of both classic and "anti-Zionist" antisemitic tropes, as well as 9/11 conspiracies... and an attack on Bernie Sanders.

So, in a couple of clicks we move between anti-Sunni sectarianism, anti-Muslim racism and Holocaust denying new-Nazis. That's the kind of folks who think Assad is the lesser evil in Syria.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Syrian voices silenced by Stop the War

Stop the War (StW) have a track record of denying a platform to Syrian voices when they hold events about Syria. As I've said before, this is like an organisation holding repeated #BlackLivesMatter events with all-white panels. As far as I know, StW have only come close to having Syrian speakers twice, both in 2013: first they gave platform to a Baathist and then they invited a Lebanese-French nun (Mother Agnes) who they said was Syrian - which backfired when no one would sit on the same platform as her. The Syria Solidarity Movement have written about a whole sequence of instances when they have denied a platform to Syrians at events about Syria.

I've already linked to Paulo Canning's "Have Stop the War Coalition finally jumped the shark?" and
James Bloodworth's "Stop the War refuse to listen to Syrians during debate…on Syria", which describe a recent parliamentary meeting to which StW invited no Syrians and at which chair Diane Abbott effectively shut down their voices.

Paulo's piece was reblogged elsewhere, but he has since added a series of updates, which are important. Here are some extracts, with my emphases and a couple of hyperlinks added:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Stalinists versus migrants on Lesbos

This post is about events at an occupied social space in Mytilene (Μυτιλήνη – Mitilini), the capital of Lesbos (Lesvos), on 10 November 2015. The text is translated from Musaferat by Glykosymoritis with my help, and is cross-posted from here-Bob
As events unfolded at the Mytilene squat the 10/11/2015 two things came to the surface. First, the authoritarian, anti-democratic nature of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), to the extent that it will crash any left organised movement that dares to challenge it and that it can't control and manipulate. Second, its major problem particularly with the Syrian refugees/migrants that it can't assist because by doing so it would find itself challenging its close political alliance with Assad and his regime. – Glykosymoritis


CTeFi4UWcAAhY9l.jpg large
Image from Musferat

“On Saturday at dawn a group of migrants occupied [Palesviakou Labour Centre] the abandoned building of the former workers center located in a building that currently belongs to the state agency of OAED⁰. From the onset people showed their support and solidarity with the migrants. Members of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) came to asses the situation, and in doing so depleted the building of all items within (cutlery, crockery etc.).

For four days in the town of Mytilene, a free migrant-managed occupied space covered the housing needs of hundreds of people and remained open and accessible to all that wanted to express their solidarity (with the exception of NGOs). On Tuesday afternoon 10/11, a few hours prior to a scheduled first statement to be announced by the squatters, some people decided that it wasn't to take place.

A group of members of the KKE* escorted by helmeted thugs entered the building and targeted a specific member of the migrants squat. They grabbed and kicked him out of the building, forbidding him to re-enter the squat.

From then on they were to be in control of people's access to the building. Only the ones that they were sure fitted their criteria were allowed enter. In other words only the blind followers of the Party and any migrant that did not want to make a decision for themselves but did as they were told by the Party.

Well, it just goes to demonstrate that yet another party is trying to undermine and suppress the struggle, and is not willing to make any exceptions whatsoever regardless of the circumstances. The migrants once again have to wait with their arms outstretched waiting for the KNAT^ to feed them. Or at best to be used for photo opportunities for the party's self-promotion. Any effort for migrants’ self-emancipation is to be presented as a devious conspiracy plan from some external foreign power or from other powers in an effort to undermine sometimes the nation and other times the party.

It's the other dodgy side of the story. For all these migrants that manage to hold their heads high after going through the war, the hunt during the border crossing, the illegality and the state suppression – they arrive here only to find themselves facing the NGOs that treat them like lesser people, the local mafias or the political parties.

Now is the time that we stand alongside the migrants with all means possible, now is the time that they try to find the weaponry to resist, to organise themselves as they see fit, within the terms they choose to live their lives.

Joint struggles of locals and migrants against the bosses, state, para-state and the party armies!

Musaferat - November 2015


*KKE Communist Party of Greece (Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Ελλάδας, Kommounistikó Kómma Elládas)
^KNAT Term used for thugs of the Communist party youth – KNE is the Communist Youth, MAT is the state riot police
⁰OAED Οργανισμού Απασχόλησης Εργατικού Δυναμικού (ΟΑΕΔ) or Organismou Apascholisis Ergatikou Dynamikou (OAED) – Manpower Agency of Greece, a public authority that handles vocational training, job search assistance, labour and policy development, and unemployment and maternity benefits, equivalent to a UK job centre.

“…It is no coincidence that the Communist Party [KKE] supported and supports the Assad regime, nor a coincidence that when we marched in Athens against the Syrian regime we were accused as provocateurs of Mossad and the CIA. Nor was it an accident that the emergence of the thugs at the labour center reminded most families of Assad Shabiha [para-state militias]….”

Note: For more details, see Grassrootreuter, which confirms the story above and adds some details, including the fact that the building was used by the KKE-led unions to store electrical items before the migrant occupation - it was under pretext of retrieving these that the KKE thugs in helmets entered the building, first removing cooking utensils brought by the migrants and then occupying the space. As far as I can see, they did not forcibly evict all of the migrant residents (only the activist leaders), but acted in an intimidating manner which led the remaining families to depart. The story is also reported at Insurrection News. -Bob

Original by MUSAFERAT translation and additional context by Bob From Brockley and glykosymoritis

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Seven reasons Stop the War are wrong about Syria

Back in September, I started a series of posts entitled "Six things your government can do about Syria". I argued then for a No Fly Zone. Shortly after I wrote it, the situation on the ground changed in Syria with massive scale Russian intervention; this, along with lack of time, means I haven't managed to write parts 2-6 of the series.

The Russian intervention killed 254 civilians from 30 September to 26 October, and since then, MSF have reported, there have been several deadly strikes on civilian targets including hospitals and markets.

However, I still believe the principle of a No Fly Zone (or, better put perhaps: a No Bomb Zone) remains correct, and remains mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2139, which demands immediate cessation of violence – even if the practicalities around achieving it have changed. It also remains a key demand of Syrian civil society and the Syrian diaspora. Sensible voices within the political establishment – notably Labour MP Jo Cox – have attempted to put a No Bomb Zone on the UK policy table, despite the resistance of the Kissinger-style "realist" Tories who dominate the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and despite Cameron's overwhelming lack of interest in addressing the too-difficult Syrian crisis.

The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) supporters generally attempt to portray all forms of intervention as "bombing Syria", which misses the point that Syria is already being bombed, mainly by the Assad regime and now its ally Russia. The logical response is that what we need is not to "bomb Syria" but to stop the bombs, and it might require intervention for that to happen.

StWC consistently hold their meetings and rallies about Syria in a way that excludes Syrian speakers -  even going to far as to veto Syrian refugee speakers at Refugees Welcome marches. This is because they know that most Syrians know that a simple rhetorical commitment to non-intervention will not "stop the war". A war is going on in Syria, and something concrete is needed to stop it, not empty words. StWC's approach to stopping the war is in reality continuing the war, just without our direct involvement.

StWC - increasingly influential, it seems, in the UK Labour Party - have now responded at more length to calls for a No Fly Zone, in a briefing entitled "Syria: Safe Havens and No-Fly Zones". On social media, they link to it as "Seven reasons why Stop the War opposes UK military intervention in Syria". Here are their seven reasons, and why each one is wrong.

1. "The creation of safe havens or no-fly zones requires the ability to engage in military operations and to take out the enemy’s air defence systems."
This point is true. But it is not even vaguely an argument against safe havens or no-fly zones. A No Bomb Zone would of course require military operations - but it would also prevent other, more deadly, military operations from occurring. 

2. "Military intervention would risk a military clash with Russia."
Clearly this is a risk. However, that does not mean that we should therefore simply accede to Russia's right to military intervention and take civilian protection off the table. Instead, the West should show it is serious about civilian protection, and take that seriousness to the negotiation table in order to pressure Russia against forms of military intervention which endanger civilians on a large scale. 

3. "Islamic State would not be threatened by a no-fly zone since it lacks an air force. The Assad government and those supporting it can be the only target of such military operations: the goal is regime change."
Coalition aerial support has helped Syrian Kurdish fighters establish relatively safe havens in northern Syria, repulsing Islamic State. In contrast, Russian strikes have targeted Syrian rebel anti-IS fighters, allowing Islamic state to advance into rebel held territories. So, even with IS, control of the air makes a difference between civilian life and death. But it is true that a No Fly Zone would not primarily target Islamic State. Rather, it would properly target the far greater killer, the Assad regime. 
Deaths in Syria October 2015 by perpetrator. Source: Syrian Network for Human Rights
Does this mean the goal is "regime change"? No, the goal is simple: civilian protection. But actually why would socialists, internationalists, humanitarians and democrats oppose "regime change" in the context of a totalitarian regime that kills civilians on such a large scale? In the long-term, if civilian protection could be established, wouldn't a free and democratic Syria be a desirable end game? However, that's for the Syrian people to decide - but there is no meaningful self-determination when bombs rain down on liberated areas. 

4. "Previous no-fly zones did not prevent attacks on minorities and endangered populations (e.g. the Iraq government’s attack on the southern March [sic] Arabs) but escalated the levels of violence."
It is again true that some previous No Fly Zones and Safe Zones have had extremely negative un-intended consequences – most often because they were proclaimed without being (adequately) enforced, as in Yugoslavia. I think the example of Southern Iraq, however, is a poor one for StWC to use. The Shia Marsh (not March) Arabs had already been victims of genocide under Saddam Hussein, who drained the marshes in the decades before the Gulf War in order to destroy their homeland. After the war, the Marsh Arabs engaged in a popular uprising against Saddam, with no ground support from the Coalition; massive aerial bombardment was Saddam's reprisal for this. The No Fly Zone curtailed death from above, but Saddam's switched to artillery attacks - that is, it didn't escalate violence but changed the form it took. In contrast, the No Fly Zone in Iraq Kurdistan created the possibility for the emergence of an autonomous region there, now a haven of relative stability and freedom in a grim region. (Admittedly, a consistent Coalition policy which went beyond a No Fly Zone and actually removed the Saddam regime in 1991 – "regime change" – would have avoided the whole nightmare of Gulf War II, but I doubt Stop the War would have supported that.)

5. "The 2011 no-fly zone in Libya helped to create a full-blown war, tens of thousands of casualties, regime change and a collapsed state."
It is true that Libya is not a good example of successful Western intervention, although there are arguments that it was still the right call: "Faced with a popular revolution, Qaddafi had used fighter jets within a fortnight and promised a ‘house by house’ massacre of Benghazi." How the full-blown war that happened without aerial bombardment would have been worse than a full-blown war with regime aerial bombardment is hard to imagine. And, quite simply, Syria is not Libya. In Syria, we've already had full-blown war, hundreds of thousands of casualties and a collapsed state – all without a No Fly Zone. 

6. "The war in Syria includes a complex combination of actors: the Assad government and Russia, IS, the US and its international and regional allies (including Saudi Arabia, the Free Syrian Army and the local al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front), as well as Kurdish groups (some of which are being attacked by Turkey)."
Again, this is factually true - but not even vaguely an argument against a No Fly Zone or safe havens. It is simply a description of a complicated situation. Clearing the skies and stopping civilian death shifts the relationships between them. 

7. "Instead of getting involved militarily in this dangerous quagmire, Britain can provide much greater help to the people of Syria by seriously focusing on humanitarian aid and on helping to facilitate peace talks."

This is also an absurd argument. It is true Britain could provide humanitarian aid and facilitate peace talks. But - as the Crisis Group outlined in their call for a reboot of Syria policy towards civilian protection - delivering humanitarian aid is practically impossible under current conditions, and in particular in a context of aerial bombardment. Similarly with peace talks: there have been negotiations as long as there has been fighting in Syria, and the bombs keep falling. Civilian protection - a No Bomb Zone - is not an alternative to peace talks, but a short-term necessity. 


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Three reasons why Milne's appointment was wrong, wrong, wrong

You'll have heard by now that Seumas Milne has been appointed executive director of strategy and communications for the Labour party. This is a disastrous decision for (at least) three reasons.

1. He has no expertise whatsoever on strategy. Shouldn't a director of strategy have some experience of, you know, strategy? What is the point of the Labour Party if it can't get elected? Has Milne ever been involved in a strategy that got someone elected to public office? (Rather, than, say, to the executive of the National Union of Journalists?)
2. He hasn't got much more expertise on communications. True, he's earned his living as a journalist all his adult life. But only three publications he's worked for are Straight Left, a Communist Party weekly, The Economist and The Guardian. In other words, his communication has overwhelmingly been with the already converted middle class left. If Corbyn is to usher in a new form of politics, he needs to reconnect the Labour Party with "ordinary" voters, with those who don't vote and those who've drifted to UKIP and the Tories. How can you do this, if your career is wholly within the activist bubble? This is a dreadful signal that Corbyn's Labour does not want to reach out to the ordinary working class people who make up the majority of the unconverted, but to mobilise a social movement.
Footnote: Many of Corbyn's left-wing domestic policies do resonate with voters outside the bubble; his foreign policies, with which Milne is closely associated don't:
YouGov for Prospect, via John Rentoul

3. His own views are just appalling. I won't bother to exhume all of the awful things Milne has said in his columns - on whether Lee Rigby's killers were terrorists, on whether Stalin was good for gender relations, on whether Milosevic deserved to be tried for war crimes, on whether we provoked Putin to invade Ukraine, on whether the UN-verified mass chemical attack on Ghouta happened, etc - because the right-wing press will be combing his easily accessible Guardian archive as I write and we'll be seeing plenty of this, making any leftists with a moral compass squirm with shame.
Further reading:
I also went through old links mentioning Milne on this blog. Here are some nuggets from the archive:

Friday, October 09, 2015

Twlldun: The socialism of fools

This is a guest post by Twlldun, republished with permission, from medium.com. It was posted during the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. I have added a couple of hyperlinks, plus the extra links at the bottom of the post. Since then, more allegations have been raised about the protests at the Tory party conference, as summarised in Sarah's post here.

It’s 2012 and Tower Hamlets council – which, as you may remember, was at the time run by a dubious group with links to Bangladeshi Islamists – orders the removal of this mural:

It’s not really hard to guess why. I mean, even the most charitable of us could see that a picture of a bunch of large nosed businessmen sat around a table made from the bodies of the poor, plotting their rule of the world, may be a teensy weensy bit “problematic”, as I believe the kids have it.

The artist in question – in true tabloid terms – “takes to Facebook” to angrily protest it being taken down. And in the thread of comments that follows, a voice pops up. An MP from a near-by constituency.

Now. Leaving aside the congestion of this paranoid stoner’s work with Diego Viera, the thing that stands out for me here is the opening – “Why?”.

When the Labour leadership election was in full swing, a lot of people misidentified as “Blairites” or “neo-liberals” (the latest meaningless buzzword that seems to encapsulate “everything I don’t like”, like its comrade-in-arms “Zionist” but with the racial element removed) asked some serious, hard questions about Jeremy Corbyn’s associations.

We – because I was one of that motley group of voices – were accused of accusing Jeremy of being antisemitic. But the truth is, I wasn’t accusing him of that. I don’t know many who were. My accusation – which ties into the “Why?” here – was a lot more simple. We were concerned that he didn’t know what antisemitism was. He didn’t acknowledge its existence when it came from sources he viewed as “progressive”. To him, antisemitism is Mosley marching through Cable Street.

Such a blindness may be excusable in any human being – it can mark you out as ignorant, or a naive holy fool rather than malign. It’s a flaw in an elected politician. It shows lack of judgement to a serious degree.

And it’s a huge flaw in an elected politician who has made as his foreign policy cause the one area that (as well as the decent and honest, or – as Anthony Julius describes them in his “Trials of the Diaspora” – the rational enemies of Israel – i.e. those who have a legitimate connection to the conflict and have cause to be *on the other side*) lures in Jew haters of all stripes. If you want justice for Palestine to be attainable, you have to put a firewall between the racists and the cause. Both as a moral consideration and as a tactical one.

But, as the stories show and the above illustrates, Jeremy isn’t very good at recognising that.

Again, this wouldn’t be a huge issue. All political parties have their outliers, their cranks and seers, their wild-eyed men of the back-benches, their awkward squad with awkward associations and awkward views.

But what is infuriating, for me, is that on being told of this, the Labour Party members dismissed or glossed over it. Ignored it or pretended it wasn’t an issue. And elected him. Made the decision that it’s support of Corbyn’s economic proposals could override any other considerations.

Today, there’s a protest march in Manchester. The usual assembly of union members and fringe groups are there, proclaiming a message that I in large part agree with. Protesting cuts and talking about public service. 13 year old Morgan is there with this banner:

What strikes me most about this is not Morgan. Look, he’s a 13 year old boy with silly reductionist ideas of the world. Fine. We were all stupid at 13. But he made this banner. His parents watched and let him. And let him leave the house. People are helping him carry it. People are standing around it. Nobody is saying to him “HANG ON, Rothschild bankers? LAD!”.

Excuse it all you like. Until the left accepts that it glosses over antisemitism in its ranks, that it turns a blind eye, or makes some hand-waving justification, until the left wakes up to this shit, then it betrays the morals that it claims to stand for.


Bob adds:
I like the way Mr Corbyn compared a minor graffiti artist with the great Uruguayan footballer Diego Viera, rather than Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Six things your government can do about Syria, no.1: Clear the Skies

Liberated Kafranbel, Syria, September 2015
Lots of people believe that it is basically too late to do anything about Syria. It's such a mess. There are so many sides. It's hard to tell who the good guys are. Yet there are practical steps we can take, and which our governments can take. In this series, I will post six things that Western states can do to make the situation better, primarily based on calls made by Syrian civil society. When I finish that, I will post a series of things that we ourselves, as citizens,  can do. 

The most urgent task facing us is to reduce the killing. Dozens of people die in Syria every day, and this is what drives the refugee exodus from Syria. The vast majority of the deaths are due to the Assad regime. And the vast majority of the regime-caused deaths are due from above, caused by air strikes and in particular barrel bombs. 
Recent history - from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya - makes most of us instinctively wary of military intervention. Most Syrian and Kurdish radicals are not calling for Western boots on the ground. However, stopping the bombs - clearing the skies - has to be the first priority in Syria. This means a No Fly Zone.

There are lots of strong arguments against a No Fly Zone, and you can follow the debate here, but on balance, I think that the arguments in favour are stronger. A No Fly Zone is not a panacea that will solve all problems. At a geopolitical level, it does not preclude or avoid the need for wider diplomatic efforts.

Stopping the deaths from above, creating safe havens, is not sufficient either in terms of the ultimate aim of a just, peaceful, democratic Syria, which can ultimately come about through the active will of the Syrian people and not through foreign intervention. But while the bombs continue to fall, hope for that outcome diminishes daily. Clearing the skies is not sufficient, but it is necessary.

Planet Syria, a network of over a hundred Syrian civil society groups, has made the following statement:
1. The government of Bashar al-Assad is killing at least 7 times more civilians than Isis.*
2. More than 11,000 barrel bombs made of scrap metal and high explosives have been rolled out of government helicopters onto hospitals, homes and schools since the UN banned them. These aerial attacks are the biggest killer of civilians. They drive extremism. 
3. These barrel bombs are a leading cause of displacement, forcing refugees to cross the Mediterranean and other borders. 
4. Many of the barrel bombs are dropped on areas under siege. More than half a million people in Syria live in areas with no access to food, water or medicine since 2013, including the areas of Ghouta that were targeted by the sarin gas attacks in the same year. 
5. The international anti-Isis coalition is flying in the same airspace where many of these barrel bombs are dropped, choosing to look the other way. 
There is no military solution to the fighting in Syria. But like in Bosnia, a no-fly zone can help protect civilians from the worst of the violence and encourage the fighting parties to come to the negotiating table. 
It’s time to #ClearTheSky. Join over a hundred non-violent Syrian groups in asking for the international community to enforce the UN ban on barrel bombs with a Bosnia-style no-fly zone. www.planetsyria.org
A No Fly Zone is not only necessary; it is possible. Coalition air strikes on ISIS targets indicate that the West has the capability to take control of the sky out of Assad's hands.

There is some political support for safe havens. Labour MP Mike Gapes, for example, has called for them, as has Labour MP Jo Cox. We should lobby our politicians to get them to follow suit. (If you are in the UK, write to your MP here. If you are in the US, write to Congress here.)

It is true that Russia is likely to block such an action if conducted through the UN. Peter Tatchell suggests that a UN General Assembly could override any veto. But the UN already has a mandate for action: UN Security Council Resolution 2139. The resolution demands an immediate end to all violence; it specifically demands an end to barrel bombs and other forms of indiscriminate aerial attack on urban areas where civilians live; it demands that unhindered humanitarian assistance be allowed; it demands that all parties take "appropriate steps" to protect civilians. Finally, it expresses "intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution".

That was February 2014. There has been no compliance from the Syrian government. The time to take further steps is now.
Further relevant reading, mainly via the Syria Solidarity Coalition and NFZ Syria:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Quick thoughts on Russia/Ukraine

[UPDATED 1 Sept 07:25, 08:29, 19:11]

This quick blog post is a response to a discussion (actually a couple of discussions) I’ve had on Twitter, relating to Jeremy Corbyn, his associates in Stop the War, and their positions on Russia/Ukraine. My comment got a bit long so I have semi-polished it (not much) and am posting it here. Take it as provisional thinking aloud not as a definitive statement of position. 

The context is the claim (e.g. by Tom Porter, James Bloodworth, Edward LucasAnne Applebaum, and the Telegraph) that Corbyn is excessively pro-Putin, a claim dismissed as a "smear" by his supporters. 

I have updated it three times now, the first time to engage more closely with Corbyn's own position, the second time to add more links, and the third to correct a misreading I made of one of Corbyn's comments (see end of post for the correction).

On taking sides

First, I don’t think that it is possible to be entirely non-partisan, neutral and objective when looking at politics or geopolitics. My view is partial. It is shaped by the sources I read, including anarchist and leftist sources from the countries that I am interested in, e.g. the voices of Syrian revolutionaries, of the Ukrainian left, of dissidents in Russia.

I take a lot of effort to read sources carefully, to avoid unreliable sources, to triangulate information between different sources, and to track where bits of information come from. But there are sources which I trust more than others. I take the Western mainstream media with a pinch of salt – but I trust it more than I trust state media in countries such as Russiaor Iran with high levels of censorship and little press freedom. I trust left-wing papers more than I trust right-wing papers – but I prefer to consider (on the basis of evidence) the track record of integrity and authority of specific journalists and editors rather than assume that their ideology determines what they publish.

On Russia/Ukraine specifically, I do not side with the Ukrainian state, which I see as a capitalist liberal democracy dominated by patriotic neo-liberal capitalists who have an authoritarian, anti-union and social conservative streak (i.e. not much different from several other states in Europe). But I do defend them against the much larger, much more reactionary, much more powerful geopolitical force on their border, which is actively militarily violating their sovereignty.

Ideally, my position would be in the “third camp” – neither Kiev nor Moscow. But taking a neutral stance when the second most heavily armed country in the world is invading a small democracy is objectively to side with the bigger power.

I recognise that there are fascists on both sides, but it is clear to me that one side (the pro-Russian) is soaked full of fascists. Fascism is highly influential in the Kremlin, in Russia’s “hybrid army” and in the so-called People’s Republics of eastern Ukraine. Moscow supports and funds fascists in both eastern and western Europe. In Kiev, in contrast, fascist groups are currently in insurgency against the government. 

Who has been the greater antagonist?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Strange alliances: Jeremy Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers

Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy for leadership of the Labour Party continues to arouse strong emotions. There has been a lot of focus on the company he keeps. On the one hand, critics (including many sympathetic to his domestic political agenda) have raised concerns about his continued association with antisemites within and beyond the anti-Israel movement. On the other hand, supporters have argued that these charges represents guilt by association, that Corbyn couldn't have known about the antisemitism of those he has associated with, or that they were only slightly antisemitic anyway.

Nobody serious has suggested that Corbyn himself has an ideological commitment to Judeophobia or that he is personally prejudiced against Jews. But even among Corbyn's more serious supporters, there is an acknowledgement that there is something to be concerned about. Owen Jones, for example, has a very good piece in the Guardian about the need to confront antisemitism in this milieu. Corbyn supporter Jane Carnall links to a Tumblr called "How to criticize Israel without being anti-semitic", which goes through some of the issues.

Sarah Brown suggests that even Jones' clear denunciation still seems to suggest that those calling out Corbyn's associations are doing so in bad faith (as a "convenient means to undermine political opponents", as Jones puts it), which means not taking antisemitism seriously. And David Paxton takes on the "guilt by association" argument, showing that it is failure to root out the prevalent antisemitism in the anti-Israel and pro-Corbyn scenes that is the issue.

Eisen and Atzmon

Yesterday, I posted on Jeremy Corbyn's connections with the LaRouche movement. Today, I turn to a second allegation: that he has repeatedly endorsed a small group of Holocaust deniers who have attached themselves to the Palestine solidarity movement. At the centre of this group is an organisation called Deir Yassin Remembered, its organiser Paul Eisen, and Paul Eisen's associate Gilad Atzmon.

I mentioned Paul Eisen frequently on this blog in its early days in 2005. In 2004, he was arguing that "Jewish power" is destroying the world. Late in 2004 he began flirting with Holocaust denial. In 2005, he became a supporter of Holocaust revisionist and Hitler fan Ernst Zundel.

Deir Yassin Remembered was founded by the American Daniel McGowan, a retired professor and Holocaust denier. Also connected to DYR and Eisen is Israel Shamir, a Swedish Holocaust denier now based in Moscow. Their supporter Gilad Atzmon is a jazz musician who in 2004 told SOAS students that burning synagogues is rational and has been circulating antisemitic conspiracy theories for the last decade or more. All of these people are regularly published by fascists such as David Duke.

From 2007, here is Tony Greenstein on Eisen and DYR:
The British Director of DYR, Paul Eisen, has penned three essays - Jewish Power,The Holocaust Wars (a tribute to Nazi apologist and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel who was sentenced last week to five years in a German prison for inciting racial hatred and defaming the memory of the dead) and In Clear Sight of Yad Vashem.

The latter essay argues ...

Over the last 50 years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional Holocaust narrative. "Where is the evidence," they say, "for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?"
Eisen's views regarding Holocaust denial are quite clear. Among DYR's supporters is Gilad Atzmon, a musician whose album, Exile, won the BBC Jazz Album of the Year in 2003. In an email to me of June 6, 2005, he described Eisen's Holocaust Wars as a "great text".

Atzmon, although not himself a Holocaust denier, is certainly a believer in the world Jewish conspiracy theory. In his web article, On Anti-semitism he wrote: "We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously." After attention was drawn to this quote, Atzmon changed "Jewish people" to "Zionists" but the in the context of his argument the meaning is clearly the same.

This was why, when the Socialist Workers Party first invited Atzmon to give a talk at their Bookmarks bookshop in London in June 2005, a large picket was organised by Jews Against Zionism.
In fact, when Atzmon spoke to the SWP in 2004, many members noticed he was dodgy (Richard Seymour called him a disgraceful crank). The SWP, however, continued its association with Atzmon until 2010, due to his friendship with its secretary Martin Smith

The Corbyn link

Corbyn's connection to these people is a bit hard to disentangle. Louise Mensch puts the prosecution case in the second part of this post, building on the Daily Mail's attack. It seems that Corbyn associated with Eisen in 2005, when it was just emerging that Eisen was a Holocaust denier, and again in 2013, by which time the mainstream Palestine solidarity movement had long severed all links with him. Gilad Atzmon performed at the 2005 event organised by Eisen which Corbyn attended; again, this was at the time when it was becoming clear Atzmon was antisemitic. It seems that attending the event is the only connection between Atzmon and Corbyn.

Eisen has claimed that Corbyn stood by Eisen during the period when the Palestine solidarity movement was ostracising him, but there is no evidence of that beside his words. Charlie Pottins, who was there at the time, gives a clear account of how Eisen's toxicity became clear at this time, but questions whether Corbyn had any continued association with the man.


The first issue then is the extent to which Corbyn should have been aware of Eisen or Atzmon's racism at this time, April 2005.

My view is that he probably should have been becoming aware. The Palestine solidarity movement, Jews Against Zionism, LabourNet and others were starting to raise the issue at exactly this time. But it was only a month or two later that these criticisms were really gaining momentum and the full scale of Eisen's toxicity became clear. For example, if we look at Joel Finkel's response to Eisen's "Jewish Power", written in early 2005, he is starting to raise the problems of the metaphysical, raciological vision of Jews at the heart of Eisen's worldview, but it is only in a June 2005 postscript that he notes that Eisen has gone full fascist. This account by Mark Elf from June 2005 lays out the timeline, showing that people were noticing Eisen's racism but that the full extent of it was only becoming clear.

My verdict, then, is that Corbyn should have listened more carefully at that time to those who were raising alarm bells, but that there was not yet a strong case being made in April 2005 - so this does not constitute a serious error of judgement.

Corbyn at 2013 DYR event

I agree that Corbyn could have put more effort into weeding these kinds of people out of the Palestine solidarity movement. But Tony Greenstein reports that Corbyn supported the moves to expel DYR supporter, Francis Clarke-Lowes, from PSC at the 2012 AGM for holocaust denial. And one of Eisen's posts claiming association with Corbyn that Mensch cites is actually bemoaning Corbyn's support for John Mann's EDM implicitly criticising of Paul Flynn for being antisemitic about the British ambassador to Israel. In short, I don't think this part of the case against Corbyn is particularly strong if taken alone.

If the 2005 part of the story was all there was, then, I'd say we need to chill out. But the problem is Corbyn seems to have gone back to a Deir Yassin Remembered event in 2013 (along with Labour MP Gerald Kaufman) - see Express, Jewish Chronicle, DYR website.

That Corbyn should be associating with DYR six years after the PSC formally severed links with DYR because of Holocaust denial does not mean Corbyn is an antisemite (and noone serious is saying so). But it does seem really worrying. Just four months earlier Eisen had written a blogpost “How I became a Holocaust denier”. Corbyn should have abided by the PSC decision and kept well away from them. That he didn't says something very depressing about him - either that he doesn't believe serious anti-racists when they talk about Holocaust denial, or he doesn't care.

What about the Tories?

Jane Carnell's criticism of Mensch's take on this spends a lot of time on some of the parallel associations others have had with Holocaust deniers. She spends time in particular on Tory links with Polish right-wing politician Michal Kaminski, to which Louise Mensch has never objected and which Stephen Pollard has defended.

I wrote about this at the time, and linked to several pieces attacking the Kaminski link, including several by those who are attacking Corbyn now. Consistent opponents of antisemitism were right to raise the alarm against Kaminski; they are right to raise the alarm against Corbyn now. Just because Tories have dodgy links does not mean we should let Corbyn off the hook for his dodgy links.

Further reading: