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.