In Syria, the massacre of civilians in Aleppo by the regime, with military support from Russia, continues. In Iraq, a million or more civilians in Mosul are being caught between the national army, supported by the US and the UK, and so-called Islamic State.
On Saturday, the Syria Solidarity Campaign in the UK organised a march in solidarity with the civilian population of Aleppo. “Assad, Russia and Iran burn Syria. The ‘democratic world’ buries the
extinguisher”, they said. As far as I can see, the so-called “left” was largely absent.
The Syria Solidarity Campaign called on the British government to “protect civilians” by enforcing a “no bomb zone”. I find it difficult to support such calls, because I fear what the warmongers in the US and UK governments – who did after all launch the murderous assault on Iraq in 2003 – would do with them.
But I have no difficulty in joining the Syrian Solidarity Campaign’s denunciation of the Russian government, which has armed the Assad regime to the teeth and been its main supporter in its war against its own people.
I feel shame and helplessness that the social movements and labour movements of Europe have done so little
in solidarity with the Syrian revolution – and part of the reason is the proto-stalinist sickness in “official” Labour and trade union circles that sees Russia as some sort of ally against a greater evil.
“In terms of solidarity, there hasn’t been much visible solidarity with Syria”, the Syrian revolutionary activist Leila al-Shami said in a recent interview. “It’s amazing that, at the moment when you’re having this massive slaughter, this constant bombardment, there aren’t people in their thousands, in their millions out on the street calling for it to stop”, she continued. […] “[Syrian people are] no longer waiting for solidarity from the outside world.”
The pathetic “leaders” of the “Stop the War” campaign in the UK are unable to bring themselves to denounce the barbarous alliance between presidents Putin of Russia and Assad of Syria. If they have EVER pointed out that the vast majority of civilians in
Syria are being killed by Russian-armed Syrian forces, and Russian forces, they have buried it under obfuscation (see “What ‘Stop the War’ says”, below).
You don’t have to be an expert on Syria (I’m not) to go to the Syria Network for Human Rights web site and count the numbers. Of the 10,821 civilian victims of war that the SNHR have been able to register in their database between 1 January and 30 September this year,
■ 5686 were killed by the Syrian government forces, including 1282 children, 975 women and 287 people who were tortured to death;
■ 2192 were killed by Russian forces;
■ 1221 were killed by ISIS and allied groups;
■ 648 were killed by the Syrian opposition and 150 by Kurdish and “self-management forces”;
■ 337 were killed by the US-led coalition; and
■ 489 died in bombings by unknown perpetrators, shootings by unidentified armed groups or drowned while trying to flee conflict zones.
The SNHR’s horrific estimate of the death toll between March 2011 and March 2016 attributes 94.66% of deaths (183,827 people) to the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian forces.
The so-called “socialists” in the “Stop the War” coalition, who will not speak about these things, bring shame to the name of socialism. Clinging on to their decades-old dogmas about “the main enemy”, “the geopolitical division of the world” and bla bla bla, they spit in the face of its humanity. They did the same when Russian-supported war flared up in Ukraine.
At least some Labour Party members are calling on Jeremy Corbyn, the most socially radical leader of the party for several generations, to speak out more clearly. But we can’t get away from the historic failure of the “left” that Syria represents.
What can we do now, in the UK? I don’t have easy answers. We can follow the many examples of people who have built solidarity with Syrians who are here, and with refugees from Syria – or Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia for that matter – who want to come here. We can keep trying to defend refugees, and all migrants, from the racist onslaught that has been intensified since the Brexit vote.
We can put anti-militarism back at the heart of our socialism. We can counter the flag-waving nationalism that so often surrounds the wearing of poppies in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday (13 November this year).
From Saturday 29 October, the Royal British Legion will sell red poppies, to remember ONLY members of the British armed forces killed in conflict. The socialist and pacifist movements have a tradition of remembering ALL victims of ALL wars by wearing the white poppy. (You can buy them here or from many radical bookshops.)
Yes, it’s only a symbol. A bit of plastic. But it’s also a means by which we socialists can explain our anti-militarism to others. (I argued the case in detail here last year.)
We can counter the jingoistic hypocrites – today denouncing Gary Lineker for treating refugees like human beings, next week no doubt praising the bloodthirsty history of the British empire – and explain to workmates and neighbours a bit about how we see the world.
Socialists are people who believe in international solidarity, and an end to the militarism fed by capitalism. The white poppy is a reminder of that. GL, 25 October 2016.
What Syrian revolutionaries and activists say
Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a leading Syrian writer (whose blog in English is here), a former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals. A vocal critic of the Assad regime, who was arrested in 1980 and spent 16 years as a prisoner of conscience. A supporter of the 2011 revolution who fled to Turkey in 2013. His wife and brother were abducted that year and are still missing. In a recent interview he said:
Weeks ago, I helped smuggle my sister-in-law and my nephew from Turkey to Greece. As a beginner, I consulted friends, met smugglers, and chose one.
I was anxious about their safety, and was relieved when they arrived in a European country, even if it was not the one they wanted to go to. The other half of my brother’s family, he and his two younger sons, are to join the first half someday. With the help of friends, we are trying to arrange things for another brother and his family to take refuge in another European country, after a mutual friend of ours, the journalist and film maker Naji Jerf, was assassinated in Turkey on 27 December 2015.
We are helping ourselves to a world that did not help to liberate us at home. Never had I contemplated the possibility of such an exodus. I did not expect that the regime would kill hundreds of thousands of people and that its chances of staying in power would grow bigger as the numbers of its victims soared. I did not expect the emergence of a monstrous creature like Da’esh [ISIS]. I did not expect that around 70 countries would be partners in bombing my country: not against the ruling criminal, but against an offshoot of his monstrosity.
[In response to a question about “the European handling of the refugee crisis”:] I am impressed by many people from many European countries, mostly individual volunteers. Their generosity, courage and humanity dignify the human race. I was touched by a message from a Norwegian woman who was in Lesbos helping refugees. As for governments, while it is not fair to include all of them in one category – Germany is not like Hungary, Sweden is not Denmark – I think they are unified in building higher walls in the face of the influx of refugees, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable ones.
For months now, European governments have been pressuring Ankara not to allow refugees to depart from Turkey. In November, they promised to pay €3 billion to the Turkish governments to guard European borders.
With all this blood that has been spilt over the past five years right under the world’s nose, humanity has led itself down the path to full ethical numbness. I suppose the indifference the world showed towards the Syrian ordeal will lead to even less sensitivity to human suffering in political institutions everywhere. Original here.
Leila al-Shami on the Tahrir-ICN site, 21 June 2016.
The main thing that opposition fighters on the ground need is heavy anti-aircraft weapons to defend communities from air force attacks, which are the main cause of civilian deaths inside Syria. The Americans have never sent in those anti-aircraft weapons and their most significant military intervention has actually been to veto other countries from sending in those weapons to FSA fighters. Some things have gone in, lighter weapons, a lot of things like night vision goggles have gone in, but that’s not what these groups need. And also with the weapons that have been going in, it sometimes seems designed to pressure Assad to the negotiating table, to create a stalemate. Some gains will be made as a consequence of that in the battle field, and then the weapon supply dries up, so there’s always this small gains being made, the weapons dry up and then of course the regime makes gains. So it seems that this stalemate is just maintained much of the time.
In terms of solidarity, there hasn’t been much visible solidarity with Syria and I think that’s hugely problematic that that is the case. I think it’s amazing that, at the moment when you’re having this massive slaughter, this constant bombardment, there aren’t people in their thousands, in their millions out on the street calling for it to stop. […] [Syrian people are] no longer waiting for solidarity from the outside world, I think those days have long gone. Original here.
Joseph Daher, Syrian-Swiss activist and academic
The majority of observers have analysed the Syrian revolutionary process solely in geopolitical terms, from above, and ignored the popular political and socio-economic dynamics at the bottom. […] Those in Syria have been fighting like people in the other countries of the region; for freedom and dignity – against the authoritarian regimes and the religious fundamentalists who are opposed to these objectives.
Between all powers, there is a near consensus around certain points: to liquidate the revolutionary popular movement initiated in March 2011, stabilize the regime in Damascus and keep at the head its dictator Bashar Al-Assad for the short-to-medium term. Their objectives are also to oppose Kurdish autonomy and try to militarily defeat jihadist groups such as Daesh (ISIS). The assistance of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have been absolutely indispensable for regime survival at all levels: political, economic and military.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are the states that want the most to see the fall of the Assad family, but not of the regime and its institutions. The monarchies of the Gulf have wanted to transform this popular revolution into a sectarian civil war because they fear a democratic Syria and a propagation of the revolution in the region that would threaten their power and interests. As a reminder, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar enjoyed good relations with the state before the uprising in 2011.
At the same time, we must denounce the role of Western states, which have never assisted the Syrian people, including when it comes to welcoming Syrian refugees. This has included preventing military equipment, such as anti-aircraft defences, from reaching the democratic opposition. The USA’s aim is to leverage an agreement between the regime (or a section of it) and the opposition linked to Western, Turkey and Gulf elites, represented by the Syrian National Coalition. This “Yemen-type solution”, their lesson from Iraq, maintains the structure of old regimes and guarantees the neoliberal and imperialist order that prevailed prior to 2011. Original here.
What “Stop the War” says
I have gone through the last six months of statements on Syria by the “Stop the War” coalition, looking in vain for any mention that the main responsibility for the assault on civilians this year is borne by the Syrian and Russian forces. If anyone’s seen one, please let me know. There are repeated calls for “all” intervening forces to withdraw and underlining the role of US, British and other forces (but not Russian ones).
When the recent ceasefire broke down, because of an attack on a Red Crescent convoy that the entire world believes was made by Syrian and/or Russian forces, the ridiculous “Stop the War” spokesman Chris Nineham wrote: “It is difficult to determine with any certainty the detail of events on the ground. One thing is for sure, the bombing of Syrian army positions around Deir ez-Zour by western coalition forces, including the US, Britain, Denmark and Australia, which led to the deaths of 60 or more Syrian soldiers, will have been a major blow to the prospects of any ceasefire holding.”
Just in case any of “Stop the War”s supporters didn’t get the message that Russia was not to be criticised, a statement issued two weeks later (6 October) said: “The ceasefire collapsed because of attacks by a variety of forces in different parts of the country including the killing of more than sixty Syrian soldiers in a bombing by the US-led coalition.” No mention of the civilians killed and tortured by the Syrian forces, or the scale of the Russian bombing operation.
■ Wear the white poppy with pride (People & Nature, September 2015)