Friday, January 22, 2016

From Bob's archive: on defectors from the left

I don't have time to blog right now, but I wanted to keep the place alive so I thought I'd follow my normal habit of fetching something up from the archive to fill the space. We're up to April 2008, when George Galloway was the Respect MP in Bethnal Green and Bow and Hamas had taken control of Gaza. 

It struck me how much we've moved on in some ways: the SWP and Galloway have been in steep decline,  but with Corbyn's ascendency the far left has edged from margins to mainstream; the alliance with Islamism is a far less significant feature of the British far left; the increasingly discredited Stop the War have if anything swung towards secularism and taken up the Bush/Blair-style War on Terror narrative on the Middle East, hysterically blaming Sunni fanaticism for all the evils of the region while celebrating the allegedly secular dictator Assad. 

In other ways, it remains disturbingly relevant. While Corbyn has energised many on the further left, others on the centre- or decent left are tearing up their Labour party cards and abandoning their left-wing identity. Nick Cohen's What's Left has had a new lease of life, and Nick has taken the final step out of the left. The term "Regressive Left", to indicate the indecent Verkrappt features of the mainstream left, is trending among today's defectors. Others are holding on in, and even calling for realignment

I've edited the old post a bit here, to trim some of the more ephemeral stuff and bring out the relevance's today, and added a brand new ending. The original is intact here.

This post is a contribution to a number of inter-related debates that are currently exercising the blogetariat: David Edgar's response to David Mamet's desertion from "brain-dead liberalism", Marko Attila Hoare's claim that the defining axis in politics today is West v anti-West not left v right, and the premature announcement of the demise of the Euston Manifesto.

Here, I mainly want to write about the David Edgar essay on defectors from the left. Being something of a defector myself, I was very prepared to get irritated. However, the piece was actually quite thoughtful and interesting. However, there are four things things I wanted to take issue with.

I. Leftism ≠ Stalinism
First, and least important, Edgar appears shockingly ignorant of the existence of a "decent" anti-Stalinist left prior to 1956. He seems to think the only alternatives to celebrating the radical and progressive achievements of the 20th century (even when they come in Stalinist uniform), becoming conservative or abandoning politics. I mean, I can't expect him to be familiar with the likes of CLR James and Victor Serge, but we can expect him to have heard of Leon Trotsky and certainly George Orwell. In fact, long before the "Kronstadt moment" (he's lifted that phrase from anti-Stalinist Daniel Bell, who started out in an anarchist milieu, who famously said his Kronstadt moment was Kronstadt), there were leftists who opposed Leninist authoritarianism, such as Rosa Luxemburg and Britain's own Sylvia Pankhurst.

This might seem trivial and pedantic, but its significance is in the dangerous effect of the equation of leftism with Leninism. This is two-fold: it allows Stalinists to portray any dissident leftists (e.g. Orwell) as evil renegades for the true cause, and it allows the right to dismiss leftists in general as Stalinist nutters.

II. Islam ≠ Islamism

Weirdly, Edgar lumps defectors from Islamism (Ed Husain) along with defectors from the left (Christopher Hitchens), and he attacks the decentists attempts to "brand fundamentalist Islam as brown fascism", which he says is tantamount to "abandon[ing] an impoverished, beleaguered and demonised community" to racist assault. There's lots of problems with what he's saying here. To start with, Hitchens don't call Islamism "brown fascism"; when they talk about a "brown-green alliance" the brown stands for the classical far right and the green for Islamism. By raising the idea of "brown fascism", Edgar is highlighting the ethnic identity of Muslims rather than the political ideology of Islamism.

Entwined with this is the vexed question of Islam versus Islamism. Edgar is right to note that there is a slippage in the language of some of the defectors and decentists between the two terms: Martin Amis was a bit sweeping, Nick Cohen can be, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks all Islam is irredeemable. But most of the "defectors" are pretty clear on the difference.

And even if they weren't, it wouldn't excuse Edgar's slippage:
Cohen is careful to point out that "Islamism has Islamic roots", and, clearly, the group that he dubs the "far right" goes beyond the adherents of Jamaat-e-Islami. It's also a group that - defined in the old-fashioned way as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis - remains at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap. As Trevor Phillips pointed out in his "sleepwalking into segregation" speech, made after 7/7, a Pakistani man with identical qualifications to a white man is still going to earn £300,000 less in his lifetime.
In fact, British Asians defined as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis is an entirely different thing from either Islam or Islamism, and to claim otherwise is disingenuous. Are Saudi residents in the UK at the bottom of the heap? Are Turkish Cypriots even? Some Islamic states are amongst the richest in the world. Islamist politics is a movement more of rich Muslims than of "impoverished and beleaguered" Muslims. Defending Muslims from racism can never be an excuse for tolerating far right Islamist ideology.

III. Alliance ≠ capitulation
The third thing, which follows directly from this, is about the politics of alliance. Edgar compellingly makes the case for the left to make alliances, even unsavoury ones, with the oppressed - in this case, with the Islamist oppressed. He cites the Civil Rights movement, when white and Jewish Northern middle class leftists joined forces with Southern blacks who were led by Christians, and he cites the Black Power moment, when white radicals allied with Black Power people, despite the latter's dodgy sexual politics.

This claim, though, is problematic in three ways. First, it glosses over the tensions and critiques that went on in those historical alliances. Within the Black Power movement, for example, there were different positions: on the one side were people like Huey Newton, who were moving towards more emancipatory sexual politics, and on the other side were the likes of Eldridge Cleaver (mentioned in Edgar's article as a defector) who had very brutal sexual politics. And the white radicals who worked with the Black Power movement had different positions on this. Some, like the posturing ideologues of Ramparts magazine (such as David Horowitz, another defector), were slavishly uncritical of Cleaver and his bullshit. Others, such as Jean Genet, pushed away at the contradictions within the Black Power movement. There are many white liberals and radicals nowadays, like George Galloway and Madeleine Bunting, who decry any criticism of Islamist sexual politics as orientalist and Islamophobic; they are the David Horowitzs of today - we need more Jean Genets.

Second, Edgar's "left", here, is a white, metropolitan left. In fact, weren't Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael as authentically part of the left as the whities at Ramparts were? And similarly today there a viable mass left in the Islamic world, which cautions against alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood: forces such as the Iraq Freedom Congress or the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan - or, more recently, the Syrian democratic movement. In Britain, too, there has been a black left as long as there has been black presence, most recently represented by groups like Southall Black Sisters. It is with them that the white left should be making alliances first.

Third, there is the crucial question about which issues one makes unsavoury alliances. In the fight against racism, yes, I believe it is correct for anti-racists to work closely with the targets of racism, including those who might have unpleasant politics. However, the groups from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani populations in the UK who are actively fighting racism are not the Muslim Association of Britain, but groups like the Southall Black Sisters, the Monitoring Group, the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and the Newham Monitoring Project - groups who also caution against an alliance with Islamism. If the SWP was making close alliances with these groups, instead of with the Muslim Association of Britain, then I'd take Edgar's point more seriously.

Fighting an unjust war might also be a cause worth making alliances for too. But here, the Stop the War movement has not just made a tactical alliance with Islamists, they have allowed Islamists to set the agenda. Hence the yoking together of protest against the Iraq war with causes like the Israeli occupation, defending the Iranian regime, and solidarity with Hamas and Hezbollah. Here a naive 'anti-imperialism' has been used as an alibi for antisemitic conspiracy theories.

At any rate, forming a political party with Islamists goes way beyond mere strategic alliances. Respect and its successor Tower Hamlets First - which far leftists in TUSC still support - are not strategic alliances against racism or war, but attempts to reshape the whole political agenda.

IV. Pathologising defection ≠ fighting the good fight

The fourth thing is simple. It may be the case that there are certain pathologies of defection, which Edgar analyses very well, with a play-wright's understanding of character. But this does not necessarily make defection wrong - any more than the undeniable existence of pathologies of leftism makes leftism wrong (as people like David Horowitz would have us believe). As Tom Freeman notes,
Edgar says that he’s “interested in the politics of defection”, although he seems to be more fascinated by the psychology of defection (or rather, the psychology of changing your mind when political cliques of some sort are involved). 
The psychology of defection may be of all-consuming interest to those who have been through it or are contemplating it. But it is the politics that should concern us. Mindless loyalty to the identity of leftism is literally insane. Loyalty to the values - the values of internationalism, of solidarity and equality and humanity, of fight against inequality, discrimination and lack of opportunity - is what matters. For some, that means giving up the identity label of leftism; for others it means staying and fighting.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Pegida UK, UKIP and the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry

These are complicated and scary times. After fifteen years of murderous terrorist attacks by jihadis in the name of Islam coinciding with a period of unprecedented international migration, including the spectacle and tragedy of the current refugee crisis, the challenge of how we can live together in our communities is more and more urgent.

In this context, we should all be disturbed by the slow march toward the mainstream of the entrepreneurs of panic who stoke the fires of hatred towards Muslims. Often claiming to be merely critics of Islamism, a growing number of pundits deliberately blur the line between Islamism and Islam and the line between Islam and Muslims, often circulating falsehoods or amplifying negative anecdotes that confirm their toxic ideology. At the heart of this ideology is a paranoid vision of Islam as a supremacist religion using mass migration to destroy "Judeo-Christian" Western civilisation.

Meanwhile, as Tell MAMA document, violent incidents against Muslims are on the increase in Britain. Hammer attacks on Muslim-owned shops in Birmingham, arson attacks in Oldham, a bottling of a Muslim man in Caerphilly, a machete attack in Welsh supermarkets, and many, many other unreported incidents.

Most adherents of the counter-jihadi ideology aren't violent, and most perpetrators of hate crimes against Muslims aren't ideologically committed counter-jihadis. Most hate crime is opportunistic, spontaneous, un-premeditated. As with non-violent and violent forms of Islamism, there is no conveyor belt from the ideology to the violence. But, as Quilliam put it when talking about Islamism, the ideologues provide the "mood music" for hate crimes. They provide justifications, narratives and targets for acts of violent hate. And in turn, the anti-Muslim mood music and the rational fear generated by anti-Muslim attacks feed narratives of grievance that jihadis both feed and feed off in recruiting British Muslims. In this way, jihadis and counter-jihadis come to seem more like best friends than actual enemies.

For a few years after 2009, the boozed up street theatre of the English Defence League showed how counter-jihadi ideology can provide a shape and a focus for half-articulated bigotry, resentment and grievance.

But the EDL's reach was also limited by its association with violence. It became a toxic brand. Since 2013, its founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as "Tommy Robinson") has been trying - with a bit of help from Quilliam - to launder his brand and break out of the association with hooliganism.

Tommy's attempted rehabilitation, though, kept hitting obstacles: racist tweets, continued associations with neo-Nazis, a string of criminal convictions for everything from drugs to mortgage fraud.

At the end of 2014, events in Germany gave him a new idea. There'd been HoGeSa (Hooligans against Salafists), a short-lived EDL-inspired bunch of racist football ultras, which had the same image problems as the EDL. But then came Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident), which for a while mobilised a more mainstream crowd: "a mixed group—known figures from the National Democratic Party of Germany, soccer hooligans, but also a sizable number of ordinary citizens", including educated middle-class people. Could this provide a model for breaking out of the hooligan ghetto and reaching the mainstream?

Tommy and his pals have  made a number of failed attempts at launching a UK franchise of Pegida. Known far right activists were among its early organisers; they invited American neo-Nazis to their events; and they found it hard to recruit spokespeople who could string a sentence together.

The news this week is that Yaxley-Lennon has anointed the double act of Paul Weston and Anne-Marie Waters to relaunch his pet Pegida UK. Both posh-voiced, and her having a left-liberal feminist background, the choice might be designed to speed the rebranding of the Tommy Robinson project away from its association with street thuggery and petty crime.

We've met both Waters and Weston on this blog before. Here's Weston:
[George Whale and Paul Weston founded] a party called "Liberty GB"... in 2013. Previously, they had a party called the "British Freedom Party", a BNP splinter which they tried to make into the electoral vehicle of the proto-fascist street thugs, the English Defence League - but this didn't work well because the EDL were more interested in booze-fuelled hooliganism than standing in elections. The British Freedom Party's logo was based on that of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, which kind of sums up Whale and his merry band.... Liberty GB claim to be opposed to "Islamisation" (whatever that means) and jihad, but a quick glance at their track record and election promises - banning mosques, deporting Muslims, banning halal food - show that they can't distinguish between ordinary Muslims and jihadi Islamists. This makes them racist. They have no place in our community.
And here's Waters:
Waters’ various online links to the EDL have been documented... The Mirror filmed her and another UKIP candidate speaking at a far right rally; they describe her as spouting anti-Muslim bigotry: “a lot of people need to be deported”, she said, and “many mosques need to be closed down”.
It's significant that Waters was a UKIP candidate (in Lewisham East) in 2014 and is on the UKIP list in the GLA elections for 2015. UKIP claims to have no links with the far right, but this right here is a pretty serious link. UKIP need to answer to this.

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, such as 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.