Category Archives: Islamism

Did the Panorama programme help or hinder the battle against antisemitism?

Panorama  in its programme “Is Labour antisemitic?” on 10th July examined the Labour Party’s treatment of claims of antisemitism against its members.

Like many others on the left of the Party, I have argued for decades that antisemitism is a continuing problem that has to be addressed vigorously in the labour movement. It is clearly and most frighteningly a threat to Jewish people. But it is also a unique and perpetual threat to the labour movement and the working class. And it has been from the labour movement’s earliest years.

Lies, such as saying that Jews (or coded references to Jews such as ‘Zionists’) are some shadowy all-powerful enemy, dominating the banks and the media as well as manipulating world politics, have to be rooted out.

That has to be done as much now as  when the lies were first compiled by the Tsarist secret police in their forging of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Russian socialists had to fight vigorously against the influence of antisemites to stop the Russian revolution being corrupted. Eventually, of course, Stalin was to revive those antisemitic traditions both in Russia and internationally to silence his, frequently Jewish, communist critics.

German socialists also had to do the same against Goebbel’s propaganda for the Nazis. Tragically for Jewish people and for mankind, they were unsuccessful.

But did Panorama help in the battle against antisemitism in the Labour Party?

I don’t think it did.

Examples were given of antisemitism not being adequately addressed by the Party. For example, the hideously antisemitic image of an alien entity sucking the life out of liberty with the star of David on its back. The image was shared by a Party member with a comment that showed further her preparedness to offend Jewish people. It is difficult to understand why she was dealt with so leniently.

The delays in handling Ken Livingstone’s anti-Semitism were reported. Also highlighted were Corbyn’s poor response to the conspiracy-inspired mural and his invitation to antisemitic Islamist preachers.

But most of these have been in the public domain for many months, if not years. Disciplinary action has been taken in many cases. Apologies have been given, generally accepted and hopefully lessons learned.

There were however also worrying reports made by Jewish members that they had been told by other Party members that ‘Hitler had not gone far enough’. But the details of whether complaints were made against people making such remarks and what had happened to those complaints were not elaborated. If such complaints had been made and proven and such clear antisemites not expelled, then that would be truly scandalous.

Many of the Labour staff interviewed may have been taking genuine risks with their jobs. The threats by the Party that they would be breaching Non-Disclosure Agreements was stupid as well as counter to Labour’s policies.

There were also worrying reports on the levels of stress of Labour Party employees and its effects on their mental health. There was also reference to interventions from the Leader’s office that it was alleged gave  leeway to  those considered friendly to the Leadership. These are obviously issues of concern that need investigation.

However the Panorama programme did not provide the detailed evidence of what had happened in many of the above incidents.

That obviously doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen and no socialist genuinely wanting to root out racism can ever dismiss complaints about racism for whatever reason.

However lack of evidence in the processing of any complaint risks polarising the very people who need to be educated. Instead of promoting awareness of the nature and risks of antisemitism, many of those people would be left basing their assessments on belief or non-belief in the witnesses and trust or non-trust of an alleged transgressor. A terrible way to make a judgement on such important matters.

The Party’s response to the documentary – that those members of staff making complaints were ‘disaffected members of staff’ – only encouraged such a partisan response to the documentary. It was understandably considered by many to be victim-blaming.  The objectivity of witnesses is a part, but only a part of any fair investigation. The Party needs to rigorously address the substance of any complaint, regardless of where it comes from. That should have been made clear by the Party on the new allegations that were made.

Partisan judgements can only increase the biggest problem the Party has in dealing with its antisemitism problem – it being used as a factional football between some claiming to be on the pro-Corbyn left of the Party and others on the pro-Watson right.

Some, whom I believe to be in a small, though loud, minority on the Corbyn left, allege that there is no problem in the Party with antisemitism. Others in the Watson camp exaggerate the problem and argue that it is implicit in Labour’s current class politics against the rich. And the media rub their hands with glee as these two minorities battle it out in social media.

One of the problems with the Panorama programme was that those giving testimony were mainly from the Disputes Unit. It would be absolutely wrong for anyone to pre-judge the reliability of any of the witnesses without detailed and empathetic knowledge. However the strong political views of one of the participants in the documentary, Mike Creighton, the Director of that Unit up until 2017, are well known.

During the summer of 2016, motivated by a desire to reduce the left Labour electorate during the challenge to Corbyn’s leadership, thousands of Party members were rejected from membership or suspended. This weeding-out process was nicknamed as ‘operation ice-pick’, so named as it was aimed at ‘Trots’ not antisemites – Trotsky was killed with an ice-pick by an assassin working on Stalin’s orders.

Many of those expelled or suspended were guilty of no more than retweeting tweets from Green party members. Some of us (for I am one) were ‘auto-excluded’ just for being organised Marxists with absolutely no criticism made against us of any antisemitic or other abusive or aggressive behaviour.

After his resignation party, Creichton argued that Marxists like the AWL were equivalent to the BNP and deserving of immediate exclusion.

“…the team I leave behind to deal with the governance and legal issues of the Labour Party. And contrary to popular belief that’s not just about expelling Trots from the Labour Party – although they will continue to do that. Militant, Socialist Appeal, Alliance for Workers Liberty have no more place in the Labour Party than the BNP or the EDL.”

It was interesting that Creichton did not mention the need to combat antisemitism in his speech or comments at the time – his pride was in having kept out the ‘Trots’. Creichton’s hatred of the left is therefore quite clear. And the arbitrary way in which he ran the disciplinary process is no answer to the arbitrary way in which it may be managed now.

The argument made after the programme by Watson and Starmer – that accusations of antisemitism should be met by auto-exclusion are also worrying. Auto-exclusion from the Party does not allow the rights of a hearing. There is no right of appeal. It is an appallingly bureaucratic process that allows powerful and unaccountable people in the Party to remove those they see as troublesome critics.

Only a couple of months ago, the right wing of the Party were criticising the auto-exclusion being used against Alistair Campbell. They were right. It should not be extended – it should be junked by a process that is speedy, based on evidence and is fair.

But more than anything, we have to recognise that the biggest problem of antisemitism comes from ignorance and ideas that have been propagated for decades –  and yes, including on the wider left whose awareness of and guardedness against antisemitism have been shamefully low. That lack of awareness has led to the prevalence of arguments such as:

  • That Israel is some uniquely bad state – it has a brutal war-like government but there are also many others.
  • That Israeli Jews are objects of history but not subjects of it. That they are not entitled to consideration of the needs of their own fight for liberation.
  • That sympathy with Jews, even recognition that there is a problem of antisemitism, can only give succour to the likes of Netanyahu.
  • And beyond that a whole gamut of conspiracy theories that see Israel behind 9/11, ISIS and every other reactionary phenomenon on the planet.

Some who self-consciously propagate such ideas deserve expulsion – but any expulsion has to be justified through a proper, accountable process. This is even more important in the factionally-ridden party that Labour currently is.

However there are other arguments that underpin the above antisemitism that also have to be addressed. On left and right people have been herded into ‘camps’. Within each camp people are expected to be uncritical or to self-censor their criticisms. Such politics dominated 2000’s politics in largest UK movement of the time – the anti-Iraq war movement, Stop the War Coalition (StWC). In those years  left wingers were told by StWC organisers that they should not condemn Jihadists, criticise Islamists or the Saddam or Iranian regimes, or StWC’s alliance with some unpleasant Islamists like the Muslim Association of Britain, whose spokesperson Azzam Tamimi was shown in the documentary. If you did criticise them you were told to be quiet because you were ‘playing Bushes game’.

On the right of the Party meanwhile things were no better. New Labour had dropped any pretence of an ethical foreign policy. Criticisms of regimes like that in Saudi Arabia were invisible during Blair’s dominance of the Labour Party when it came to defending the camp of the interests of big business and the arms industry.

Such ideas are therefore widespread – even amongst decent people on the left who genuinely abhor racism and what they understand as antisemitism. Corbyn was one of those people. Many are now learning the necessity of combatting reactionary opinion wherever it comes from. That is good and to be welcomed. We might regret the naivety and stupidity of Corbyn in the past just as with many others. But the key thing to fight for is an end to the gross political naivety that gives room to antisemitism as well as other reactionary ideas.  If we critically examine the record of Labour, both left and right before 2015, there are few who have an unblemished record.

More has to be done, much more, in consistently following through on Labour’s championing of women’s right, LGBT rights, international solidarity with all people fighting fear and oppression. These are principles that Labour should advocate in all circumstances.

But such consistency has to be fought for – amongst the whole labour movement. It has to be promoted openly through debate and education. Panorama despite some informed comments about the problem of antisemitism by Dave Rich and Alan Johnson did not help with that battle.

Assad and Erdogan’s new alliance?

It looks as though there are some startling shifts in alliances in the Syrian civil war. Although for quite some time it has been less a Syrian civil war and more a proxy war between super-powers and tyrannical regimes in the region.

What is the relationship now between Turkey and the US?

Erdogan continues to strut arrogantly around – bolstered by his overcoming of the coup against him. Russia and the Syrian dictator, Assad, rub their hands with glee as Erdogan approaches them independently of the US for mutual favours. The US desperately seems to be playing catch-up, as the militias and the forces they finance and logistically support are turned by Turkey on each other.

The US were long reported to have been angry about Erdogan’s failure to act against ISIS. After all a successful war against ISIS, necessary for the US’s public credibility, is costing them a lot of money with no seeming end in sight.

Many of the leading figures in the recent attempted military coup in Turkey were known to be pressuring Erdogan to act and send troops against ISIS. Whether was this for anti-Islamist reasons or those of Turkish military pride – or both – is not clear to me.

After the failed coup, Erdogan accused the US of helping the attempted military coup against him. He then made approaches to Russia and for the first time argued that Assad need not go as a precondition for peace.

It is clear that more significant negotiations are also going on between Russian/ Assad/ Erdogan about common interests: a key one of these, at least to Assad and Erdogan, would be their common opposition to any Kurdish autonomy.

US Vice President Joe Biden following the coup rushed to Turkey in order to be seen to be repairing relationships with Erdogan. He stood alongside Erdogan demanding that the SDF/YPG leave the area west of the Euphrates, around Manbij, which the US only a few weeks before had helped the YPG take after a fierce siege.

Finally, Turkey sends troops into Syria with clear agreement from Assad. It is difficult to believe that this wasn’t done without NATO and US knowledge. Nevertheless, the US acts as if it has been publicly offended by this act.

After all, the Turkish action ended up with two of the US’s allies fighting against each other, the comparatively new Jaysh al Tahrir (acting with Turkey) and the US’s longer term ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Whatever else these events prove, one thing is clear. Turkey is not just a US pawn, an argument unfortunately too common on some sections of the left about Turkey and other Middle Eastern sub-imperialist countries. It simply isn’t true, Turkey is currently calling the shots here.

Intrique and double-dealing

It is difficult to predict what is going on between the US and Turkey. The cynical double-dealing of all the main players, Russia, US, Assad, is probably at its height at the moment. Some even think that the CIA both helped set up the military coup and leaked it to Erdogan and that they wanted a failed coup in order to help him.

I find that hard to believe. But not because of the implied gross duplicity of the US secret services – that I can believe. I just cannot believe the US would want Erdogan’s increased popularity amongst his Turkish supporters. A popularity that now gives him greater independence from them and able to pursue new relationship with Putin or Assad.

Is partition on the cards?

Some argue that what we are seeing is a move towards a partition of Syria between a Kurdish-dominated area, a Turkey-dominated area and a reduced territory under Assad. If that were to happen, how long could such a partition last or would it be just a short breathing space before another conflict?

About turns are not easy or predictable

The Syrian rebellion is probably close to defeat – symbolised by the fall of Daraya and the imminent collapse in Aleppo. The military coup in Turkey was put down. Each of these events have given their victors, Assad and Erdogan, the confidence to forge a new alliance with Russia’s help. Together with Putin, they see an opportunity to form a new alliance.

But abrupt reversals, especially in the exceptionally cynical alliances that exist within Syria, can cause huge problems. Subordinate elements do not do as they are told!

In defiance of the US’s instructions the YPG have stated that they will not move across to the east of the Euphrates river. If they did so, they would be sacrificing the bridgehead to the Kurdish canton of Afrin and to other potentially besieged Kurdish communities in Aleppo.
Erdogan will not leave a Kurdish dominated area alone even if the US told him to.

  1. They have long had imperialist ambitions of occupying sections of oil-rich northern Syria including the areas west of the Euphrates.
  2. They are conducting a vicious war on their own Kurdish community to destroy any hopes of autonomy, why would they tolerate an autonomous are Kurdish area in Syria?
  3. And even though they eventually dropped their opposition to a Kurdish autonomous area in Iraq, Rojava is not the KRG and the PYD is not the KPD.

Assad bombs YPG held Haska

Assad bombs YPG held Haska

What is now the relation between Assad and the YPG? The YPG have long denied that they have had any formal alliance with Assad. They have claimed they were exploiting his weakness whilst concentrating on fighting ISIS. Their opponents amongst the Syrian rebels frequently define them as being in ‘collaboration’ with Assad. Whatever the relationship may have been in the past, now it is certainly no longer either of those in the wake of the the assault and bombings of Hasaka by Assad’s forces.

Assad’s forces have been in Hasaka but he still feels comparatively confident – at least in comparison with where he has been in the past. The bloody bombardment of his people elsewhere in Syria has to some degree worked – they have been starved and mass-murdered into submission. Some undoubtedly will not surrender but continue to fight on.
So as part of the deal there may be further migration of both the militias and populations that opposed him into areas not under his control – perhaps into the Turkish dominated area of a partitioned Syria.

Where does ISIS stand?

ISIS are clearly in retreat in both Iraq and Syria. Primarily in Syria through the actions of the SDF/ YPG.

Now that ISIS are weak and after the Turkish government allowed them freedom of movement across the border for years, it now uses them as their public justification for military action in Syria.

But the primary intention of Erdogan remains to drive the anti-Islamist Syrian Democratic Forces back as far as he can.

Where have the all the Saudis gone?

The Saudi regime appears to have been sidelined considerably as a big player in Syria. Even more so has the mini-state of Qatar – an earlier major financier of jihadists in Syria.

It was only 9 months ago that Saudi Arabia was given the prestigious role by the UN of diplomatically unifying the anti-Assad opposition during the Geneva peace talks. However, you hear nothing now of the so-called ‘Riyadh opposition’.

A proper analysis of their marginalization in Syria requires more analysis and facts than I currently have access to. But it appears that despite the huge supply of Saudi-financed arms and the influx into Syria of many thousands of volunteer Saudi Wahhabi fighters – they have, as in Afghanistan, proved to have been more of a liability to the Syrian opposition than a benefit.

Suicidal activists and Islamist fanaticism did, and in places may still do, provide a fearsome edge for those fighting back against Assad. But the Islamists’ political objectives inevitably are anathema to many of those who believe they are still fighting against Assad for freedom.

Whenever the Islamists started to become dominant and started to shape society, the repellent undemocratic nature of their ideology was seen.

A brutal quasi-state like the Islamic State can be built in a closed territory where there is absolute and brutal control and where dissent is ruthlessly repressed as has existed in Saudi Arabia for decades.

But an authoritarian Islamist regime can’t be built in one suburb or small town where there may be competing ideologies and leaders, capable of undermining them, a short distance away.
There are other major Islamist outfits in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, Jaish al-Islam or Jabhat Fatah al Sham (formerly Al Nusra). They however were restrained not only by their financial and logistic dependence by their overseas Wahhabist sponsors, they have never had that degree of total control over a territory.

On occasion Nusra has attempted to enforce its will but it has led to civil and military conflict between them and more popular forces – as in Idlib province last March when there were both street demonstrations in support of the Free Syrian Army’s 13th Division when Nusra moved against them.

Is long-term Turkish domination of part of Syria possible?

After cynically supporting chaos in Syria Erdogan now wants to exercise more direct domination through occupation and greater control over Turkey’s 800 miles border with Syria.

His target with both is likely to be not only ISIS but all militias he doesn’t control: those under the influence of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism but above all and, of course, the Kurds.

Turkey wants even greater control of who gets arms and fighters and thereby gains political control and they are now doing so through direct occupation and where they feel unable to occupy a greater control of the border.

A 40 mile wall has been built from Öncüpınar to Çobanbey and that has reduced the flow of fighters to ISIS and other militias Turkey disapproves of. Allegedly 2,000 fighters came through this border before the wall – this has been reduced by up to 90%! And the wall is being extended to reduce this more. See Hurriyet Daily news

A strengthening of Erdogan and Assad’s control will not bring peace

Both the US and Russia may think a stalemate and a partition may be worth working together towards.

Hopes for a temporary peace through partition may also be welcomed by others, particularly after the mass slaughter that has been seen, primarily by Assad of his own people.

If the YPG are also allowed to finish their job against ISIS in eastern Syria, Obama may be able to go into retirement claiming a job done, at least in part. However, the US have little control over Erdogan who may continue his attacks there on the YPG.

There are still huge obstacles to a Turkish/ Syrian enforced partition. Their common enemy, the YPG/SDF, will not be easily removed from western Syria even with US acquiescence. Why should the YPG/ SDF ally with the US in the east if they are stabbed in the back in the west?

The Syrian anti-Assad opposition have not yet been defeated in Aleppo despite a phenomenal assault.

But the gulf between the Kurdish secular militias and the Syrian rebels remains as high as ever. The Arab allies of the YPG in the SDF are not that extensive and may be more a military one than having a shared vision of any multi-ethnic, secular Syria.

The hope for long-term peace and democracy in Syria needs a coming together of those that reject both religious and ethnic sectarianism. The PYD, at least in theory, with their calls for a secular and democratic confederation provided some possibilities of progress to that.

But civil wars are not easy places for political debate.

When barrel bombs and heavy artillery are slaughtering everyone around you, people fight back together regardless of ideology – there is a basic defensive communalism and an understandable astonishment that the world or neighbouring communities do not lift a hand to defend you.

When ISIS are selling women into sex slavery and beheading whoever they like, it is difficult for secular fighters (Kurdish or Arab) to trust those who want Sharia Law, no matter how different from ISIS’s variant.

There has undoubtedly been examples of democratic self-administration in areas freed of Assad’s terror and still inspired by the secular 2011 aims of Syria’s Arab Spring. Some people have argued those community organisations in Free Syria have effectively countered the sectarian agenda of some of the militias operating there. On occasion there have been civil and military conflict with them – as in Maarat-Al-Numanin Idlib province last March when there were both street demonstrations in support of the Free Syrian Army’s 13th Division.

But the anarchy, in both good and bad senses of the word, will not be allowed by either Assad or Erdogan. They will control and will attack democratic formations in any territory they dominate.

Those opposing the tyranny of them both and supporting democracy, both Kurds and Syrian, will need to find a way of uniting against them.

An early experience with Islamists in education shortly after 9/11

I have never told this story publicly before – I am slightly ashamed of that. It is about events only a month or so after the 9/11 attack – the invasion of Afghanistan was planned but had not started.

I haven’t told the story partly because I didn’t want to make a union colleague vulnerable to a repeat of a physical threat that had been made to her – but time has passed and there is now no risk of that.

I am a bit ashamed because the other part of the reason I haven’t told it, is because I didn’t want to be give further ammunition to those who had started to call me an ‘Islamophobe’ – a term that was only starting to get widespread political usage.

At that time I was teaching and a union officer at an FE college. A colleague of mine, also a union member, was tutoring an activity where students had to simulate setting up their own business in a communication/ IT exercise. She was dark-haired and had a first name that might be interpreted as Jewish – although she wasn’t.

Two of the students who were being taught by her – decided they would call their business ‘The Taliban’ in this exercise. She advised them that in the circumstances of the time that may not be a good idea. They made a complaint against her that she was racist – she was actually a vehement and sensitive anti-racist. I was asked by her to defend her against this student complaint.

In the course of them making their complaint they revealed that they thought she was Jewish.

Although I never met those students face-to-face I met one of their advisers – who shared with me his belief that Israel (or as it was put ‘the Jews’) may well have been behind the 9/11 attack. This was an argument that was unfortunately already starting to gain currency amongst conspiracy theorists and apologists for Bin Laden.

The complaint that my colleague was a racist was easily rebutted. But this was not to the satisfaction of these students and some of their supporters. One of their supporters, who was older than them, came in to see the manager assigned the responsibility to investigate the charge of racism on my member. He told him that ‘there is only one way to deal with this woman’- my union member – he pulled his finger across his neck – indicating if not beheading at least execution. Meanwhile the 2 students were going round asking various teaching and admin personnel for the address of my alleged racist ‘Jewish’ member.

Because of the death threat the manager had alerted the police – her colleagues and I were already aware that the students were trying to track down her home address. She was a strong and brave woman by nature but she lived alone. It all felt quite crazy but a little terrifying – particularly for her. We couldn’t risk that there might be an attack on her in these circumstances. Her workmates – our union members – sorted out her staying with another union member and colleague until we could be sure she was safe.

To be honest though, in a matter of days we were soon laughing it off – these were mouthy and, to all accounts, not very bright students. I know though that they were certainly ‘connected’. In retrospect I would guess they were being ‘groomed’.  I hope they extricated themselves from whatever network they were involved in – they were probably no older than 18 at the time – people of that age can think and say stupid things and grow out of it.

I tell this story now,  but as I said have not told it before, because to argue that forces like these political Islamists were a threat would have been seen to be ‘Islamophobic’ by the SWP-dominated left. To tell this story would undoubtedly been called a ‘scare story to whip up anti-Muslim feelings’. Indeed if I had raised it then, as now, great care needs to have been taken to distinguish between the wider Muslim community and this far smaller group of anti-Jewish racists.

But simplistic and blanket accusations of Islamophobia have blighted the left from that time.

I and my AWL friends had started to be called ‘Islamophobic’ only days after the 9/11 attacks. Despite having been the first ones leafleting my town, Nottingham, along with Iranian and Iraqi comrades against the US’s war plans on Afghanistan . This was just 4 days after the attack on the World Trades Centre. Fury at the WTC attack was at its highest. Our leaflet called for opposition to any retaliatory war by the US, no matter how condemnable and horrific the attack on the WTC was.

Two weeks after 9/11 I had booked the room and called the first meeting of what was later become a branch of the Stop the War (STW) campaign. I had a bitter argument at that meeting with the SWP who came in force and who argued that we shouldn’t condemn the 9/11 attack – their proposal was that we should call it ‘very, very bad’ – but ‘condemn’ was too harsh a word apparently. Despite my profound concerns about the STW campaign I continued to work in against the wars on both Afghanistan and Iraq for at least 3 years.

The SWP was by far the largest group on the left at the time. It set up the Stop The War movement nationally and made an alliance with an organisation in the UK  known as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). This was the sister group of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – a group described by the SWP’s founder, Tony Cliff, some decades before as ‘clerical fascists’.

The SWP were fiercely defensive of their alliance with MAB – those of us who criticised it were accused of being ‘anti-Muslim’ or, as the term was starting to be used, ‘Islamophobic’.

From then up until now any political categorisation of Al Qaeda (or ISIS)  is avoided by the SWP and the Stop the War movement. As the current controversy with CAGE shows their alliance requires them to avoid making clear condemnation of ISIS and Al Qaeda instead they attempt to shift the argument into yet another condemnation on the US and UK that is largely irrelevant.

At the time of the incident, before 7/7 and before the swelling ranks of foreign fighters in the ranks of ISIS, I glimpsed a network that was encouraging ‘kids’ to make preposterous claims and threats against supposed ‘Jewish’ workers. Today they are probably encouraging them to fight for Jihad in Iraq and Syria.

Those political organisations (Islamist, Jihadist whatever term is used to describe them) are the problem. They are trying and have been successful in maiming the minds of too many Muslim youth. They encourage murder of people, mostly Muslim, in Iraq and Syria. No-one should make excuses for them. No-one should be allowed to shift the argument away from the need to combat them onto the undoubted crimes of the US at Guantanamo or racist harassment by British security services.

This doesn’t mean making excuses for racist activities by either the police or racist arguments of certain political organisations. It means arguing against a fascistic ideology, and not shirking from that because that fascist organisation calls itself ‘Muslim’.

I remember a short argument with one of the advisers of the students making complaints against my ‘Jewish’ union colleague – he argued that there was a ‘war on Muslims’ – he was referring to Bosnia and Kosova – this was before the war on Afghanistan although that was being prepared. The argument that the wars in Bosnia, Kosova or in Afghanistan were ‘wars on Muslims’ is what probably motivated and justified to those students their intimidation of my supposed Jewish colleague.

But we should not take sides according to which religion, race or nationality we are. We should defend all Muslim, Jewish, Christian and atheist people from violence and intimidation. Any organisation organising such intimidation should be politically rooted out – by us – the people not the security services. If we had done that better – there might be less British kids recruited to IS/ISIS.

Mass Demonstration in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in response to sectarian massacre


Picture from @SabirAbuMaryam

30,000 are reported to have demonstrated yesterday in Saudi Arabia after the massacre of at least 7 Shia at a religious festival on Monday night. The Saudi police claim the massacre was the work of Al Qaida rather than ISIS. Shia make up 15% of the Saudi population. Prominent Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr is about to be executed after being tried after a confrontation with security forces. Nimr has been calling for democratic rights in Saudi Arabia and has a considerable following.
The radicalism in the Shia community in Saudi is neither religiously sectarian nor pro-Iran, at the moment. From the slogans reported in the funeral/ demonstration yesterday they fear both a sectarian degeneration of the conflict and being driven out of Saudi.
Very little coverage from the media yet. But as the conflict intensifies they won’t be able to maintain their silence on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia much longer.

My speech made at Kobane solidarity protest today

What can we do to support Kobane? What can we do to stop ISIS? 10590553_10152790809121228_1497909991869584864_n

In many debates people are saying that nothing can be done. They tell you that “the US won’t do anything good – they will just work with Turkey.”

They will tell you that the US and UK have a disastrous history of intervention that has only caused problems for democratic people in Iraq, Syria and Turkey – which is true

They will say just don’t get involved. They will say, we should call for “Hands Off”. They say “Hands Off Iraq”, “Hands Off Syria”.

They may even tell you that there are no people who can be trusted with having arms to fight off the evil of ISIS.

We the supporters of the Kurdish defenders of Kobane cannot accept any of this.

We should demand that that we put out our hands out to support Kobane.

We should say that there are democrats in Kurdistan in particular who are fighting and need to be supported.

We should look for and make alliances elsewhere in the region – wherever we can find democrats like the forces in Kobane and Rojava.

We should support those agitating in Turkey for support for the Kurdish defenders of Kobane.

In the UK and US we should question and challenge the refusal of our governments to condemn Turkish complicity with the siege of Kobane.

ISIS is an organization of terror

It has benefited from the chaos created by the invasion and occupation by the US and UK. During that occupation some concessions were made to the Kurdish people in the Kurdish Regional government. But the Iraq occupation allowed Maliki to foster Shia extremism. The occupation in Iraq never sought to help democrats and trade unions in Iraq.

When the Arab Spring started in 2011, in Syria and elsewhere it did nothing but look for a strong leader it could support and ‘buy off’. And when it didn’t find one – it did nothing. The US (and the UK) allowed the fledging democratic revolt against Assad to face repression without offering support.

And when the economic allies of the US and UK – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – started to flood the Syrian civil war with weapons and Islamist fighters – Western governments said nothing and did even less.

IS has not fallen from the sky – it does not live without money, without an ideology, without supply routes and without arms.

IS has been created by the territorial ambitions of wealthy oil billionaires in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere – it survives through alliances with powerful forces in Turkey.

IS did not come from nowhere

  • it has a variant of the barbaric ideology of the Saudi regime where over 20 beheadings took place in August
  • it is driven by the territorial and economic greed of parts of the Saudi ruling class and other ruling classes such as Qatar.

Without Saudi and Qatari money – ISIS would not exist. Without Saudi Arabia‘s version of Sharia – ISIS would have no ideology. In Saudi Arabia, they have a model for the regime they intend to build – a regime of terror and a brutal interpretation of Sharia

After the chemical attack in Damascus a year ago – the House of Commons debated bombing Assad’s forces – but there was no proposal to back democrats in Syria or in Rojava – Western Kurdistan.

Bombs alone will not defeat ISIS, just as they won’t defeat Assad. An armed democratic people will – but that was not even considered by the British parliament.

Russia on the other hand have backed Assad and his brutal oppression in Syria.

The powerful armies and economies of both East and West did little or nothing to support democracy against the tyrannical forces in Syria – either those of IS or Assad

They did little or nothing whilst Maliki in Iraq promoted the Shi’a – Sunni divisions in Iraq.

We must demand that changes. We must demand that only democrats are supported throughout the region.

But if we are to do that then we must know that it is not in the nature of either the US or UK government to do that.

If the US government are now bombing IS in order to relieve Kobane then that is a result of international pressure. Without that pressure they would be doing as Turkey are doing – nothing.

The US is an imperialist power – the interests that determine their policy are the billionaires who profit from their relationship with Saudi Arabia and most of the other oil states. But the US also claims it is democratic and is susceptible through its people to the anger of its own people.

If the siege of Kobane had only lasted a week-end and a massacre followed then they could have pretended ignorance, lack of knowledge and surprise. Erdogan would have cried ‘crocodile tears’.

But after the heroic defence of Kobane by the YPG and YPJ – no-one can claim surprise at what is happening.

Questions are already being asked in the US.

UN special envoy to the region Staffan de Mistura has demanded that Kurdish fighters are let through the Turkish/ Syrian border and that the Kurds be armed.

He has warned that if that doesn’t happen then there will be a massacre. If that happens – the US will be subjected to serious questions from democrats amongst its people. They can and should face shame and more.

If you want to know why it took over 20 days for the US to give any air support to the siege of Kobane – that is your answer. Because they thought they could get away with it – but realize now that they can’t.

We need to continue that pressure – as democrats, as workers, as internationalists. Together from all countries, of all nationalities, form Kurdish democrats and workers, from British workers and democrats, from every ethnic minority, we should say to the US and UK governments:

  1. Give arms to those who can be trusted to fight against the barbarism of IS and for democracy.
  2. Do as the democratic Kurdish fighters in Rojava want, in terms of military support – AND … ONLY do as they ask you!
  3. End any military alliance or support to Erdogan in Turkey who watches and does nothing as Kobane burns – and even welcomes Kobane burning

And we must remember that only our vigilance, our work – the work and solidarity of democrats throughout the world can ensure that Kobane is supported and IS defeated.
Victory to the Kurdish fighters – destroy the tyranny of ISIS – Free Kobane

Speech at Nottingham meeting to establish Solidarity with Kurdish people

Or rather the speech, I planned to say but zig-zagged around


995091_901096439917926_4540285457393924213_nWhat do we say about the crisis in Iraq, particularly the people and the areas now facing the brutality of ISIS.

Too many people in the UK look at the situation with just the eyes of “opponents of the UK or US governments”. That is what they know, that is what they say too much to themselves – ‘the only thing I care about is that I am seen to be the enemy of this government’.

I am an opponent of both of the UK and US governments as much as I can be. But we have to learn and understand – we need to look at the horror of the people now being besieged by ISIS – the Kurds, the Yazidis. We need to look at that horror through the eyes of the Kurds, along with the Iraqis and the Syrians who also face it.

Any answers, any proposals, any action that is considered – should be considered first and foremost – by  what will this do for the immediate and long-term interest of these people?

This shouldn’t be primarily viewed as an opportunity to embarrass or give a ‘bloody nose’ to the US government, the UK government, the Russian government, even Assad of Syria or either Iraq’s present ruler or the previous government of Maliki.

We obviously need to understand where we are – and what the Kurdish people face. Where did ISIS come from? How did it come about?

But in doing so, our anger at the brutality, the irresponsibility of these powers should not blind us to honest attempt to get support for those fighting against ISIS.

Our anger – our desire to see an accounting for historical crimes is secondary – what is primary is the immediate and legitimate needs of the Kurds, the Yazidis, the people of Iraq and Syria.

But how did we get here?

The US and UK bear considerable responsibility for the propping up of Saddam Hussein before they fell out with him. They bear responsibility for the war that brought Saddam down. They bear responsibility for the subsequent occupation in which Iraq was plunged into chaos.

Rather than promote secularism and democratic forces, the US and UK at one moment beat down, at another time bargain, with the Shi-ite sectarian forces of Mohammad al-Sadr. Maliki continued the endorsement of Shi-ite sectarianism.

Why did the US and UK not bring democracy to Iraq? Why did they not support the democratic forces in Iraq, Syria, in Kurdistan?

Why? Because they doubt that democrats in the area will bend sufficiently to their interests. Indeed, and we need to be aware of this, the US, UK, Russia, fear democracy – they fear what the people of Iraq, of Syria, the south-east of Turkey, which is Kurdistan, will demand.

But there are also Arab and reactionary Islamist forces who fear democracy even more. Saudi Arabia and Qatar bear direct responsibility for promoting the forces that later coalesced in ISIS.

The loathsome and murderous ideology of ISIS did not come from the sky. It came from powerful fantastically oil-rich capitalists in those countries. Their Islamism was never countered by the Western powers. For decades it proved useful to them.

The Saudi regime funded thousands of mosques – but it never funded any democracy organisations where other debates, impossible in a mosque could be conducted.

And what democrats needed throughout the Muslim world, where people are generally very poor indeed, was material support in building:

  • trade unions that would fight against poverty pay,
  • political parties that could fight for schools, universities, hospitals, clinics that could provide equal education and health treatment.

…democratic working class political parties that could end the economic exploitation of their people and their country by imperialist companies.

Saudi financed limited education and health for the poor throughout the Muslim world in Egypt, Pakistan. But it was an education tainted by instruction in Wahabbi reactionary ideas – dispensing with democracy, preaching the oppression of women and promoting religious sectarianism.

We have to face up to the fact that there is no powerful country, no state, no government on earth that can be trusted absolutely.

The US, UK, Russia, the Arab states, Turkey – the governments of all these states cannot be trusted. But they can’t be ignored – they have to be dealt with. Some of them have to be talked to and deals made with by the Kurdish movement. But we have to avoid the mistakes that the Kurdish political parties have made in my view frequently, and perpetuated divisions amongst the Kurdish people.

If you have to make a deal with a foreign power, you don’t lose sight of the objective of fighting for a wide democracy for any movement for liberation –

  1. always telling the truth to your own people –
  2. having no secret deals –
  3. rejecting personal bribes which every government promotes through their foreign policy –
  4. not using financial or military support for either religious or politically sectarian advantage.

All the time we must support those trying to get to create popular democratic civil and workplace organisations.

No imperialist government – and all the leading governments we face in this capitalist world are imperialist and exploitative – no imperialist government wants democracy in the countries in which they intervene. They want a ‘strong man’ and it is usually a man – or ‘strong men’ who can be bought off, manipulated, corrupted – bent to their interest.

They may be compelled by the expectations of their people – on behalf of whom they are supposed to govern – they may be compelled to aid the Kurdish people. If that happens – AND if we are satisfied that this is what the Kurdish people need – then that is good. But we should always urge the Kurdish people to take care.

So if we can’t trust any government does this mean that the besieged Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian people have no friends? Not at all.

We have to look to the people of the world, not the governments – working class people organised in trade unions, in community organisations and within political parties.

So what should we say to them? What should we call for?

First of all – it should be talk to us! Talk to the Kurdish people! To the exiles about their experiences, the persecution of Kurdish people,

The Kurdish people are hugely written out of history. At least the history that society as well as many politicians acknowledge. For the history of how the Kurdish people is terrible – too terrible for many to acknowledge.
The treatment of Kurdish refugees to this country in particular has been appalling.
The borders that have kept Kurdish people over here apart from British working class people need to be broken down so that we can live up to our duty of giving solidarity

Secondly, we need to campaign and demand military aid for those defending themselves from the genocidal Islamist force of ISIS.

Whilst I have my reservations about the PKK, they are not those of the US govt. They were designated a terrorist organization by the US mainly because of the interests of their partner, the Turkish government. But it was the Turkish government that has been brutally oppressive to the Kurds and keeps their leader in jail – it is they that have caused terror.

Undoubtedly, the PKK have a prominent military role, particularly their women fighters, in beating back the murderously sexist ISIS. But there are undoubtedly other democratic forces that deserve military assistance – we need to find out who they are and how we can support them.

Thirdly, we need to encourage a plan to ensure that the issue of Kurdish national liberation is answered. My personal view is that there should be free, independent and democratic Kurdistan. There are understandable concerns that if the Kurds put a ring of steel around themselves – a border that protects them – that that might allow a sectarian breakdown of the remainder of Iraq between sectarian Sunni and Shi’ite forces.

There are concerns that hostility between the various national Kurdish parties may stop a genuine democracy forming in Kurdistan.

But these are conditions that, in my view, should NOT override the right of the Kurdish people to national independence and democracy.

That is not to say that I am not concerned about either of these 2 factors. But I believe we need to answer concerns about what happens in the rest of Iraq by calling for international working class action independent of the governments (of West and East) which simply cannot be trusted with that task.

The battle for democratic rights for all Kurdish people in Kurdistan is one essentially of the Kurdish people.

That does not mean that we should sit on the sidelines in such a struggle. If any party oppresses another we should, like all internationalist-minded people around the world, speak out – against any infringement of democracy anywhere in the world. Speaking out against any attacks on democracy and the rights of free speech and freedom to organise.

On the matter of a possible sectarian disintegration of Iraq.

We need to support the democratic forces within Iraq – we should oppose supporting military forces that resist ISIS because they are anti-Sunni. We should support those that fight ISIS because they are anti-democratic and reactionary clerical fascists.

There is an ongoing risk of a bloody civil war across the Middle East between Shi’ite forces promoted by Iran and Sunni forces promoted by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

That could be of frightening ferocity and brutality. You only have to look at the Iraq-Iran war of the late 80s, a war fought to a significant degree on Kurdish territory to see what would be possible in such a war.

But all of these details about:

  1. what we should argue that the US/ UK governments should or should not do in the light of ISIS’s offensive
  2. what solution we should argue for regarding the rights of the Kurdish people to national self-determination

All of these have to be answered in close, deep and fraternal with our Kurdish comrades as well as our Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish ones.

If this meeting can do something to develop that relationship between the democratic and working class movement in Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria on one hand and on the other hand the UK – that can only be good.

ISIS has shamefully prospered from those criminally mis-educated by fanatical Islamism in this country. Some of the originally naïve British kids were shaped into brutal murderers by Islamists both over here as well as Iraq.

In honesty we should have done more to counter the argument that the war on Afghanistan or Iraq was a war against Muslims. Those wars were as much the wars of reactionary Islamists as they were the wars of the imperialist US/UK governments.

But I understand that there have also been many British Kurds going to fight with their people in Kurdistan against ISIS, their positive contribution should be acknowledged. We need to make sure they in no way suffer in this country or have rights taken away.

We need to campaign not only in their defence but in the defence of all those fighting for democracy in Kurdistan and Iraq.

We need to talk, debate and organise, again and again until ISIS is defeated and democracy becomes possible in the region.

Are Hamas preparing a new wave of suicide bombings in response to Gaza atrocities?

There was a report yesterday from Gershon Baskin that Hamas were ready to send 3,000 suicide bombers into Israel and they had said goodbye to their families.
His report was predictably picked up by some of the right-wing Israeli press to justify the present onslaught on Gaza. Although this was clearly not Baskin’s intent with this report. He had been earlier involved as an intermediary during negotiations with Hamas and then exposed the Israeli government for sabotaging those negotiations by assassinating the senior Hamas official he was negotiating with!
So what do we make of this report? Baskin obviously hoped it would pressurise the Israeli government to back off from their assault on Gaza. He has frequently spoken against it as well as the occupation generally. Although he is someone who, given Hamas’s unwillingness to negotiate, is trying to get a reasonable peace treaty between Arab states and Israel – which I believe Netanyahu will never accept. But is his report true, likely or even possible?
It would be a terrifying prospect if it were true or possible. Not only because of the human carnage and suffering that would be caused. But also because a string of successful suicide bombings across Israel would provide the Israeli govt with an excuse for the assault on Gaza. It could even cause a wider war, with even greater ferocity, on Palestinians.
Is it possible? Well Hamas’s rocket stocks are undoubtedly getting depleted and the possibility of using the tunnels for military purposes are diminishing. But with the slaughter going on in Gaza, there are undoubtedly thousands of young Gazans further traumatised by the carnage and wanting to avenge the deaths of their family. One would hope that they would understand that Hamas has given the Israeli govt the pretext for its invasion, bombardment and blockade – that Hamas’s racism towards Israelis should be dispensed with and an alternative route pursued. One could hope – but how likely is that in Gaza where the possibilities of debate and discussion are so reduced by war.
So, yes I believe it would be possible. But it is the logic of Israel’s war on Gaza as well as Hamas’s war on Israel.
That is why we have to oppose both wars – and unilaterally on each side we should call for the end of offensive action.
If Israel can be made to stop, at least there would be some time to allow Gazans to persuade and pull back anyone mobilised by Hamas for a new wave of suicide bombings.
Is it likely to happen? In reality the vast majority of those bombers would not get through given the extent of Israeli security nowadays. But even the posture and any declaration of a revival of the suicide bombing strategy by Hamas would give the Israeli govt the excuse for even greater persecution of Palestinian and Israeli Arabs.
Nothing can be gained for long term peace and justice, on either side, by this bloody war on Gazan civilians nor even the posturing, never mind the reality, of a further war by Hamas on Israeli civilians.