There’s No Hypocrisy in our Stance on Syria

Stop the War’s main target is Britain and its support for oppression overseas
(A debate in the British antiwar movement)

By Lindsey German

In other circumstances, it might be flattering that Jonathan Freedland sets such great store by the capacity of the Stop the War Coalition to mobilize its members. But he misrepresents nearly everything to do with our policy (“We condemn Israel. So why the silence on Syria?” October 20.)

He criticizes double standards among antiwar campaigners: we demonstrated in large numbers against the bombing of Gaza in 2008-9, but “the Stop the War Coalition is not summoning thousands to central London to demand an end to the fighting [in Syria], as it did then.” Freedland argues that we therefore suffer a “very parochial form of internationalism” because we are “turning a blind eye” to areas where the British government is not involved.

Given the wide areas of the globe in which Britain is or has been involved in wars or colonial occupations, surely the main target of antiwar campaigning here must be the British government? It has a long record of supporting Israel in its oppression of the Palestinians. The Quartet’s envoy for peace in the Middle East is Tony Blair, architect of the most disastrous war in modern times and an enthusiast for bombing Iran. Meanwhile the existence of a major nuclear arsenal in Israel is ignored by our government, as is the development of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Operation Cast Lead was the deliberate targeting of the Palestinians in Gaza by a highly sophisticated air force funded and armed by the U.S. and its allies. Freedland talks of a “bias against Jews that regards an Arab or Muslim death as only deserving condemnation when Israel is responsible.” This dangerously confuses criticism of Israel’s domestic and foreign policy with bias against Jewish people. The international outcry sparked by this daily bombardment represented opposition to Israeli policy and in the UK was a condemnation of our own government’s collusion.

The conflict in Syria has become a civil war. Contrary to Freedland’s claims that western intervention is nigh on impossible, the west and its supporters—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—are already directly intervening, providing arms and other military support. Their interests are hardly humanitarian, given Saudi Arabia’s terrible human rights record and Turkey’s longstanding oppression of the Kurds. They are about strategic power and control in the region, which is why those now intervening in Syria also want regime change in Iran.

We have been here before. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all portrayed as helping the peoples of those countries. They have caused untold misery and extremely high death tolls. Stop the War campaigns to prevent the people of Syria suffering the same fate.

Freedland is wrong to say that Stop the War is “not active on Syria.” We have held a number of public meetings and demonstrations on Syria and Iran, including a well attended fringe meeting at the Labor party conference, which he seems to have overlooked. But their theme is against Western intervention in those countries, rather than taking a position about what is happening domestically. We take the view that it is for Syrians to decide what happens in Syria.

“Every life has equal worth,” says Freedland. Of course. Perhaps he should direct his criticism at those carrying out drone attacks in Pakistan, or bombing children in Afghanistan. It is a bizarre sense of priorities that leads him to attack peace campaigners rather than warmongers.

The Guardian, November 1, 2012

Letters - Stance on Syria

We agree with Lindsey German’s response (“There is no hypocrisy in our stance on Syria”, November 1) to Jonathan Freedland’s condemnation (Comment, October 19) of Stop the War Coalition for its stance on Syria. As natives of Iraq, we never flinched from campaigning against Saddam’s ruthless regime, but we were also against the U.S.-led 13 years of sanctions and 2003 war-acts that led to the death of more than a million Iraqis. Stop the War was founded in 2001 to campaign against wars of aggression and sanctions—now imposed on the Syrian and Iranian peoples. Though opposed to Saddam’s regime, Stop the War rightly focused on Britain’s role in U.S.-led war preparations. Today, it adopts a similar stance on Syria, where the U.S., Britain and Saudi rulers are backing armed factions and undermining the people’s struggle for democracy. Further intervention could lead to a death toll similar to that in Iraq. Freedland and all of us should heed Mahatma Gandhi’s lament: they do everything for us except get off our backs.

Sami Ramadani & Sabah Jawad, London

The Guardian, Monday November 5, 2012