Stoppers,  Syria

The pro-Assad “antiwar” movement

As has been noted countless times, Britain’s Stop the War Coalition has no real interest in stopping war– only in stopping Western countries and Israel from ever using military force for any reason.

The Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan writes that the StWC played a “key role” in persuading Labour members of Parliament to reject British military action against the Assad regime in Syria.

Labour MPs spoke at a Stop the War meeting at Parliament last week.

“Hundreds of Syrians are alive today because we stopped the military attack last weekend,” said the Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott.

Peter Hain, the former cabinet minister and deputy leadership contender, attacked the Government’s demand for regime change.

“The fundamental flaw in the position of the Government is to see Syria as a battle between a barbaric dictator and a repressed people,” he had written the day before.

MPs hadn’t, of course, stopped the war. In fact, they had decided it should continue unchecked indefinitely. But Stop the War’s role in their decision was real enough. It was the Labour leader Ed Miliband’s last-minute change of position which made the difference — and Stop the War and its supporters which did some of the pushing.

…[F]our of Mr Miliband’s biggest donors are also key members of Stop the War: the Communication Workers’ Union, whose head of policy, Steve Bell, is Stop the War’s treasurer, Unison, the TSSA union and Unite, whose chief of staff, Andrew Murray, is Stop the War’s deputy president and former chairman.

… Of course, those who opposed military action last month cover a vast political spectrum from the hard Right to the far Left. The great majority, including many members of Stop the War, did so from perfectly respectable motives.

But at the heart of Stop the War lies a number of much more questionable groups. It turns out that the campaign itself, and several of Mr Miliband’s new allies, are closely associated with bodies which explicitly support the Assad dictatorship and oppose any action whatever against the regime, even after the chemical attack which killed hundreds on August 21.

Stop the War’s vice-president is Kamal Majid, a veteran communist and founding member of the Stalin Society, created in 1991 to “defend Stalin and his work” and “refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him”.

Speaking at a meeting last year of the New Communist Party, Mr Majid described the Assad family as rulers “with a long history of resisting imperialism” who must be supported “because their defeat will pave the way for a pro-Western and pro-US regime”.

The uprising against Assad, he said, was part of an “imperialist plan to replace the Syrian government with a puppet state, à la Libya, which will do the bidding of the Americans and Zionists”. Mr Murray, Stop the War’s deputy president and Unite chief, is a member of another group, the Communist Party of Britain, whose leader, Robert Griffiths, only last week opposed “tipping the military balance against President Assad’s regime” on the grounds that it would “remove a critic of US foreign policy and the illegal Israeli occupation of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese land”.

The party’s international secretary, John Foster, has demanded “respect for the sovereignty and independence of Syria” and “an end to the arming and financing of terrorist groups”, which is what the regime calls its opponents. The Communist Party of Britain is formally affiliated to Stop the War.
In May, Stop the War gave a platform at one of its public meetings to a leading pro-Assad Syrian in London, Issa Chaer, who spoke alongside the group’s Stalinist vice-president, Mr Majid. Mr Chaer, a lecturer at South Bank University, runs the “Syrian Social Club”, a regime supporters’ group, and has regularly appeared on Assad-friendly TV channels to defend the dictator. Last year, on the Iranian government’s Press TV, he described Assad as “the person who is now uniting the country. The Syrian people have confidence in President Assad and this confidence gives President Assad the strength to carry on”.
Under the influence of such individuals, Stop the War has hardened its position on Syria, opposing not just military action but also any form of sanctions against the regime. The group’s statement in response to the Commons vote called on Britain to develop a Syria policy based on “the rights of national sovereignty,” itself not too far off an explicit endorsement of Assad’s right to remain in power. For perhaps the first time ever, Stop the War’s collection of activists from the further shores of the British Left has had a real impact on a major national decision, and they still can’t quite believe it. “Never let them say demonstrations don’t work – our demonstration has worked,” said Lindsey German, Stop the War’s convener, hailing the “victory” for the anti-war movement at a special “Hands Off Syria” demonstration last weekend.

(Nick Cohen says what needs to be said about Miliband’s failure of leadership.)

I can’t say I’m surprised about the pro-Assad sentiment among the Stoppers. But if Gilligan is right about them influencing Labour’s decision to let the Syrian regime get away with using poison gas to commit mass murder, that should disturb anyone on the Left with a historical memory extending back to the 20th Century.

Here in the US the main “antiwar” group is the ANSWER Coalition, which seems to have adopted a similar position. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, ANSWER’s national coordinator Brian Becker insisted “we are not fans of Saddam Hussein.”

Now Becker isn’t hiding his admiration for the butcher Assad, as he made clear in an interview with (you guessed it) Press TV.

The United States and Israel both thought that the agency of civil war would be sufficient to topple the Assad government. The US and Israeli regime are frustrated that the Assad government has the upper hand militarily. They are frustrated that the popular support has made the Assad government actually more stable. They know that only a western intervention could actually help the so-called rebels, the armed groups that they have been funneling weapons to.

A recent graduate of Syracuse University in New York wrote to the student newspaper:

I don’t know how many members of the ANSWER Coalition speak Arabic, have been to the Middle East, or know of its vastly intricate political landscape. But it would appear from their vulgar posturing that, at the least, they are deeply uninformed. I recently returned from Beirut, where I spent time with Syrian refugees. Some indicated they wanted the U.S. to get involved and some indicated that they didn’t. What was clear, however, was that most of them had faced profound suffering, either directly or indirectly, at the hands of Assad’s brutal campaign.

It should be noted how disrespectful it is when ANWER drapes a banner on the Syracuse campus in “solidarity with the Syrian Arab Republic,” in essence asking that Syracuse students defend a tyrant in his battle to remain in power. For these groups, the struggle of a people for freedom is reduced to nothing more than a “U.S. conspiracy”…

And ANSWER certainly doesn’t make any effort to keep Assad supporters out of its demonstrations.

Even here in southwest Virginia, support for Assad reared its head among some Syrians at a small antiwar demonstration in Roanoke sponsored by the Plowshare Peace and Justice Center, which appears more benign than Stop the War or ANSWER.

“We love Assad!” the Syrians chanted at one point, creating mixed feelings for some Plowshare activists in the crowd.

“Love for Assad wasn’t in our plan,” one said.