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Iraq: Qualified Support for the Stop the War Coalition?

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ISIS Islamic Justice (from Fightback, Marxist Journal).

A great deal has been said on the unfolding civil war in Iraq.

Tony Blair’s remarks, justifying past, and future, military interventions,  have, rightly, caused an uproar.

One of the most respected and reliable writers on  the Middle East, Robert Fisk, has observed,

How do they get away with these lies? Now Tony Blair tells us that Western “inaction” in Syria has produced the Iraq crisis. But since bombing Syria would have brought to power in Damascus the very Islamists who are now threatening Baghdad, it must therefore be a mercy that Barack Obama does not listen to the likes of Blair.

…..

Father Frans van der Lugt was a martyr of Homs, refusing to leave his Christian flock and Muslim friends throughout the years of siege, imploring the world to pity the innocent and the starving until, on 7 April this year, gunmen arrived in the church garden and murdered him. They came from the Nusra forces – the Assad regime called them terrorists, the opposition said, of course, that if Assad had not besieged Homs, the 72-year-old Catholic priest would not have died. He is buried a few metres away, his grave a cheap wooden cross surrounded by flowers. From a photograph, his bespectacled face stares at us. The Pope later prayed for Van der Lugt’s soul.

I suppose if the West had bombed Damascus last year – as Blair bombed Baghdad in 2003 – Father Francis might have lived. But then again, he might have been murdered much earlier by the Islamists we would have been helping.

Independent.

Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition has commented on Blair,

Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German condemned his discredited views and the airtime he was given to peddle them, including an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

Ms German told the Star: “Blair has yet again been given a lengthy platform to promote his demented warmongering.”

And she said it was precisely the bombing of the country’s infrastructures 11 years ago that lead to “disastrous consequences which are still playing out to the cost of the Iraqi people.”

Ms German called on Mr Blair to step down from his role as Middle East peace convoy.

She said it was a “a job for which he lacks a single qualification.”

Ms German wasn’t alone in her criticisms as politicians and the public piled into the ex-PM.

Former international development secretary Clare Short — who stepped down from her role over the invasion of Iraq — labelled her former boss as a “complete American neocon.”

Mr Blair’s opinions, she argued, were “absolutely, consistently wrong, wrong, wrong.”

“More bombing will not solve it, it will just exacerbate it,” she urged.

Morning Star. More from Lindsey German on the Stop the War Coalition site.

Socialist Worker, as one would expect, simply regurgitates the line that it’s all the fault of the Western Intervention.

Iraq’s spiral into a new sectarian war is a result of the occupation, and the tactics used by western forces to defeat the 2004 national uprising.

At the time, the US and its coalition allies sought to engineer sectarian tensions to divide a growing national liberation movement.

Perhaps they will enlighten us as to what this “national liberation” movement was, and where it has gone.

ISIS.

What stand then should or could people on the left take on the Iraqi tragedy?

Intervention looks set to exaggerbate the horrors: fueled by the conflicts between a wide range of forces opposed to the Baghdad government (and not just ISIS). Whether Iran and the USA will co-operate, and a host of other ‘whethers and ifs’ do not make other predictions about the outcome easy. There is also this important contribution to consider 7 Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq which urges caution on the part of the West and a sobre approach to the threats.

In general, and in respect  to intervention, the Stop the War Coalition has got strong arguments  on its side.

But we should not forget who ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham) (Arabicالدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ ʾad-dawla ʾal-islāmiyya fīl-‘irāq waš-šām) are.

The Irish left journal Fightback sums up their nature.

The ISIS has its roots in the militias that formed the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda. Until recently it was a marginalised group within the Islamist movement which viewed it as too extreme. It gained notoriety for its brutal and barbaric methods of crucifixion and decapitation. It was mainly isolated to desert and tribal areas of western Iraq, where the disintegration of the Iraqi state and the backwardness of these areas allowed ISIS to gain a foothold.

…….

Over the past year, the group has rapidly grown. This, combined with the increased income, allowed it to take bolder initiatives. It is on this basis that the offensive of ISIS could widen out and develop a momentum. From fighting the Iraqi army in the desert and the tribal areas the group moved into the cities. Its success came as a surprise, as it is one thing to to roam around in war ridden Syria and an entirely different matter to fight in Iraq, with its numerically overwhelming army.

The real reason why they could do this is the rotten character of the corrupt gangster regime of Nouri al-Maliki, who has been whipping up sectarian conflict for years. His gangster methods and the widespread corruption has alienated layer after layer of the population.  At the same time poverty and unemployment is rife. According to the World Bank, 28% of Iraqi families live below the poverty line. In the event that the country would face a major crisis, such as the armed conflicts of the past year, the organization’s estimates that this rate could increase by 70%. Thousands of families literally feed on garbage and live in landfills and slums.

Whether, as Fightback asserts, ISIS is the “creation of imperialism” is less clear.

The Daily Beast claims the following, “The extremist group that is threatening the existence of the Iraqi state was built and grown for years with the help of elite donors from American supposed allies in the Persian Gulf region. There, the threat of Iran, Assad, and the Sunni-Shiite sectarian war trumps the U.S. goal of stability and moderation in the region.”

More recent funding has come from their control over a variety of rackets and their seizure of oil fields.

This and other aspects of ISIS and their leader, Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, are analysed at length by specialists.

One thing we can see immediate evidence of is the Sharia law regime they have established in Mosul.

Since taking over Mosul, members of the group have been handing out documents to residents, stating that Islamic law is binding from now on and which ban any contact with the Iraqi government and its institutions.

Police and security forces were given the opportunity to ask for a pardon, and the document stress that those who do not do so are likely to be given a death sentence.

Men will be required to participate in public worship and those who do not will be sentenced to received lashes, while women will be required to cover their faces and remain permanently in their homes and not leave them unless necessary, the documents state.

Robbers and thieves will be sentenced to death, crucifixion or cutting off of hands and feet. Carrying weapons is now prohibited, and the penalty for violating this directive is death.

The group has begun turning southward towards Baghdad, after conquering Mosul and several other northern cities this week in a lightning offensive.

ISIS rebels have also implemented Sharia law in areas of Syria which it has taken over. Steps taken include a ban on mannequins in shop displays as well as a ban on singing and dancing at weddings.

Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist rebel groups in Syria have also warned citizens against “hurting the dignity” of the prophet Muhammad, threatening those who do so with execution. Here.

We hardly need to be reminded of their utter and undying hatred of Shias.

There are British jihadists fighting with ISIS.

One wonders if anybody will dare compare them to volunteers defending the Spanish Republic.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 17, 2014 at 10:55 am

Mansoor Hekmat and the Socialist Critique of Islamism.

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The Worker-communist Party of Iran (حزب کمونیست کارگری ایران‎) is known to many on the international left, but perhaps not well enough.

The party’s central slogans are “Liberty, Equality, Workers’ Rule”, “Down with the Islamic Republic”, “For a Socialist Republic”, and “The Basis of Socialism is the Human Being”.

Maryam Namazie, the prominent secularist, comes from this background.

The Mansoor Hekmat Foundation is an important resource.

Who was Mansoor Hekmat? by Hamid Taghvaie provides a sigficiant introduction to his ideas, and those of their organisation.

Not everybody on the left will agree with the detailed positions of the Worker-Communists, or follow their theoretical and political divisions.

But there is no doubt about their importance for those trying to make sense of Islamism, which they often call simply “Political Islam”  and the democratic and secularist left-wing response to combating its diverse forms.

In this respect Mansoor Hekmat’s 1994 Islamic Terrorism  The World After September 11 are significant documents.

There are other, and important, contributions from this tradition, on a wide range of issues, from class, nation, imperialism, and these are just some aspects of their thought and analysis that I signal.

Socialist Unity: Worst Political Blog, We Wonder why…..

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Thus Spake the Strop.

Phil has published the eagerly awaited list of “Worst Political Blogs 2013“.

Socialist Unity comes tops,

Andy Newman comments,

Over the past several years I have detected a slight hint that this blog, and me personally, are not universally popular, and obviously this has caused me many sleepless nights, and I often burst spontaneously into tears. However, I soldier on, and despite the risk of further damage to my delicate and sensitive ego, it is worth perhaps considering the state of blogging, as revealed by this poll.

Newman is to be saluted as the brave little soldier he is.

He then says (accurately),

The phenomenon of “blogging” has moved on, and probably declined, compared to a few years ago. It has to an extent been overtaken by Twitter and Facebook, and it is rarer for new blogs to be able to break through into the public consciousness. There is certainly less of a sense of a blogging “community”, that used to be evidenced through “memes” and “carnivals” by blogs with shared affinities.

This means that “blogging” has in a sense transformed into a form of hybrid online publishing, whereas it used to be more of a peer to peer exchange. Blogging has ceased to be a “social scene”, and the heroic era has settled down into a much more staid and even formulaic collection of fairly well defined websites, who produce few surprises. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a different thing.

This is not only true but the debate on the veil on this Blog has been carried out in more detail on Facebook.

For reference (Hat-Tip Rosie), most of the arguments, for or against,  are covered here.

Yes but… the Niqab debate

In its own entry into these complex issues Socialist Unity has helpfully reminded us of its mettle.

A certain ‘John’ – no doubt related to John Wight the roaring apologist for the Iranian regime – comments on this post,

“Fascism in our midst courtesy of the Sun”

This is on the Sun’s hostile views on the face-veil.

A certain ‘John’ comments,

there are some on the ‘left’ who will approve of the Sun’s campaign. They need to be spurned and unveiled as the racists they truly are.

Who approves of the ‘Sun’s views’ is left unsaid.

But we can guess that this inaccurate claim is aimed somewhere.

Is it Jean-Luc Mélenchon?

Or somebody closer to home?

Whatabout the women?

These are John Wight’s views on women’s rights in Iran,

Following the Revolution the status of women changed. The main social group to inherit political power– the traditional middle class – valued most highly the traditional role of women in a segregated society. Accordingly, laws were enacted to restrict the role of women in public life; these laws affected primarily women of the secularized middle and upper classes. The attire of women became a major issue. Although it was not mandated that women who had never worn a chador would have to wear this garment, it was required that whenever women appeared in public they had to have their hair and skin covered, except for the face and hands. The law has been controversial among secularised women, although for the majority of women, who had worn the chador even before the Revolution, the law had only a negligible impact.

No democracy is without its imperfections. Under the Islamic Republic, Iranians, no matter where they happen to live throughout the world, have the right to vote in elections. Women are debarred from standing for office, which is certainly regressive in itself. However, this differs from democratic elections in the West only in the sense that debarment here is based on economic status rather than gender. In effect this ensures that only the wealthy within western societies have any meaningful chance of holding high office.

Furthermore, while women in the US and Britain can stand for election, even sit at the heads of their respective governments, the reality is that both of the aforementioned nations have been responsible for depriving women throughout the Middle East and beyond of a far more fundamental right – namely the right not to be slaughtered or see their families slaughtered in the cause of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.

Syria: Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste Calls to Supply Weapons to Free Syrian Army, A Critical Response.

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Sectarian anti-Shiite Demonstration.

“The Syrian conflict is expected to dominate talks among leaders of the G8 nations meeting in Northern Ireland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet US President Barack Obama during the two-day annual summit for what could be prickly talks, as both leaders now offer military support to opposing sides in the war.” Reports Al-Jazeera.

“UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned there is no “palatable option” for dealing with the crisis in Syria.

He told the BBC there were “extremists” supporting both President Assad’s government and rebel forces, but said help would go towards “moderates”.”

Says the BBC.

The French Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA) has joined calls for arming the Free Syrian Army. As the governments of the US, Britain and France, will put this into practice it is worth examining the NPA’s  views. We will  place them within debates on the British left.

The NPA  begins by outlining the present developments in Syria, and the desperate state of the population. They note the self-organisation of the Syrian people, opposed to Assad regime, and assert that they largely do not recognise the authority of the opposition in exile. They then criticise the limited help given by the French, Socialist-led, government, to the resistance to the Baathist state.

Solidarité du mouvement ouvrier et démocratique

15th of June.

Alongside other European governments, the French state always finds  good reasons not to deliver weapons, especially the air defence and anti-tank  rockets demanded by the Syrian people who are bombarded daily. The French government’s response way to shake this off, and, without giving any specific response, to favour  “serious negotiations for peace” in Geneva. This leaves Assad strengthened by its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies and ready to accelerate its criminal offensive against his own people.

In this twisted game the fundamentalist Gulf monarchies are supplying weapons – by drips . They thus give  arguments to the Western powers (to whom they are allied against the “terrorist threat”), and Bashar al-Assad is making the civil war into a sectarian religious – confessional –  struggle.

To top it all, while Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon welcome over a million and a half refugees the French government has restored the need for a transit visa  for Syrians. This helps prevent their escape from death.

Faced with this situation, the responsibility of the international workers’ and democratic movement to demand that our governments immediately provide weapons to the Free Syrian Army, which should be obliged to defend  the Syrian revolution.

Justified mistrust of any direct imperialist intervention should not lead to the abandonment of the Syrian people, but to the demand for the democratic control of supplies and aid, including a greatly increased level of humanitarian assistance.

Our responsibility is to immediately provide all possible assistance to the insurgents,  from our civil society to their civil society,  and to defend Syrian refugees who manage to get into ‘fortress’  Europe.

Jacques Babel

(Rendered into idiomatic English)

The NPA’s position begins from (we summarise) the premise that the war in Syria started as (and remains) a  “massive popular uprising against a  fascist regime that has launched a modern armoured army with all its firepower against the  people.”

One would add that a sense of urgency is propelled by accusations about the use of poison gas (sarin) and the most recent battles.

These are nevertheless some points that arise from the NPA statement.

Before making them I note that one can criticise anybody not deeply familiar with the position on the ground. Yet, when you say what somebody  agrees with this kind of remark is normally immediately  forgotten.

  • However the uprising began the NPA fails to consider in detail the growing international importance of the “confessional” element in the war. In Britain former violent critics of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood equally downplay the idea that a battle is raging  between their politicised strand of Islam and the Shiite-Alawite, forces lined up behind Assad. This has led, according to many many reports, to vicious religious inspired murders, on both sides.
  • Let us be precise, Al-Qaeda’s direct involvement in Syria  exists. Al-Qaeda affiliated networks are operating in the country, including elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jabhat al-Nusra, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Fatah al-Islam and Jordanian Salafi-jihadists. They are said to be “small” but they are gaining strength. This means that  that the armed opposition to the Syrian regime contains a strong Sunni reactionary sectarian element determined to impose its agenda on any future state. They are already supplied, with the other opponents, from Saudi Arabia and Qutar, not to mention less open help from the US, Turkey, Libya and other sources.
  • This political-religious fracture has spread to the heart of Arab world. Egypt’s President Morsi has now taken sides, “Last Saturday Morsi attended a rally by hard-line clerics who have called for jihad and spoke before a cheering crowd at a Cairo stadium, mainly Islamists. Waving a flag of Egypt and the Syrian opposition, he ripped into the Syrian regime, announced Egypt was cutting ties with Damascus and denounced Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas for fighting alongside Assad’s forces.” Associated Press .
  • The Free Syrian Army’s political allies may have a democratic programme. There are (we are reminded in Le Monde and elsewhere) that there remain powerful democratic elements in Syrian civil society. They have protested against sectarian killings. Some of them are on the left. The  National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change is one umbrella grouping. It is not recognised by the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) and has no ties to the  Syrian National Council. It is, in other words, like the rest of the Syrian left, marginal.
  • The British left is largely opposed to any form of intervention in Syria. A section of it  is morally and politically soiled. That the same left has had close relations with the same Muslim Brotherhood in undeniable. The SWP even endorsed voting, in the second round of the country’s elections,  for the Brothers’ President Morsi in Egypt. Socialist Action backed  Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s visit to Ken Livingstone – the same man now calling for “holy war” against Shiites. George Galloway, the vociferous pro-Syrian regime MP,  only recently supported the Bangladeshi extreme right Islamists,Hefazat-e-Islami,  whose views on Muslim heretics are as bigoted as you can get. The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) is led by members of Counterfire who appear to think that anything, absolutely anything, that comes from America and the West has to be opposed.
  • There remains the suspicion that opposition to Assad from those backing intervention is motivated by his reliance on Iran and Hezbollah.

Going further into the reasons that lie behind people’s positions on Syria is important.

We could expand them to consider the motives for US, British, French and European government stands, not to mention Russia and Iran.

One can speak for a long time, a very long time, about the very good reasons to fight against Assad, (Anand Gopal discussing  here), but this analysis from North Star indicates a useful initial way of looking at things,

To start with, this revolution was rooted in the countryside where the regime’s abandonment of support for the peasantry created mass hatred for the system. But unlike the cities, where an organized working class could mount mass protests even up to and including a general strike in order to put pressure on the regime, the relatively atomized peasantry had to resort to arms almost immediately since this was the only tenable defense.

Very rapidly, those who had access to guns and the money necessary to defend the masses were propelled into the leadership. This meant for the Free Syrian Army that the owner of a cement factory became a top commander —  his access to funds was critical. In a very real sense, Syria was experiencing a kind of bourgeois-democratic revolution. It also explains the rise of the Islamist militias. With money pouring in from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it gave the jihadists’ clout.

Yet, he argues,

Even though the Islamists have become a major factor in the Syrian struggle, Gopal pointed to the more secular and more democratic-minded mass movement’s willingness to take them on. He referred to the conflicts taking place in Raqqa, the first provincial capital under rebel rule. Even though the Islamists are trying to impose Sharia law and codes that make women second-class citizens, the secular and democratic-minded residents are not intimidated.

But the main issue remains the one posed by the NPA: should we back the arming of the Free Syrian Army?

What possible help will this bring to the cause of the Syrian people’s freedom?

Seamus Milne, the Guardian commentator, has himself has an ambiguous relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has said of  its right-wing Tunisian branch (he used to call them “progressive” now he labels them ‘centrist’ ), the governing  Ennahda “its newly elected Islamist leaders pluralist enough to lead a successful democratisation and offer a progressive model for the rest of the region” (Here).

But is he wrong to say this?

The reality is that what began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war, manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country’s breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves.

The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical.

In summary these are further reasons why we are deeply sceptical about Louis Proyect’s call  for “solidarity with the Syrian revolution.

That should be enough: don’t take an active part in that war.

Update,

Comment, ” je l’espère n’est pas la position officielle du NPA”

I hope this is not the official position of the NPA.

Is it, or isn’t it?

Joseph Anton. A Memoir. Salman Rushdie. A Secularist Review.

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Joseph Anton. A Memoir. Salman Rushdie. Jonathan Cape. 2012.

In early September demonstrations against the video The Innocence of Muslims, took place across the world. Wednesday the 19th of the month saw the French leftist satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo published, to more protests, caricatures of Mohammed.

Two days later, Tahar Ben Jelloun argued, in Le Monde (21.9.12) against any concessions to Islamist inspired rage. He began by asking why Islam seemed so fragile that fiction, cartoons, or a bad film, His answer was the some Moslem countries encouraged this reaction to stave off creating states based on individual rights. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was the template for this strategy. It been used by the Iranian regime to quash any criticism of Islam, and to cement an “appartence absolue à la communité” (absolute adhesion to the community). Jelloun had no time for the provocations of Charlie. Yet he recommended ignoring them, and turning to the transcendental spirit of Islam.

Tareq Oubrou, the Rector of the Bordeaux Mosque, wrote on the same Le Monde Débats page, even more clearly against those who wished to suppress ‘blasphemy’. “La liberté de conscience et d’expression est un aquis occidental incontesté et incontenstable. Une avancée et un progrès philosophical-moral réels de notre humanité.” – Freedom of speech and conscience are established, unchallenged, and indisputable facts in the West. This is a step forward and real moral and philosophical progress for humanity”. Oubrou did not just repeat the standard argument (even sued by some Islamists, in the absence of a state ruled by the Sharia) that Muslims should submit to French law. All criticism of writing and art should be within their own terms, “La critique d’art se fait par l’art, la philosophie par la philosophie, and les idées par les idées.”

On the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, at the end that Month Le Monde put the author on the front page followed by a long, respectful, article/interview. It dealt with Rushdie’s criticisms of “Actually Existing Islam” as well as the Satanic Verses and the Khomeini Fatwa that has marked his life.

The present work does not neglect this political-religious theme, “During the worst excesses of Soviet Communism…Western Marxists had tried to distance ‘actually existing Socialism’ from the True Faith, Karl Marx’s vision of equality and justice.” Now, with Communism’s faults there for all to see, “it was no longer possible to believe in a True Faith untainted by the crimes of the real world.” Yet, “as Islamic states forged new tyrannies, and justified many horrors in the name of God, a similar separation was being made by Muslims; so there was the ‘actually existing Islam’ of the bloody theocracies and there was the True Faith of peace and love.” (Page 356) The crisis is profound, and cannot be wished away by this appeal, Rushdie says, “something was eating away at the faith of his grandfather, corroding or corrupting it, making it an ideology of narrowness and intolerance, banning books, persecuting thinkers, erecting absolutions, turning dogma with which to beat the undogmatic. That thing needed to be fought and to fight it one had to name it and the only name that fitted was Islam.”(Pages 356-7) Read the rest of this entry »