Is George Monbiot a Fascist Fellow-Traveller?
Citing George Orwell is a venerable tradition in political debate.
Often it’s simply to score points, usually against the left. Sometimes it is – still – used to great effect. Jean-Claude Michea, deeply inspired by Orwell, wrote in 2008, a polemic which uncovered the “doublethink’ of contemporary economic liberalism. (La double pensée : Retour sur la question libérale).
One would have expected George Monbiot, whose writing including debunking climate-change deniers, and the way free-market economics have made the State “captive”, to have followed in Michea’s line and kept writing about subjects he knows something about.
He has gone beyond quoting Orwell to using the man’s – heroic – decision in the 1930s to fight to defend the elected Spanish republic to endorse his sympathetic stand on those fighting jihad in Syria. This takes some gumption. But, as an apparent authority on the ramifications of this conflict, he has been given prominent space to expound his opinions.
Monbiot’s column appears under this headline,
Orwell was hailed a hero for fighting in Spain. Today he’d be guilty of terrorism Guardian.
The International Brigades are acclaimed for bravery. But British citizens who fight in Syria are damned. If only they did it for the money.
Monbiot’s main gripe is with the anti-terrorism laws.
If George Orwell and Laurie Lee were to return from the Spanish civil war today, they would be arrested under section five of the Terrorism Act 2006. If convicted of fighting abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive” – a charge they would find hard to contest – they would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. That they were fighting to defend an elected government against a fascist rebellion would have no bearing on the case. They would go down as terrorists.
People fighting against forces that run a system of industrialised torture and murder and are systematically destroying entire communities could be banged up for life for their pains. Is this any fairer than imprisoning Orwell would have been?
Mobiot expresses some reservations,
I accept that some British fighters in Syria could be changed by their experience. I also accept that some are already motivated by the prospect of fighting a borderless jihad, and could return to Britain with the skills required to pursue it. But this is guilt by association.
But the war, the holy jihad in Syria, itself appears just.
To prove this he cites this – single – case,
Last week a British man who called himself Abu Suleiman al-Britani drove a truck full of explosives into the gate of Halab prison in Aleppo. The explosion, in which he died, allowed rebel fighters to swarm into the jail and release 300 prisoners. Was it terrorism or was it heroism? Terrorism, according to many commentators.
It’s true that he carried out this act in the name of the al-Nusra Front, which the British government treats as synonymous with al-Qaida. But can anyone claim that liberating the inmates of Syrian government prisons is not a good thing? We now know that at least 11,000 people have been killed in these places, and that many were tortured to death.
Last week we referred to the case of British Muslim Iftikhar Jaman. He was a member of ISIS and was killed by Kurdish freedom-fighters.
Who are ISIS?
Torture, flogging, and summary killings are rife in secret prisons run by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an armed group that controls large areas of northern Syria , said Amnesty International in a briefing published today.ISIS , which claims to apply strict Shari’a (Islamic law) in areas it controls, has ruthlessly flouted the rights of local people. In the 18-page briefing, Rule of fear: ISIS abuses in detention in northern Syria , Amnesty International identifies seven detention facilities that ISIS uses in al-Raqqa governorate and Aleppo .
Let’s forget what harm these jihadists may do if and when they return to Europe.What of the above?
They are now slaughtering innocents – though perhaps Syrians do not count for Monbiot.
Monbiot has responded to critics by writing,
First, it would be wrong to assume that all British fighters going to Syria are affiliated with the ANF, which is part of the point I’m making. Secondly that just because someone is doesn’t mean that what their subsequent actions are necessarily wrong. I find it hard to see al-Britani’s action in seeking to liberate a prison as an act of terrorism. If there is such a thing as a legitimate act of war, that, I believe, is an example.
We can debate the issue of the anti-terrorism laws.
But a “legitimate act of war”?
The jihadists, including the Al-Nusra Front, are equally accused of tortures and the murder of civilians.
They are not fighting against the Baathists in the name of a democratic state. Their aim is the caliphate: a theocracy in which human rights have no place.
It is hard to see how exactly they resemble any of the political forces in the Spanish civil war. But certainly their practice and ideology has something in common with fascism.
Orwell always emphasised the need to use political language with precision.
So we ask, and do not answer, the question: by giving credibility to the Syrian jihadists is George Monbiot a fascist fellow-traveller?