Defend the Kurds: But How?
In response to the attack by Isis on Kobane one the most respected trade unions in Britain, the Fire Brigades Union, issued the following appeal a few days ago.
The FBU Executive Council is appalled by the ongoing siege of the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria by ISIS forces.
The Executive Council notes:
- The ISIS attack on Kobane and resistance of Kurdish and other local forces.
- The role of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE (all UK/US allies) in building, assisting and encouraging the growth of ISIS.
- The particular role of the Turkish government in allowing money, arms and fighters across the border to build support for ISIS.
- The role of Turkey at various times in obstructing the flight of Kurdish and other refugees and in blocking any support for predominantly Kurdish defenders of Kobane, thereby increasing the power and influence of ISIS and likelihood of collapse of opposition to it.
As the union of firefighting humanitarian professionals, we believe it is right to warn of the prospects of a massacre and to demand that governments (including the UK government) act to prevent atrocities. As professionals who have to deal with international humanitarian disasters as well as the effects of terrorism on our own doorstep, we cannot passively fold our arms and do nothing in the face of a likely massacre.
We send our message of solidarity to the workers’ organisations in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, including the Kurdish workers’ organisations. We believe these are the progressive forces that can oppose oppressive governments and reactionary and sectarian forces of all types, and can best guarantee workers’ rights and ensure democratic relations between the peoples of the region.
We support the right of Kurdish people across the Middle East to self-determination, including their right to defend themselves against attack from ISIS.
We oppose the horrific brutality of ISIS and its sectarian and murderous behaviour towards peoples of the region.
We condemn the Turkish government’s comments equating Kurdish fighters (including the defenders of Kobane) with ISIS.
We have no confidence in a US/UK/French bombing campaign against ISIS, based on the bitter experience of such efforts in the last decade and on the appalling role played by the Turkish government and other key western allies in the region.
We demand that:
- The Turkish government lifts border obstructions to refugees.
- The Turkish government allows relief efforts, including by opening a relief corridor to the Kurds and other forces defending Kobane.
We call for the TUC to raise these matters urgently, including with the Turkish embassy, the UK government and with trade unions in Europe and elsewhere. We call for international trade union solidarity and support for the defenders of Kobane.
This appeal was also issued last Saturday,
Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, Holocaust Memorial, January 2014
An open letter to the Labour Movement
We, non-Kurdish members of the British Labour Party and Trade Unions, are calling for an urgent and significant increase in the support from Britain and other countries to the people defending the world against the onslaught of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The Kurds of Kobani, Rojava and the Kurdistan Region, including Yezidis, Christians and other minorities, are on the front line of a global battle against the vilest fascism of our age. We must help them, we must call on the world to help them, and this help must be given by whatever means necessary. The Labour movement is an internationalist movement which understands deeply the plight of those who suffer at under tyranny. We must now stand united in our efforts to secure changes to current UK government policy in this conflict.
The images of grandmothers and grandfathers fighting, and often dying, alongside their younger families is something almost impossible for us in Britain to comprehend. The tales of beheadings, the abandoned dead bodies of women with their breasts cut off, men with their eyes gouged out, sex slavery, genocides and mass executions, and reports of the burning skin of possible acid attacks are too horrific for the British Left to give a half hearted response, or worse.
These atrocities are real, they are happening right now, and those suffering them are real too. They are real women, real men, and real children. They are workers and trade unionists, they are nurses, doctors, teachers and other public servants. They are farmers, electricians, chefs, politicians, and they are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. They are the same as us, they are our international sisters and brothers and they desperately need, and profoundly deserve, our support.
We pay huge respect to those who have fought and continue to fight so courageously against ISIS. The role of Kurdish women fighters and leaders has been widely reported and had added a further poignancy to a battle which, if lost, would be a victory for an ideology which degrades, silences and enslaves women as a matter of principle. Many of the women on the front line are mothers. They are fighting for the lives and futures of their sons and their daughters. We must help them.
We in Britain are privileged to live in a peaceful, liberal, secular and democratic society, and we must never forgot that such a society had to be fought for, won and defended. It did not happen through some passive progressive evolution, but was won and preserved through progressive politics, through agitation, and most recently through war against Nazism. Now, a powerful horror is being unleashed into the world by ISIS, who believe they are carrying out divine work. They will not give up, they will not stop. They have to be taken on, and defeated, and this has to be done intellectually, spiritually, and practically. The Labour Party does not turn away from those in need. We help. And we must do so with great urgency now.
Each year politicians say “never again” as they lay their wreaths of Remembrance and at events marking the Holocaust. “Never Again” is a commitment to the men and women who fought and died in these wars that their sacrifices will be honoured and defended, through words and deeds. This surely means doing everything and anything necessary to help stop these atrocities now. To turn away from those in need at this moment would be an historically unforgivable act of abandonment to the past, the present and the future.
We on the Left have an historic responsibility to turn powerful statements about solidarity into concrete action and to give our full support to the Kurds at this moment of their greatest need. We therefore implore the entire Labour movement, the Leadership of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions and our fellow members to use our collective influence to seek and support the following:
- The Kurds of Rojava in Syria and of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq are asking for solidarity against ISIS, which is active in both Iraq and Syria and between which there is no longer any border. We are asking that you support the use of British jets in air strikes against ISIS in both countries and urge the British government to change their position on British airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
- British government to send increased aid and arms, including heavy weapons, to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Kobani, and in the Kurdistan Region.
- A recognition within the Labour Movement that the Kurds and the Iraqis will play the most decisive role in ground operations to defend their homelands. They are not currently asking for the assistance of British and other western ground troops but a global fight of this kind cannot rule this out in the future.
- To recognise that there may be future incarnations of ISIS and that this needs to be tackled by a mixture of political, economic and other measures to help increase tolerance, pluralism, and women’s rights to reduce and prevent the radicalisation of young people in the Middle East and more widely.
- To urge Turkey to recognise the Kurds as allies in the fight against ISIS.
- To recognise that ISIS barbarism has resulted in the flight of over a million refugees from Syria and internally displaced people from Arab Iraq into temporary sanctuary in the Kurdistan Region. The strain of this humanitarian crisis is enormous and the cold winter will mean many needless deaths unless the international community and Baghdad provide much needed support to the communities on the front line.
- To call upon the Iraqi Government in Baghdad to end the economic blockade against the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.
People are dying every day at the hands of ISIS. They are being enslaved, raped, tortured, mutilated and brutalised and there is no end in sight. Our Labour Party and Labour movement has a duty to do justice to the anti-fascist, internationalist, courageous history of the Left and to do what is so needed now.
Yours in solidarity,
In reporting on this appeal the Kurdish News Agency site Rudaw added this,
Nick Cohen, a prominent British left-leaning columnist who nevertheless regularly castigates the left for its compromises with Islamic fundamentalism, welcomed what he called “a glimmer of light can pass for a dawn.”Commenting on the open letter in The Spectator magazine, he wrote: “Today’s intervention by the Labour friends of the Kurds is a sign that there is not one ‘left’ but many lefts, and not everyone goes along with the compromises of the past decade. Call me a trusting fool but perhaps, too, it is a sign that left-wing politics is becoming a little less seedy.”
Are the two appeals different?
Yes and in very important ways.
This is hard to say, and even harder to write, but there are fundamentally distinct objectives in the underlying approaches.
Nick Cohen in the Spectator draws out the implications of the Appeal.
Their proposals are both essential and sensible. They want the RAF to join allied air strikes against ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq; and for Labour to call on the British government to send to send increased aid and arms, including heavy weapons, to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Kobani, and across Kurdistan. Both are desperately needed – Iraqi Kurdistan alone must cope with one million refugees and a well-armed force of clerical fascists, which could return to slaughter Kurds at any moment.
The MPs, party activists and trade unionists are too tactful to mention that an alliance between the Labour leadership and Tory right (not quite a Hitler-Stalin pact, but in the same territory) stopped British action against Assad, Cameron dare not allow the RAF to deliver the support to the Syrian Kurds they want for fear that left and right will combine again and destroy his government.
He then makes this observation: explaining why Miliband is unwilling to call for the RAF to attack Isis.
Bush, Iraq, post-colonial guilt, pacifism, parochial stupidity and the appeal of minding your own business and not wasting blood and treasure in other people’s conflicts
It would not be unfair to say that Cohen does not want intervention to stop at the defence of the Kurds.
He has been consistently explicit in his stand on removing Assad,
As in (1st January 2012) The west has a duty to intervene in Syria
Cohen cites Michael Weiss from the Henry Jackson Society, so-named after a virulently anti-communist American Democrat ‘Scoop’ Jackson. He was a Congressman and Senator known for close ties to the Defence Industry and who supported the Bombing of North Vietnam (1). Weiss had a plan for this intervention,
American, British and French air power might combine with Turkish ground forces to create a safe haven in northern Syria, where mutinous troops from the Syrian army could build a fighting force. Nato officials have studied it, while Burhan Ghalioun, chairman of the Syrian National Council, described the report as a “crucial resource for understanding how a humanitarian intervention in Syria can still be carried out responsibly.
This plan was not adopted.
Most people would not accept that it was ever viable, that interventions were bound to be botched, run up against the opposition of large numbers of Syrians, and that the Syrian National Council was never a real player in the emerging civil war.
Cohen has not accepted this.
For him the absence of Western intervention (meaning a determined thrust to remove Assad) in Syria was a betrayal.
He has written earlier this year (Observer).
A great evil has been done to Syria. I cannot see how any western project against Islamic State can prosper until the “conscience of the world” provides redress by saying it will not tolerate the continuation of the Assad regime. At present, however, the world won’t even acknowledge evil’s existence. We must expect evil in return.
The FBU did not back Western intervention in Syria.
It would be unfair to accuse them of ‘tolerating’ Assad: they, like most people on the left, simply did not see Western intervention as a serious means to create a democratic Syria.
No doubt they could point to the fact that there has been intervention (if not on Cohen’s personal terms). That is there was a flow of arms from the West to (initially) a broad swathe of the Syrian opposition, and a blind-eye to the weapons and recruits to the original jihadis, were part of the reason why we now have Isis/Islamic state.
Now the FBU does not call for UK aircraft to bomb Isis .
This is part of a blanket statement.
It “places no confidence” in a US/UK/French bombing campaign.
The FBU does not oppose arming the Kurdish resistance – it simply does not state a position.
Tendance Coatesy argues for arms for the Kurds according to their own wishes.
This is both distinct from the Stop the War Coalition’s view and from the call, without asking the Kurds’ opinion, on the British Government to use air power in Syria.
If it sounds ridiculous to have a dogmatic stand on this, from our real position in the world, we certainly welcome air raids and any means possible to defend Kobane.
We will not go further.
This comment has appeared in Tendance Coatesy’s comment boxes; asking why we do not ‘go further’.
Well, the FBU have said they want the UK Govt to “prevent atrocities” but have “no confidence” in a bombing campaign against Isis. Well, what should the Govt do then?
The Kurds in Kobane, on the other hand, do have confidence in the present airstrikes against Isis and are very happy to receive arms from the Americans.
While, I am sure, the Kurds are happy for the support of Unite and the FBU, I think they would prefer Ed Miliband and the Labour Party to adopt the ideas outlined above by “Labour Solidarity with the Kurds.”
Comments Jonr R.
It is clear that amongst those signing the Labour Solidarity with the Kurds are those who consider, like Cohen, that we should go further.
A lot lot further.
That this should be a bridgehead for much wider intervention in the Syrian Civil War – a demand which was predicted would be raised.
This is so completely off the wall that it is hard to know where to begin.
Perhaps we should say, in Henry Jackson style, that one can’t get use arms in a civil war, getting intimately involved in a life and death struggle, on the basis of all the horror and outrage one can muster at Assad and the Islamist genociders.
We can take sides in a precise case where we know something of the forces pitted against each other: the PKK/PYD against Isis/Islamic State.
We do not need to underline the links between those who’ve signed this appeal to the pro-Tony Blair Progress and the Henry Jackson Society to make further points casting doubt about it.
But one thing stands out: perhaps the most prominent signatory of Labour Solidarity with the Kurds, is Gary Kent who is intimately involved in the politics of the Middle East. (2). He has just published in Progress an account of their appeal, Taking on ‘the vilest fascism of our age’. He has also spoken at more than one Henry Jackson event (including its launch).
Kent is a classic liberal interventionist.
Well it worked so well in Iraq, why not give it a try in Syria?
(1) “The Henry Jackson Society is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote the following principles: that liberal democracy should be spread across the world; that as the world’s most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union – under British leadership – must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will, a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach; and that too few of our leaders in Britain and the rest of Europe today are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strength and responsibilities.”
(2) Gary Kent, Labour member, Director, of Labour Friends of Iraq, Unite/NUJ/Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (honorary). Labour Friends of Iraq, Founding statement 2004. “Iraq is emerging from its long nightmare of Saddam’s totalitarianism, wars and privation. Iraq now has an opportunity to use its natural and human wealth to build a democratic civil society. An independent and secular labour movement is a key part of civil society and can do much to promote the unity of working people, regardless of creed or gender.”
See also: ROJAVA, IMPERIALISM AND THE ISLAMIC STATES Chris Strafford.
And: LES COMMUNISTES-OUVRIERS ET LE « CONFÉDÉRALISME DÉMOCRATIQUE » Camille Boudjak
And: Solidarity with the Kurds, or NATO-bashing? (Alliance for Workers ‘Liberty).