On common causes and ethical compromises.

Pulse Media have recently released an open letter, apparently authorered and circulted by people associated with the Syrian opposition, addressing why they feel the inclusion of Mother Agnes Mariam at the upcoming Stop the War Conference should be ‘a “red line” for opponents of conflict‘ (emphasis mine).

The letter is signed by 55 activists, journalists, politicians and academics, and I just want to review how ‘opposed’ to ‘conflict’ some of them actually are.

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so let’s get straight into it:

    1. Prof. Gilbert Achcar, SOAS

In March 2011, as the NATO bombing campaign against Libya was in full swing, Achcar wrote an article for Znet expressing how he thought ‘it was just morally and politically wrong for anyone on the left to oppose the no-fly zone’ – that is, the NATO bombing of Libya, given enforcing a ‘no-fly zone’ always entails bombing, because that is basic military doctrine for this kind of operation. Achcar continues to strenuously deny supporting the ‘no-fly zone’, but i’ll leave it for others to decide whether there is a great deal of difference between him supporting it, and calling on others not to oppose it/try and stop it. He wasn’t, in any case, an ‘opponent’ of that aspect of the ‘conflict’ in Libya.

Achcar also supports sending arms to the Syrian rebels, writing that ‘it is the duty of all those who claim to support the right of peoples to self-determination to help the Syrian people get the means of defending themselves’ (aid agencies, meanwhile, have argued that the further provision of arms will deepen the humanitarian disaster).

    2. Assaad al-Achi, Local Coordination Committees in Syria

The Local Coordination Committees have in the recent past issued press releases basically welcoming Western military intervention – as long as it’s not too limited, warning that ‘A limited strike to merely warn Assad will lead to nothing but increase in his violence’, and then arguing that ‘Any strike to the regime must aim to paralyze, with attention and precision, its Air Forces, artillery, and missiles arsenal’. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of their position, it is not one that is ‘opposed’ to ‘conflict’, but rather supports the escalation and further internationalization of the conflict.

    3. Rime Allaf, Syrian writer

Allaf recently wrote an article for The Guardian calling for ‘real friends of Syria’ to ‘break Assad’s siege’ and ‘neutralise his air power’. Which they could only do via a military strike, obviously, so her words are a non-too-subtle call for military intervention.

    4. Omar al-Assil, Syrian Non-Violence Movement

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    5. Hussam Ayloush, Chairman, Syrian American Council

In September 2013, Ayloush re-posted an article calling for military intervention in Syria on his blog, writing that ‘I agree with the message and decided to share it too’.

    6. Noor Barotchi, Bradford Syria Solidarity

When Israel bombed Syria in May 2013, Barotchi wrote that ‘I shall not condemn it’, and that she was ‘bothered by . . . people condemning the act’.

    7. Mark Boothroyd, International Socialist Network

    8. Kat Burdon-Manley, International Socialist Network

    9. Clara Connolly, Human Rights lawyer

I could find nothing to indicate the three people above are pro-military intervention.

    10. Paul Conroy, photojournalist

Conroy has been calling for ‘no-fly zones and safe havens’ within Syria which, the Orwellian language aside, are both forms of military intervention.

    11. Donnacha DeLong, National Union of Journalists

In November 2011, DeLong wrote in Ceasefire magazine of the NATO bombing of Libya: ‘what was the alternative? . . . It was NATO or nothing and I’m glad it wasn’t the latter’, while decrying ‘The knee-jerk condemnation of NATO intervention’.

    12.Hannah Elsisi, Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    13. Raed Fares, Head of Kafranabel Media Centre

As reported by The New York Times, in September, when U.S. airstrikes against Syria were being seriously discussed, Fares sent a video to U.S. members of Congress to let them know ‘what the Syrian people inside Syria feel and think about the strike’. The article goes on to say that the video ‘aims directly at American skepticism about another war and recent protests that featured antiwar slogans’. From the context, it’s clear that the video was designed to drum up support among U.S. lawmakers for a U.S. military strike on Syria.

    14. Naomi Foyle, writer and co-ordinator of British Writers in Support of Palestine

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    15. Razan Ghazzawi, Syrian blogger and activist

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    16. Christine Gilmore, Leeds Friends of Syria

Here’s Christine Gilmore speaking in favour of military intervention in Syria on the BBC in August.

    17. Golan Haji, poet and translator

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    18. Marcus Halaby, staff writer, Workers Power

In August, Halaby – while renouncing overt military intervention – wrote that ‘we should be demanding aid without strings to the Syrian people’, including ‘the sort of heavy weaponry the fighters need’.

    19. Sam Charles Hamad, activist

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    20. Nebal Istanbouly, Office Manager of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) in the UK

When asked by The Egypt Independent whether the NCSROF supported military strikes against Syria, the head of the organisation, Ahmad Jarba, replied ‘Yes, but on the condition to preserve the lives of civilians whether supporters or opponents. This strike will be certain and directed against military sites under the control of the regime. We bless this strike as it will destroy the vehicles which kill the Syrian people mercilessly’.

    21. Tehmina Kazi, human rights activist

I could find nothing to indicate the two people above are pro-military intervention.

    22. Ghalia Kabbani, Syrian journalist and writer

I could find nothing to indicate the two people above are pro-military intervention.

    23. Khaled Khalifa, Syrian writer

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    24. Malik Little, blogger

When the threat of U.S. lead military action against Syria began to subside in October, Little wrote a blog post lamenting what he called the ‘victory’ of the anti-war movement, describing the U.S. military as ‘the only force capable of ending the bloody stalemate’, and ending with ‘The movement to stop U.S. military action failed in 2003 and succeeded in 2013. In both cases, the result was needless bloodshed and brutality borne by people far from our shores’.

    25. Amer Scott Masri, Scotland4Syria

On 5th September, at the height of the debate over whether the U.S. et al should bomb Syria, the Scotland4Syria Facebook page published a post arguing that ‘War is an evil thing, BUT it becomes necessary when a fascist and criminal dictator like Assad of Syria commits genocide on innocent men, women and children’.

    26. Margaret McAdam, Unite Casa Branch NW567 (pc)

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    27. Yassir Munif, sociologist and activist

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    28. Tom Mycock, Unite shop steward (pc)

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    29. Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    30. Tim Nelson, Unison Shop Steward (pc)

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    31. Louis Proyect, Counterpunch contributor

Wrote in June 2013 that he was ‘buoyed by the knowledge that most Arabs and Muslims are sickened by Bashar al-Assad and would like to see him overthrown by any means necessary, even with weapons procured from Satan’s grandmother’. Which implies that he wouldn’t be too bothered to see the U.S. et all supplying weapons to the opposition. Polls published at roughly the same time, incidentally, showed majority opposition in the middle east to ‘the West’ supplying arms.

    32. Martin Ralph, VP Liverpool TUC (pc)

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    33. Ruth Riegler, co-founder of Radio Free Syria, Syrian International Media Alliance

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention, butshe has been extremely critical of the anti-war movement since long before this Agnes controversy.

    34. Mary Rizzo, activist, translator and blogger

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    35. Christopher Roche and Dima Albadra, Bath Solidarity

Around about the time that the British parliament voted not to military intervene in Syria, Roche re-tweeted a number of things which strongly suggested he was in favour of the intervention.

    36. Walid Saffour, Representative of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) in the UK

When asked by The Egypt Independent whether the NCSROF supported military strikes against Syria, the head of the organisation, Ahmad Jarba, replied ‘Yes, but on the condition to preserve the lives of civilians whether supporters or opponents. This strike will be certain and directed against military sites under the control of the regime. We bless this strike as it will destroy the vehicles which kill the Syrian people mercilessly’.

    37. Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    38. David St Vincent, contributing writer and editor, National Geographic Books

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    39. Reem Salahi, civil rights lawyer

Has written that while she is ‘ambivalent about U.S. intervention’ in Syria given the U.S. track record, she thinks ‘There is something to be said when Syrians in Syria are calling for the U.S. to intervene’.

    40. Salim Salamah, Palestinian blogger

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    41. Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian writer

Wrote in a New York Times editorial in September, when the debate over whether to directly militarily intervene in Syria or not was raging, that ‘A half-hearted intervention will not be enough. The United States and those who join it must not simply “discipline” the regime for its use of chemical weapons alone, without making a decisive impact on events in Syria. To do so would be a waste of effort and send the wrong message’.

    42. Richard Seymour, author

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    43. Bina Shah, author and contributor to the International New York Times

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    44. Leila Shrooms, founding member of Tahrir-ICN

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    45. Luke Staunton, International Socialist Network

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    46. KD Tait, National Secretary, Workers Power

Has written that her organisation is calling ‘for weapons for the revolutionaries’ (see 6th comment down).

    47. Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

Tatchell has been calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria for months, including at anti-war demos. He denies that he is pro-war in regards to Syria, but the imposition of a ‘no-fly zone’ is an inescapably pro-war demand.

    48. Paris Thompson, International Socialist Network

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    49. Hassan Walid, Anas el-Khani and Abdulwahab Sayyed Omar, British Solidarity for Syria

When the U.K. Parliament voted against taking military action against Syria, Sayed Omar, spokesman for BBS, described it as ‘a celebration of brutal dictatorship’. He attacked the ‘excuses’ that some MPs used to justify voting against the the the intervention, and described calls for a diplomatic solution as ‘naive’. He goes on to lament that ‘when Syrians ask you for arms in order to fight him you refuse’. He finishes by saying that ‘Your vote last night means that this nation cannot call itself “Great” any longer’. Which is all strongly indicative that he was in favour of military intervention (see post dated August 31st).

    50. Robin Yassin-Kassab, author and co-editor of Critical Muslim

Yassin-Kassab was an outspoken supporter of the NATO intervention in Libya. He has also written in regards to Syria that ‘At some point . . . key sections of the military and the Alawi community will realize they have no hope of victory, and will either flee or switch sides. I would prefer this moment to come in a year’s time or sooner, not in another decade. Arming Syria’s guerrillas is the only way to bring about that result’.

    51. Qusai Zakariya, activist from Moadamiyeh, Syria

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    52. Nisreen al-Zaraee and Wisam al-Hamoui, Freedom Days

I could find nothing to indicate the above are pro-military intervention.

    53. Tasneem al-Zeer, activist

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

    54. Razan Zeitouneh, human rights lawyer

Has lamented the fact that the West is refusing ‘to do what it should do under the pretext of not turning Syria into a second Iraq’, and their refusal to ‘to deliver effective weapons or to create a no-fly zone and safe areas for civilians’.

    55. Ziauddin Sardar, writer, journalist and editor of the Critical Muslim

I could find nothing to indicate the above is pro-military intervention.

So of the 55 signatories, i’d say around 20 of them either openly favour direct or indirect military intervention in Syria; have made comments strongly suggesting they do; or are on the fence somewhat.

My intention here absolutely isn’t to ‘name and shame’.

I’m sure many of the people on the list above who are in favour of military intervention in Syria – direct or indirect, overt or covert, arms or airstrikes – are so because they sincerely believe that it is the best way to ease the suffering in the country, and bring about a freer and more just political order. Especially those who are Syrian themselves.

I disagree with them that this is the best way, of course, given the track records of those who would likely be doing the ‘intervening’ (it’s 99.99% certain that it’d be U.S. lead) – they’ve tended to leave a trail of corpses and carnage behind them wherever they’ve bombed, invaded or subverted, rather than flourishing, peaceful democracies. Perhaps because encouraging peace and democracy isn’t their aim. I also don’t believe there is any such thing as a ‘humanitarian’ bomb or bullet, and am of the opinion that the attempt to re-brand predatory war as a humanitarian endeavor is one of the Big Lies of the age.

But I do think there’s a double standard in play when supporters of military intervention in Syria are accusing others of ‘greasing the skids of the regime’s war machine’, while they grease the skids of the U.S. et al war machine, and implicitly present themselves as ‘opponents of conflict’. Clearly, many of them aren’t.

And are not the supporters of military intervention in Syria in effect playing a role in minimising the dangers posed by the U.S./et al, by arguing like the aforementiond’s predatory, self-interested militarism and ultra violence – which has historically killed far more people than the Assad regime’s – is somehow more acceptable, more morally and politically tolerable, than Assad’s is, even if they recognise the dangers?

I also think there’s somewhat of a double standard in play when opponents of any military intervention can come together with supporters of such an intervention to, despite their differences, denounce the fact that Mother Agnes was invited to speak at the Stop the War conference.

Are we to believe that it’s fine for opponents and supporters of military intervention to put their differences to one side to pursue a common goal (in this case, trying to get Mother Agnes removed from the Stop the War platform), but not fine for opponents of the Assad regime to put aside their differences with an with alleged supporter of the Assad regime to pursue theirs (in this case, preventing a U.S. lead military strike on Syria, a far worse scenario than Mother Agnes being allowed to speak)?

Because that appears to be the message.

Ultimately, if the question is ‘Should Agnes have been invited to address the Stop the War conference?’, then I can see that there is a principled argument against it.

But if the question is ‘Should people be withdrawing just because she was?’, then not in my book. Not unless they’re going to be consistent in applying those principles, by refusing to participate in any campaign or on any platform that might be patronised by any person whose views they otherwise don’t like or approve of.

And for a start, that certainly hasn’t been the case in regards to the literary platform that Pulses’ letter provides.

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6 Responses to On common causes and ethical compromises.

  1. brian says:

    the syrians are NOT keen to have war waged on them or to have jihadis wage war on them, and theyre happy with their govt,..and is it OK of syrians decide who should rule in FUKUSA?

  2. aletho says:

    It seems that peace seeking is the actual “red line”:

    Syria National Reconciliation Minister Escapes Assassination, Driver Killed

    Al-Manar | November 23, 2013

    National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar escaped an assassination attempt on the Masyaf-Qadmus road where gunmen fired on his car killing his driver but missing their target, state television said in a breaking news alert. […]

    Haidar, head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, was appointed minister for national reconciliation by President Bashar al-Assad in June 2012. He belongs to the opposition which distances itself from the armed militants fighting in Syria. …

  3. aletho says:

    Mary Rizzo maintains a blog dedicated to western military interventions. The blog was initiated during the campaign for bombing Libya. Mary writes original content promoting R2P as well as aggregating and disseminating the work of others:

    http://wewritewhatwelike.com/

  4. editor says:

    thank you for promoting my blog Altheo! But you are wrong, it is a blog supporting the rights of people to fight for their freedom against the oppressor. It supports liberation struggles, and of course, given that the R2P seems to be called for (correctly) for Palestinians, it should also be considered for Syrians and Palestinians in Syria. To call it Dedicated to Western Military interventions shows your absolute incapacity to embrace the revolution and resistance to the oppressor, which is at the core of any campaigning and service to the oppressed.

  5. lidia says:

    Sure, the very P2P is enough of indication of support for NATO bombs under the newest sham. So, sorry, but Mary Rizzo is cheering for NATO – a nice role.
    And, by the way, no sane person would ask murderous/torturing NATO to “protect” Palestinians. The demand is – to stop support Zionist colonialists and their local lackeys.
    And to call NATO bombs to support “revolution” shows nicely what sort of revolution it is. NATO is the oppressor and the best friend of oppressors.

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