On Thursday 10th December, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended a dinner organised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC). Corbyn has long been associated with StWC, and until very recently was it’s chairman.
There was a small protest outside the building where the dinner was held, attended by, among others, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and James Bloodworth, who supports the U.S. bombing of Iraq.
(Tatchell, centre; Bloodworth, right)
Tatchell et al allege that StWC have been insufficiently critical of the Assad regime, and Russia’s bombing of Syria. While it is true that StWC’s activism hasn’t been focused on the Assad regime and Russia, I personally don’t see much of a problem with that. The job of anti-war activists in the U.K. should be to, first and foremost, stop the wars being waged by the U.K. regime.
Tatchell himself claims to be against all bombing in Syria. As here:
However, for over two years, Tatchell was calling for a ‘no-fly zone’ and ‘safe havens’ to be implemented in Syria.
Here he is at a StWC demo in 2013, calling for exactly that:
And here’s a tweet of his from October 2015, also calling for a ‘no-fly zone’:
A ‘no-fly zone’ in the conventional sense of the term is an inescapably pro-war demand. As Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, said in 2013:
‘It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter . . . It would absolutely be harder than Libya . . . This is a much denser, much more capable defense system than we’d faced in Libya . . . I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is . . . it’s basically to start a war with that country because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability’.
‘Safe havens’ would also require a massive military presence to protect them, and Joe Stork, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, has said that ‘There is no indication these so-called safe zones will actually be safe for civilians’.
Bizarrely, Tatchell wanted the regime in Nigeria – which itself has been accused of bombing and massacring civilians – to be one of the countries which implemented these ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’. As here:
Why even mention these states as ‘enforcers’ if he wasn’t calling for outside powers to militarily intervene in Syria?
And it’s frankly a strange kind of ‘humanitarianism’ that puts forward such vicious abusers as the saviors of Syrian civilians.
Tatchell now says that, when he calls for a ‘no-fly zone’, he thinks this should be enforced by giving anti-aircraft missiles and heavy artillery to Syrian rebel groups, rather than bombing. As here:
(Why he is calling for an ‘arms embargo’, at the same time as calling for heavy weaponry to be given to Syrian rebel groups, i’m sure only he knows)
However, even this is an inescapably pro-war demand, which will almost certainly escalate the war in Syria. As Oxfam said in 2013:
. . . sending further arms into Syria would simply fuel the deadly arms race which is unfolding on Syrian soil, and it will be civilians who pay the highest price.
Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General, has also said that ‘It is essential to stem the flow of arms pouring into the country’, while Navi Pillay, in her role as the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur, said that ‘The…provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence’.
There is also the very real danger of these weapons falling into the hands of groups like ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, as Amnesty recently pointed out.
Tatchell’s position, then, even if it now does fall short of calling for bombing (‘no-fly zones’), is not in any way, shape or form ‘anti-war’. He is in favour of military intervention in Syria, via the provision of heavy weapons to rebel groups, and the setting up of ‘safe havens’.
Tatchell has recently denied that the demo he attended outside of the StWC dinner called for bombing, and accused the people who alleged this of lying. As here:
However, photos from the demo appear to show that some people were indeed holding placards supportive of airstrikes / bombing. A Sky News report showed these scenes:
Is there really any other way to interpret those signs – ‘Thanks to British friends for the airstrikes’ and ‘Airstrikes liberated Sinjar’ – than as being supportive of airstrkes / bombing? I don’t think so.
Quite simply, then, and while it is not a nice term to throw around – I certainly don’t use it lightly – it is Peter Tatchell who is potentially lying. At best, he wasn’t aware of the posters some of the people on his demo were holding.
Tatchell has a reputation as a human rights campaigner and anti-war activist. And, I would say, the human rights aspect is warranted and well earned. He’s been a tireless campaigner on a number of human rights issues for decades, and I don’t wish to denigrate that.
On the issue of war, though, he has made a habit in recent years of saying ‘I am anti-war – but here is my pro-war demand, and if the left / anti-war movement don’t go along with it, shame on them!’.
Here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but the occupation of Afghanistan must continue for the good of Afghans’.
And here he is basically saying ‘I am anti-war, but Libya must be bombed for the good of Libyans’.
Even as far back as 2003, he was arguing for a kind of ‘intervention lite’ approach to Iraq, writing that while he was opposed to an outright invasion, ‘The international community should train and arm the Iraqi opposition forces, especially the Kurds and Shias who already have viable armies’, providing ‘tanks, helicopter gun-ships, fighter planes, heavy artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles’.
What could possibly have gone wrong?
My problem with Tatchell, then, is that he’s essentially agitating for military intervention in Syria, while claiming the mantle of the anti-war movement, and smearing the actual one (e.g. he has previously accused the ‘anti-war movement’ of ‘collusion with Assad’).
While Tatchell is certainly entitled to his opinions, and surely thinks the policies he is advocating are for the greater good, there can be no doubt that he criticises the StWC from the vantage point of someone whose views are, unlike theirs, pro-military intervention in a number of ways.
People would do well to remember that.
Edit: this post was amended on 16/12/2015, to remove the claim that James Bloodworth is a ‘drone supporter’. Bloodworth has clarified that he ‘doesn’t know’ if he supports drones or not. He does, however, support the U.S. bombing of Iraq, in which drones are being used. I’m happy to issue the correction.