The Stop the War Coalition event in Parliament on 2 November was only the latest in a series where they have tried to exclude Syrians from discussion of their own country
The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime.
Stop the War Coalition was formed in 2001 to oppose US and UK military action against the Taliban. Its cause is opposition to UK military and foreign policy. Its focus is Western-centric and UK-centric, only actively opposing military action by the UK and its allies, while providing at most lip service to criticising military action by states opposed to the UK. The justification it gives for this is that as a UK organisation it has no influence over these other states.
It follows that Syria Solidarity UK and Stop the War have very different concerns regarding Syria: Syria Solidarity is concerned with ending the suffering of Syrians under the Assad dictatorship; Stop the War with opposing any UK military involvement regardless of consequences for Syrians.
We oppose the British government’s proposal to mimic the American ISIS-only counter-terrorism war; not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.
We do call for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone.
Stop the War similarly oppose British government proposals to bomb ISIS, but not because they would leave Assad alone; for Stop the War also oppose any action against Assad. This puts Stop the War against Syrians who are being bombed by Assad: it puts them not just against Syrian revolutionaries but also against Syrian doctors, against Syrian White Helmets rescue volunteers, and against Syrian civil society activists, all of whom call for international action to stop Assad’s bombs.
This is why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians.
The Stop the War Coalition event in Parliament on 2 November was only the latest in a series where they have tried to exclude Syrians from discussion of their own country. Now the embarrassing exposure of their attitude on the BBC’s Daily Politics show has led them to issue a statement claiming they are being lied about.
This statement lists three claimed lies about their 2 November meeting: that Stop the War’s Andrew Murray had called for support for the Assad government to fight ISIS, that Syrians were prevented from speaking at the meeting, and that Police were called to the meeting to control protesters.
Denying the first, Stop the War say Andrew Murray’s position is that ISIS can only be defeated by strong and credible governments in Syria and Iraq. If Andrew Murray does not mean Assad when he talks of a Syrian government, what does he mean? Elsewhere he makes clear that he is against the fall of Assad, saying that a no-fly zone should be opposed because “regime change is the real agenda.”
Andrew Murray also calls on foreign powers to abandon “all the preconditions laid down for negotiations,” language that echoes the Assad regime and its backers in Moscow. Why? Because there is just one precondition that is contested: the demand that Assad step down. This was not originally a Western demand, but first and foremost a Syrian demand.
So Andrew Murray’s “strong and credible government” is one where there is no change of regime, and no demand for Assad to step down: in other words, a continuation of the Assad regime.
There is no lie here.
Denying the second, Stop the War say Syrians were not prevented from speaking at the meeting, and claim that Syria Solidarity activist Muzna “was given ample time at the meeting to make her case” at Stop the War’s meeting. Not so.
Stop the War did allow Muzna Al-Naib to speak in the meeting, but only when other members of the audience called for her to be heard. She was the only Syrian allowed to speak, she was interrupted, and for the rest of the meeting all other Syrians were deliberately ignored by the Chair, Diane Abbott, even when other speakers Catherine West MP and Caroline Lucas MP said they wanted to hear from Syrians. Caroline Lucas has since said she wrote to Stop the War about the way the meeting was conducted.
And so the second is no lie either.
Stop the War deny that Police were called to the meeting to control protesters. This is the most blatant and astonishing falsehood. Police in the Houses of Parliament were called to the meeting. Syrian and Arab audience members were repeatedly told “you are going to get arrested.” One Syria Solidarity activist was prevented from re-entering the meeting by Police who arrived in numbers and were visible to all at the doors of the meeting by its end. One of the Arab attendees denied the opportunity to speak by the Chair was also talked to by Police after the meeting.
So finally, no lie here.
DON’T BOMB SYRIA?
If Stop the War’s slogan “Don’t bomb Syria” is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.
If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.
Lastly, if Stop the War are against war, let them stop denying war crimes; for this is their latest response, publishing a claim that Assad wasn’t responsible for the Ghouta chemical weapons massacre, “because it was so obviously not in Assad’s political and military interests.”
This latest comes in an article by Matt Carr. He writes that he has “never really doubted the brutality of the Syrian regime” before going on to do just that by claiming Assad’s violence has been deliberately exaggerated. Matt Carr is known as a champion of refugees; he should listen to them, and learn that most Syrian refugees are fleeing Assad’s violence.
His argument as to why he doesn’t believe Assad responsible for the Ghouta massacre crosses the line from naive to wilfully ignorant. Assad repeatedly tested the West’s willingness to act with smaller chemical attacks prior to Ghouta, and confirmed there was little or none. Assad’s forces were the only party with the industrial capacity to produce the amount of Sarin chemical used, the only party to have the kinds of rockets used in the attack, and the only party with a clear motive to kill the civilians in those neighbourhoods.
Matt Carr goes on about polls of Assad’s popularity: this in a dictatorship which has tortured thousands to death. Who under regime control would dare answer no? Incredibly, one such survey was an internet poll with no more than 98 respondents in Syria.
He asks “what would happen to the Syrians that have supported the regime” if the Free Syrian Army win. The question Matt Carr fails to grasp is what is happening to millions of the dictator’s victims right now? The Free Syrian Army are the people who have defended their homes, freedom and justice against Assad for the last five years and against ISIS for the last three, and who are now being bombed by Assad’s ally Putin. The Free Syrian Army are not the ones levelling neighbourhoods and driving millions from their homes.
Syrian civilians need protection from Assad’s mass murder. Stop the War have nothing to offer Syrians, and so they stop their ears.
The Syria Solidarity Movement UK is a network of activists, academics, trade unionists, lawyers, socialists, doctors, nurses, students committed to solidarity with the Syrian RevolutionLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.