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In Defense of the Stop the War Coalition

You have to feel for the Stop the War Coalition. Back in June I attended one of their conferences in London, where during one of the plenary meetings a few people voiced criticism from the floor over the organization’s refusal to come down squarely on the side of Assad in the Syrian conflict. I have long expressed sympathy with this position, based on the concrete reality that if Assad falls Syria’s state institutions will fall, its army will disintegrate, and the country will descend into an abyss of sectarian bloodletting violence that would make the status quo seem like child’s play by comparison.

However I also understand that Stop the War is a coalition of disparate views on the particulars of the various conflicts that have scarred and continue to scar our world, and that therefore its focus has by necessity to remain on building consensus on the fundamental issue of opposing British military intervention in those conflicts. Without exception this military intervention has only succeeded in feeding and breeding instability and human suffering, rather than ending it.

Now Stop the War find themselves under attack from voices accusing it of failing to take a stand against Assad and the Syrian government. Their chief spokesperson is the Australian-born UK-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who a few weeks ago at a public meeting on Syria, held in the House of Commons, began heckling the platform from the floor along with anti-Assad Syrians who were in the audience.  Stop the War described the heckling as an “organized disruption” while afterwards Tatchell shared his account of the experience on social media, accusing STW of refusing to allow those Syrians the right to speak, a claim the organizers of the meeting deny.

Public and media demonization of the group has continued since, used as yet another stick to beat Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with given his close and longstanding association with Stop the War and its aims and objectives.

Despite having my own differences with the Stop the War Coalition over the years, I have no hesitation in crediting them with maintaining a principled opposition to wars and conflicts unleashed in the name of a status quo of injustice and might is right. Its organizers and activists have given over a decade’s service to exposing the hypocrisy and subterfuge employed to defend the indefensible, and consequently I feel duty bound to defend them now.

Peter Tatchell on the other hand is a classic example of the Western liberal whose conception of the world is akin to that of a child let loose with crayons on a blank sheet of paper, allowing said crayons to go wherever they please with no thought of the mess being made or lack of coherence being wrought.

Worse, he and his co-thinkers continue their slavish attachment to the wondrous virtues of ‘humanitarian intervention’, despite the history of the catastrophic consequences of this very concept in practice. Afghanistan is a failed state. Iraq is a failed state. Libya is a failed state. How many failed states must litter the globe, particularly the Middle East, before the penny drops? The mindset involved in continuing down this path regardless of the result is indistinguishable from the one described by Samuel Beckett, when he wrote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’

However in the case of Syria, as with Iraq and Libya before it, we are not talking about drawing pictures with crayons. We are instead talking about the fate of a nation and society that is engaged in an existential struggle for its very survival. Failure in such a scenario is not an option. It begs the question of whether people such as Peter Tatchell really care about Syria and the Syrian people, as they claim, or if on the contrary Syria is merely the latest in a catalogue of convenient excuses for promoting the cultural imperialism that resides deep in their hearts?

Moreover, do they stop for a moment to consider that millions of Syrians support Assad and the Syrian government? Are the views of those Syrians less worthy or legitimate than those of the Syrians opposed to Assad? Do they consider that those who do not share the view that Assad should be overthrown are not motivated by the belief that he is a benevolent leader, but rather that his government is all that currently stands between Syria’s survival as a secular state in which the rights of its minorities are protected, and it being turned into a mass grave by the modern incarnation of the Khmer Rouge?

The role of exiles, dissidents, and victims of abuse by governments across the Middle East in making the case for the West’s military interventions is nothing new. It follows a script written in the run up to previous wars, most recently Iraq and Libya, in which our bombs, missiles, and/or troops have been deployed and without exception have sown disaster.

But no matter, for the Western liberal one Arab country is as disposable as the next, with all that matters in their reductionist purview something they like to call ‘human rights’. In truth it is not human rights they champion but the right of the civilized, superior, and righteous West to go anywhere it pleases, bombing recalcitrant countries and lesser cultures into submission, or dictating to them how their countries and societies should be organized, blithely ignoring the particular and specific conditions out of which said countries and societies have developed and against which they are struggling to develop. No, for the Western liberal the world with all its complexity and challenges is reduced to a giant chessboard, upon which other nations are pieces to be moved around or removed as they see fit.

Western colonialism and imperialism has for centuries relied on the intellectual and ideological cover righteous and right-on liberals have provided it under the rubric of saving peoples from ‘tyrants’, whether the people concerned wish to be saved or not. In the process democracy and human rights are words chucked around like change in a millionaire’s pocket – and rendered just as meaningless. They champion the cause of justice and democracy within states, while in truth working to crush justice and democracy between states.

Just as a crayon in the hands of an unsupervised child spells havoc in the home, moralism in the breast of a liberal spells havoc in our world.