Dave Lister finds that Stop the War’s silence and equivocation on Syria raises questions over its peace ambitions
What would the reaction have been if Britain, the US or Israel had murdered 500,0000 Muslims? Undoubtedly there would have been extremely angry marches organised by the Stop the War Coalition and much else. Yet the lives of about half a million people in Syria apparently do not count. They are arguably the wrong sort of Muslims killed by the right sort of people. Russia, Iran, Hezbollah – these are the good guys in the world view of some people on the far left. The Stop the War website records that over the last two years they have protested about the threatened war on Iran, Palestine, the Trump visit, Yemen and Venezuela – all worthy issues. But on Syria, nothing.
Clearly the same indictment applies to world leaders. Apart from token bombings by the US following the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, very little has been done to stop the war. Clearly, also, the lessons of the intervention in Iraq have been learnt and Russian vetoes have stymied any chance of UN action. But the EU, for example, has shown far greater determination to keep out refugees than it has on finding ways to put pressure on Syria and Russia to stop their relentless onslaught.
What we have seen is the deliberate bombing of civilians, hospital and schools. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research recorded 336 attacks on medical facilities and the deaths of 697 medical personnel between 2011 and 2016. Those doctors who have not fled, been detained or been killed, have to struggle with shortages of supplies and equipment and the constant threat of more bombing. The Guardian commented in February that “the attacks on hospitals and bakeries… look more like the deliberate terrorising of civilians than the targeting of jihadist fighters”.
In addition to the dead and wounded there are the displaced people. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, there were 6.6 million people displaced internally and 5.6 million displaced around the world in 2018. Over three million of these refugees are in Turkey alone. The recent attack on Idlib, which was launched in mid-January with the aim of capturing the last part of Syria to remain outside central government control, created another million refugees fleeing towards Turkey. They faced sub-zero temperatures and many did not have tents to shelter in. Consequently, there were reports of children dying of exposure.
In evaluating the drive into Idlib, on the one hand there is the complicating factor of the concentration of jihadist groups in Idlib. On the other hand, there is the decision of the Assad government to dispatch people from places like Homs, Ghouta and Aleppo to Idlib province despite the presence of the extremist groups there. There is also evidence published in The Guardian that the main jihadist group in Idlib has broken its links to al-Qaida and affirmed that its aim is to protect civilians, not continue waging their version of jihad.
At the time of writing a ceasefire remains in place but there is no guarantee that this will hold once the coronavirus crisis is over. Turkey has played a positive role in helping to halt the onslaught, whatever Erdoğan’s motives for doing this.
The lesson from this dreadful course of events is surely that there is generally no justification for targeting civilians in any conflict and that we on the Left must condemn this wherever it occurs, even when perpetrated by forces which by some strange logic can be portrayed by some people as enemies of imperialism.