Stop the War, Peter Tatchell, and the malign legacy of Western liberalism

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 organisation’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 bestial 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 STW find themselves under attack from voices accusing it of failing to take a stand against Assad and the Syrian government. A recent STW public meeting on Syria, held in the House of Commons, was loudly interrupted from the floor by Syrians opposed to Assad, and by Peter Tatchell, in what Stop the War describes on its website as an “organised disruption”. 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 organisers of the meeting deny, before going on to denounce the organisation in withering terms. The story was subsequently picked up by the BBC.

I have had my share of differences with the Stop the War Coalition over the years, but 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 organisers 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 sown disaster in the process.

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 civilised, 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 organised, 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 the world.

 

 

 

 

 

17 comments on “Stop the War, Peter Tatchell, and the malign legacy of Western liberalism

  1. jock mctrousers on said:

    ” The story was subsequently picked up by the BBC.” Fancy that!

    For years I turned up religiously to the annual Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in Trafalgar Square. The only occasion on which it was paid any attention by the BBC was when Tatchell and his mob ‘staged an intervention’ to protest Palestininian homophobia. This was described as gay rights campaigners intimidated by threatening Islamists sort of thingy.

    The video clip showed ONE seventy year old Asian man having what indeed looked like quite heated words with Tatchell, who was carrying a banner saying ” Israel Stop Persecuting Palestinians, Palestinians Stop Persecuting Gays” .

    The thing is, and I’m not making this up, there were at least another dozen of his mob with placards, and the rest of them – the ones NOT shown on the BBC – ALL said ” Palestinians Stop Persecuting Gays, Israelis Stop Persecuting Palestinians”. Radically different set of priorities. No shame.

  2. Tatchell has a made a habit in recent years of saying ‘I am anti-war – but here is my pro-war demand, and if the left 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’.

    Here he is saying ‘I am anti-war, but we must bomb Syria for the good of Syrians’ (given that a ‘no-fly zone’ simply can’t be enforced without regular and fairly heavy bombing of ‘enemy’ air defences).

    Here he is 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 the invasion of Iraq, ‘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?

    Incidentally, he wants Nigeria to be one of the countries which sets up ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’ in Syria. Even though the Nigerian government and armed forces have spent the last few years bombing civilians, carrying out massacres, systematically torturing and collectively punishing whole villages themselves (this is all well documented by human rights groups). It’s a strange kind of ‘humanitarianism’ that puts forward these vicious abusers as the saviors of Syrians.

    There’s a bit of a pattern here, isn’t there? Trumpet your anti-war credentials, then argue for pro-war policies – over and over again.

    I also thought it was very rich of him to argue that Stop the War apparently not letting pro-U.S. led intervention Syrians speak at their rallies is ‘censorship’.

    Because when Stop the War invited Agnes Mariam – who is allegedly pro-Assad, but against U.S. led bombing – to speak at their November 2013 rally, he signed a letter demanding that they no-platform her (that Agnes Mariam is a Christian, and works within Syria’s Christian communities, might give some indication as to why she would be sympathetic towards Assad – i.e. the alternative is seen as potentially worse by some minority groups within Syria – beyond her simply being evil).

    So on the face of it, Tatchell appears to want ‘free speech’ for U.S. led intervention advocates who hold views inimical to the Stop the War cause, but no-platforming for anti-U.S. lead intervention advocates who hold views inimical to the Stop the War cause.

    It looks like blatant double standards and hypocrisy to me, designed to push Tatchell’s pro-war agenda, but disguised as a principled defense of the right to a say.

  3. Peter: It looks like blatant double standards and hypocrisy to me, designed to push Tatchell’s pro-war agenda, but disguised as a principled defense of the right to a say.

    Spot on, as is the rest of your comment.

  4. Amongst those in the left with a problem with Tatchell there seems to be on the one hand the suggestion that he’s essentially dishonest and hides a pro-war pro-imperialist agenda behind his LGBT / human rights campaigning and on the other that he’s a useful idiot with a genuine desire to defend the rights of gay people and others everywhere.

    I tend to favour the latter view of him and I think John’s child with a crayon analogy is pretty apt.

    Having said that, what particularly annoys me about stunts like the “support for Palestinian LGBT rights” thing is that the implication if you oppose it that means you think it’s ok for LGBT people in Palestine to be denied their rights.

    Peter #3 mentions Nigeria. Not a country renowned for being a paradise for LGBT people either btw.

  5. Amongst those in the left with a problem with Tatchell there seems to be on the one hand the suggestion that he’s essentially dishonest and hides a pro-war pro-imperialist agenda behind his LGBT / human rights campaigning and on the other that he’s a useful idiot with a genuine desire to defend the rights of gay people and others everywhere.

    I tend to favour the latter view of him and I think John’s child with a crayon analogy is pretty apt.

    Having said that, what particularly annoys me about stunts like the “support for Palestinian LGBT rights” thing is that the implication if you oppose it that means you think it’s ok for LGBT people in Palestine to be denied their rights (I won’t comment on the extent that it’s a problem there any more than a huge number of other places around the world as I’ have no problem admitting I don’t know).

    Peter #3 mentions Nigeria. Not a country renowned for being a paradise for LGBT people either btw.

  6. #5 According to Wikipedia, the law in the Christian south of Nigeria imposes a sentence of up to 14 years jail for homosexual activity, while in the North, in several of the Muslim states it carries the death penalty.

    Surveys show that only 30% of the population believe that LGBT people should have rights to housing, health etc and 87% of the population believe that homosexuality should not be tolerated.

    In fact, Tatchell himself has campaigned on LGBT rights there.

  7. jock mctrousers on said:

    I don’t think Tatchell has any agenda but self-promotion. He knows he can get media attention if he stages stunts that show in a bad light critics of whatever the current propaganda is. My guess is that he justifies this as what keeps Tatchell in the public eye keeps gay rights in the public eye… but your guess is as good as mine.

  8. jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy Newman,

    That was reasonably good until it got to the heart of the matter, when he demonstrated the REAL problem with the STWC on Syria – sitting-on-the-fence-ism.

    ” Now, in the short term at least, I think that a temporary political/military arrangement between the Assad government – preferably without Assad himself – and those elements of the Syrian opposition and their foreign supporters (and not only Russia and Iran) may be the only way to defeat Daesh and the takfiri groups”

    If by ” a temporary political/military arrangement between the Assad government … and those elements of the Syrian opposition and their foreign supporters (and not only Russia and Iran)” he means the situation AS IS, where the homegrown dissidents seem to have got behind the Assad regime for pure safety – IF that’s what he means then it’s no big insight, BUT this paragraph is so muddy and slippery (whereas the rest of it is quite clear) that it could be interpreted as support for the current Western propaganda theme – Assad is replaced by a stooge acceptable to the US and Saudi (” their foreign supporters”), and then a peace treaty gives parts of Syria to … well, to who? Not to the elements of the opposition who have got behind Assad, because there’s no current need of a treaty with them, but with… well who? If you exclude the jihadis who’s left?

    “Preferably without Assad himself” is the big giveaway? I don’t think this is just careless wording, because the rest of it was so well thought out.

  9. Andy Newman,

    That’s a good article. And the StWC position on Syria, as John points out, is the only one it can reasonably take as a British pressure group concerned not with abstract moralising or geopolitical wargaming but with opposing the British establishment’s addiction to bombing. If people don’t like the StWC position, there’s nothing to stop them forming their own groups in support of Western, Russian or whoever else’s bombing campaigns.

  10. jock mctrousers: “Preferably without Assad himself” is the big giveaway

    Indeed. Two points:-

    1) A major part of the problem is precisely Westerners feeling that it’s up to them who should be the leader of this or that Third World country, seemingly without any understanding of the social forces and consequences involved.

    2) Assad, and the nexus of power & interest relationships that centre on him, are without doubt key among the factors that have so far prevented Al Nusra / Daesh etc over-running the whole country. Him being forced out would be a massively demoralising and disorganising blow to the secular forces, and could set in train events that would result in destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic & all the appalling effects which that would have.

  11. John Grimshaw on said:

    A good article John. Although I’m not sure about the last bit.

    “Just as a crayon in the hands of an unsupervised child spells havoc in the home…”

    Children with crayons in the home who are not directly supervised don’t always draw on the wall paper.

  12. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is still the best moral precept I’ve ever heard.

    Are you really telling me that if any of you lived in the hell of Raqqa, you would be all sat there praying against intervention from the International Community because it might life riskier for you?

    If you were an inmate of Bergen-Belsen would you really be saying ‘please don’t bomb the Nazi’s’ you might hit me? Shame on you if you would.

    Is there no amount of evil you wouldn’t put up with before hoping that someone stops to help? Or is any amount of evil always preferable to the risk of being unintentionally killed by those trying to kill your attackers?

    I’m curious to know if all of you would walk by on the other side, just because the risk of killing the person you’re trying to help would obviously mean that person would rather you didn’t bother? Besides it might even encourage sympathy for the attacker.

    Isn’t ‘not intervening’ just as much of a choice as ‘intervening’? If the blood of every unintended victim of International Intervention is on my hands for choosing to intervene.

    Why isn’t the blood of all the people who will inevitably die at the hands of IS not on your hands, when you could have helped but chose not to? There’s nothing moral about standing on the side line protesting about how evil the people trying to help are. Just as many people, and probably more, will die as a result of your ‘do nothing’ approach. You can’t know this to be wrong at least.

    Is it really better for thousands to die at the hands of IS, just provided we weren’t the ones doing the killing?

    If Stop the wars chief concern was for the Syrians well being, why aren’t there any Syrians supportive of your ‘do anything just don’t bomb IS’ mandate?

    Why, whenever I debate STW, do I get the impression that they’d happily bomb bankers, Israel or American, just not Islamic fascists? It seems for a pacifist organisation they’re remarkable full of hate and violence towards anyone who disagrees.

    I’ll be going to London tomorrow to argue peacefully against them. What’s my changes of getting out without receiving a good kicking I wonder? pretty slim.

  13. Mehrnaz on said:

    Russian bombing has stopped the imminent fall of Bashar Assad and the catastrophe that would be unleashed in Syria, the region and beyond. The Russian bombing on the invitation of the Syrian government must not be equated with the US/UK/France bombing campaigns who in collaboration with their regional reactionary states and their sponsored terrorists are seeking regime change in Syria.
    Francis King,