Stop the War Coalition (StW), Britain’s main anti-war movement held an anniversary commemoration on the 9th February 2013. It’s been more or less 10 years since over a million people marched in the UK’s capital to demonstrate against the UnitedStates-UnitedKingdom build up to the war and invasion on Iraq.
One must commend and congratulate the organisers for possessing the foresight to hold this event. They began promoting it in late October/early November 2012. Their foresight was rewarded with a fantastic attendance of many hundreds and I presume this turnout inspired everyone who attended. The number of attendees solidly confirmed that there continues to be a strong impulse in the UK against mindless adventurism, imperialist war and international brigandry.
However, the main problem with the event was the analysis. StW’s analysis revolves around two basic presuppositions. Firstly, StW continues to rehash the same erroneous reason on why the British state went to war in 2003 and secondly there is an adamant refusal not to acknowledge the changes in the geo-political landscape since the NATO intervention in Libya in March 2011.
Firstly, the erroneous reason. The amount of times one of the stalwarts of the StW Coalition mentioned American foreign policy as the main reason why British foreign policy is militaristic were numerous.
Victoria Brittain, former foreign editor at the Guardian in her joint workshop with Explo Nani-Kofi, “The New Scramble for Africa” claimed that the situation in Mali and its destabilisation was caused by United States interference. She actually said that it was “blowback” from the “American experiment.” The American experiment in this case is Africom. The British led intervention in Libya and how that destabilised Mali was not acknowledged by her at all in her opening remarks. She further corroborated her insistence on American responsibility for the Mali situation by emphasising that the President of Mali speaks English with an American accent! Ms Brittain was clearly impersonating one of those delightful toff characters on TV who always attempt to send the likes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot up the garden path.
But then again Brittain’s analysis was only following on from the workshop moderator who when introducing the speakers said the “US is leading the drive to colonise and spread war in Africa”. Sorry Victoria (and moderator), but it is now quite clear that it is the French and the British who are leading the calls for more wars in Africa and the Middle East. It was William Hague who informed the world that “Gadhaffi had fled to Venezuela” as soon as the “uprising” began in Libya . It was six British agents that were captured in the early days of this so-called “uprising” in Benghazi. Brittain also seemed to suggest that the French intervention in Mali is beneficial for Malians but this point was challenged by two persons in the Q&A who pointed out to her that Africans are capable of solving their problems without European intervention.
Chris Nineham for his part simply rehashed a series of clichés. He focused on the so-called “special relationship” between the United States and UK. He claimed that many British politicians have sold their souls to this partnership and it is the main “driver” behind the reason why Britain military intervened in Iraq. And then he immediately and totally contradicted himself by claiming that “we know now” that Blair was provided the opportunity to not participate in the invasion by Bush but decided to participate. Frankly, this option was known during the run up to the Iraq invasion. Donald Rumsfield, the US Defence Secretary informed the world at a press conference in March 2003 that the British were more than welcome to withdraw their forces if they so wish. And then the establishment’s anti-imperialist Seamus Milne covered up for Blair by deceptively claiming he had been “stabbed in the back by the very US administration for whom he has put his own leadership on the line.” Furthermore, we also know through Bob Woodward’s 2004 book “Plan of Attack” that Bush had personally offered the UK a way out and it was Blair that pleaded to remain in the “coalition of the willing.”
Surely, if the main partner in this special relationship provides you with the option to not be military involved, but you still insist on joining the invasion, then the reason Blair invaded Iraq was nothing to do with a “special relationship” but Britain’s own interests. Let’s not forget shall we, before the so-called “special relationship” British Imperialism had helped themselves handsomely to Africa, Ireland, the Caribbean, India, South East Asia, Australia, Palestine, etc., etc.,
On this basis, is Nineham patronisingly arguing that if there was no “special relationship” Britain would not be invading and looting other nations?
There wasn’t anything memorable about John Rees’s well delivered speech bar regaling us with his favourite statistic. That is, the United States military spending is cumulatively more than the ten (or is it twenty?) following countries on some international list. It occurred to me then, that he would have made a wonderful and colourful courtesan during the Tudor period. Everytime, Elizabeth Tudor bestowed a nod and a wink on one of her pirates to ransack and pillage the seas, she would then draw open the velvet curtains for a Tudor John Rees to pop out, like a jack-in-the-box, to declare that King Phillip’s military spending is equivalent to that of all the rest of Europe.
Another moment of jest was provided by the Palestinian ambassador. The representative of the collaborationist Palestinian Authority informed the hall that Europeans would make better impartial peacemakers than the Americans. I slowly shunted the pupils of my eyes from right to left and back again to see if there was anyone else on the verge of keeling over in laughter. The good ambassador probably wants another Balfour Declaration from the British.
Secondly, Andrew Murray clearly showed that his politics is frozen in 2006. In the week that a left-wing anti-imperialist, Chokri Belaid was assassinated under former London based Islamist exile Rashid Ghannouchi’s watch in Tunisia, Murray declared that he was “proud” to have worked with the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and British Muslim Initiative (BMI). Both organisations are closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Ghannouchi in particular had a strong association with the latter.
That the political Islamism of the kind represented by these two organisations is now firmly in bed with imperialism and western interventionism was totally and criminally overlooked. In Egypt and Tunisia, the deposed dictators strategic alliances and pro-imperialist policies have continued with the election of Islamist parties to power, if not deepened. Mursi has written warm greetings to President Shimon Peres of the Zionist entity, while at the same time strengthening the siege on Gaza. Belaid had claimed that the Tunisian authorities were military training thousands of Tunisians on the Tunisian-Libyan border to join the Islamist rebels in Syria.
When I asked Murray about his comments after his talk he said that Islamism’s relationship with imperialism is “complicated” and “nuanced”. This opinion for the most part holds true if, like the Liberal Democrats, saying one thing in opposition and another while in power is a valid strategy. Maybe Murray’s analysis is why StW invited a representative from the BMI to speak. Mr. Duad Abdulla meandered for a while from the platform before mentioning that the Iraq war was counter-productive in as much as it has allowed Iran to further its interests in the region. Mr Abdulla later said to me that BMI did not support interventions in Libya and Syria and he enquired where I got my information from. I replied from his colleague’s Anas al-Tikriti’s facebook page. He coyed and politely informed me I was mistaken before both of us moving on. If Seumus Milne had delivered his talk as scheduled and crooned about his interview with Ghannouchi when the latter was recently in London to receive his award from the revolutionary Duke of York, Prince Andrew at Chatham House, they (Murray, Abdulla and Milne) would have made a wonderful trio dancing on the grave of Chokri Belaid.
The mother of all ironies belonged to Tariq Ali. In his well delivered address to the masses he arraigned the political “passivity” of his American friends in the Obama era. He claimed if Bush had been executing the international policies that are being implemented by Obama, Americans would have been out in the street demonstrating their opposition. Fair point. But if Tariq Ali wants to bemoan “passivity” surely he could have also observed the almost complete inactivity of StW Coalition during NATO’s six month bombing campaign in Libya in 2011. The NATO campaign literally blazed a trail for the so-called “rebels”, some with strong links to al-Qaeda, to capture Libya. StW organised one national mobilisation which garnered no more than thirty-five people outside Downing Street. Or maybe he could have turned to British imperial history for genuine examples of “passivity”. Rarely did the British working class show any sympathy for those on the receiving end of British imperialism. Indeed, according to Mike Davis in his study of late Victorian holocausts committed by British policies during the Indian famines which took millions of lives, “Londoner’s were in effect eating India’s bread.” Indian foodstuffs was being shipped out to England, while Indians literally starved to death.
Ali could also do well with re-reading Orwell’s essay ‘England Your England’, especially where he asserts that it “…is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists.” There is no better classic example of this hypocrisy than the Balfour Declaration. From the moment the declaration was issued in 1917 to the immediate post-war period the British population was indifferent to the Empire’s policy of establishing a Zionist state in Palestine. However, once Zionist forces (trained by the Empire) targeted Tommy in Palestine, anti-Jewish riots broke out in England.
In other words, Tariq Ali and some of the other leading luminaries of StW Coalition simply do not possess the moral and political legitimacy to criticise American activists.
Overall, StW have no intention of challenging British imperialism or British foreign policy. They are more than content in their anti-American comfort zone, which they no doubt will continue to falsely drape as anti-imperialism. A young activist asked during the “Scramble for Africa” workshop, why does StW focus its campaigns on the Middle East and not Africa? He claimed that nothing is being done about the Congo and other parts of Africa where millions have perished at the hands of Western backed conflicts. In response Nani-Kofi claimed that when he was based in England there was much taking place on Africa. However, it is my contention, on the basis that I have been attending these meetings for many years, that StW largely vouchsafes issues where the blame and responsibility can be squarely placed on the Americans. For example, the British led intervention in Libya, was mentioned only in passing at conference yet it perfectly exemplifies how the world and geo-strategic alliances have changed since 2006 and clearly warranted a workshop. What’s the point in talking about a “new” scramble for Africa but totally avoiding where and how this new scramble began? What is the role of the Islamists in this “new” scramble? It’s clear as day that because the Libyan intervention can’t be blamed on the Americans, it is best avoided. There was also oddly no workshop on what the siege, war and invasion inflicted on Iraq but Sami Ramadani, the sole Iraqi speaker at the conference, did provide a glimpse of the devastation when he said that in the 1970’s the UN had claimed that illiteracy had been eradicated but today it stands at up to 40%.
It is also quite clear that StW Coalition has no interest in providing an alternative critique of British foreign policy per se. There was nothing at conference on how and why British imperialism has taken the lead calling for interventions in Somalia and Syria. Nothing about the new military presence in Sinai Desert and the increased military presence in the Persian Gulf and certainly nowt on the mini nuclear armada that’s sailed to the South Atlantic to challenge Argentinian claims to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. As for Britain’s “modern form of colonisation” (Daily Mail’s phrasing) in the Persian Gulf and the way the Gulf despots are helping to bail out the British economy with their so-called “investments”, to paraphrase Orwell, it is best to not know that this exists.
Instead, the StW coterie repeatedly mentioned and emphasised that they will be focusing on drones. This is understandable as it is the United States who are currently using these weapons of war the most. By emphasising the drone warfare the StW leadership can then comfortably turn a blind eye to British led calls for more foreign interventions. I am not talking down a potential campaign against drone warfare (it’s essential) but fulminating solely against the American drones will allow the StW leadership to credibly pose as anti-war activists without drawing attention to British imperialist foreign policy.
StW Coalition leadership simply do not want to acknowledge that the British state has interests of its own and it is these interests which demand war on Africa and Middle East and separate alliances with the United States and political Islamism.
In conclusion, this conference was a missed opportunity to galvanise anti-imperialist activists who overwhelmingly have remained, rightly or wrongly, loyal to the StW Coalition brand of political agitation.
 Mike Davis, “Late Victorian Holocausts”, (London: Verso, 2002), pg. 26.
 David Jones, “The Degenerates of Dubai”, Daily Mail, 19th July 2008.