From the Spectator 1 November 2014
In these mean times a glimmer of light can pass for a dawn. Here is one heartening ray. On the international day of solidarity in defence of the Syrian Kurds, Labour MPs and activists have issued a plain request to Ed Miliband to stop being such a jerk.
They don’t quite put it like that, funnily enough. Gary Kent of Labour friends of Iraq simply says
The Labour movement has been behind the curve in getting behind the
Kurds and our grassroots plea for practical action now aims to
galvanise solidarity to avert further genocide and horrific crimes
against women by Isis.
For all the necessary diplomacy, their appeal is couched in the language of internationalism that Miliband, like so many on the Anglo-American left, needs to learn to speak again – assuming they mastered it in the first place.
We, non-Kurdish members of the British Labour Party and Trade Unions, are calling for an urgent and significant increase in the support from Britain and other countries to the people defending the world against the onslaught of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The Kurds of Kobani, Rojava and the Kurdistan Region, including Yezidis, Christians and other minorities, are on the front line of a global battle against the vilest fascism of our age. We must help them, we must call on the world to help them, and this help must be given by whatever means necessary. The Labour movement is an internationalist movement which understands deeply the plight of those who suffer under tyranny. We must now stand united in our efforts to secure changes to current UK government policy in this conflict.
The images of grandmothers and grandfathers fighting, and often dying, alongside their younger families is something almost impossible for us in Britain to comprehend. The tales of beheadings, the abandoned dead bodies of women with their breasts cut off, men with their eyes gouged out, sex slavery, genocides and mass executions, and reports of the burning skin of possible acid attacks are too horrific for the British Left to give a half hearted response, or worse.
We in Britain are privileged to live in a peaceful, liberal, secular and democratic society, and we must never forgot that such a society had to be fought for, won and defended. It did not happen through some passive progressive evolution, but was won and preserved through progressive politics, through agitation, and most recently through war against Nazism. Now, a powerful horror is being unleashed into the world by ISIS, who believe they are carrying out divine work. They will not give up, they will not stop. They have to be taken on, and defeated, and this has to be done intellectually, spiritually, and practically. The Labour Party does not turn away from those in need. We help. And we must do so with great urgency now.
Their proposals are both essential and sensible. They want the RAF to join allied air strikes against ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq; and for Labour to call on the British government to send to send increased aid and arms, including heavy weapons, to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Kobani, and across Kurdistan. Both are desperately needed – Iraqi Kurdistan alone must cope with one million refugees and a well-armed force of clerical fascists, which could return to slaughter Kurds at any moment.
The MPs, party activists and trade unionists are too tactful to mention that an alliance between the Labour leadership and Tory right (not quite a Hitler-Stalin pact, but in the same territory) stopped British action against Assad, Cameron dare not allow the RAF to deliver the support to the Syrian Kurds they want for fear that left and right will combine again and destroy his government.
I find Miliband’s behaviour despicable. All the more so when he dares to parade as an anti-fascist and issue pious, Pecksniffing declarations about how he will never forget that his parents escaped the Holocaust and how “all of those who’ve been the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity. We honour their memory, we remember their persecution and their suffering and we say never again”.
But despise his willingness to leave the Kurds to be slaughtered by the fascists of our time though I do, and his willed inability to link the anti-fascist struggles of the past to the present, I accept that Miliband is just a symptom of a wider disease that has made too many on liberal-left reactionaries and isolationists. We have had the Obama administraition cosy up to the Muslim Brotherhood,as Labour did in power under Jack Straw, and effectively ally with Assad. We see in Britain, Europe and North America, Islamists treated as friends and comrades while liberal and socialist Muslims and ex-Muslims are ignored. I know the reasons Bush, Iraq, post-colonial guilt, pacifism, parcoahial stupidity and the appeal of minding your own business and not wasting blood and treasure in other people’s conflicts. But there comes a moment when reasons become excuses, and the march of Isis is just such a moment.
Today’s intervention by the Labour friends of the Kurds is a sign that there is not one “left” but many lefts, and not everyone goes along with the compromises of the past decade. Call me a trusting fool but perhaps, too, it is a sign that left-wing politics is becoming a little less seedy.