Monday, 28 January 2008

North Staffs Stop the War Relaunched

Friday night saw 25 people gather for the relaunch of Stop the War in North Staffs. Like many other groups up and down the country, it hadn't existed beyond an email list for some years. So, to mark the occasion the comrades managed to get a couple of "big name" speakers in. First of all was Mark Fisher, our local left(ish) Labour MP who has at least been a consistent opponent of the war in Iraq, and Andrew Murray of Stop the War. The event was ably chaired by Asad Beg of the local SWP.

MF spoke first and thanked the meeting for keeping the memory of the 2002/3 mobilisations alive. He then moved to reflect on the nature of war and its causes, which for him appear rooted in the human condition. The 20th century was a century of the most appalling wars, but unfortunately "we" don't seem to have learned anything from these experiences. In the case of the Iraq war, in palls in scale next to the World Wars but its legacy is proving to be just as poisonous. When he first became privy to the contents of the dodgy dossier in the Commons, he could not believe its shoddy quality, never mind the grandiose claims of WMD stockpiles. He thought the press would sink their teeth in and take the document apart - but they didn't. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the media fell into line and regurgitated the government's lies. As a consequence the public believed them and acquiesced to the subsequent attack. Perhaps as a slightly mischievous barb toward the number of Marxists in the audience, in his opinion the war also refuted the central tenets of historical materialism. There was no historical necessity to the war, ultimately it boiled down to the beliefs and actions of just three men - Bush, Blair, and Saddam Hussein. But id there is one consolation to be drawn from the war, it is this: perhaps now we as a civilisation have reached the nadir of stupidity. People throughout history have always said "never again" in the aftermath of wars. Maybe the next generation will have the sense to keep to it these words.

Asad then briefly assumed the stand to say we shouldn't forget the war in Afghanistan, a war that continues to destabilise and threaten to consume Pakistan. And then there are the other lies in the media, lies that pretend fleets of US destroyers can be seriously threatened by a deployment of Iranian dinghies. Nor we should forget that according to opinion polls, around half of the US population believe there is a connection between the Ba'athist ancien regime and Al-Qaeda.

Andrew Murray responded by noting AB's comments show why Stop the War is still needed. Replying to MF, he argued it's equally important to remember that millions *weren't* taken in by the lies over Iraq. Inviting us to cast our minds back to 2002/3, it is possible that a meeting of this character back then may have invited arguments suggesting Iraq would be a better place after a "humanitarian" invasion. But any such claim now has been rubbished by subsequent events. Official Iraqi government figures put the number of deaths under the occupation at approximately 150,000. A further two million refugees are holed up in Syrian and Jordanian camps and would rather stay there than return. Unemployment is up to 50% in some areas, and there's less electricity, water, and food than before the invasion. Turning to the possible war to come, AM said we should be worried about the redeployment of British troops from Basra to the border with Iran - the last thing the current delicate situation needs is yet another potential flashpoint. That said, the war danger may have receded for the moment because of the US state department's own report confirming there is no evidence Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. But we cannot be complacent. The hawks surrounding Bush know none of the crop of presidential hopefuls are as wedded to their neocon foreign policy outlook, so time is running out for them. Out of necessity to fulfil their programme, an air assault on Iran cannot be ruled out.

The Iranian regime itself cannot be apologised for and is on a par with US-backed dictatorships in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but an attack will be a human catastrophe. The job of the anti-war movement is to disassociate ourselves from this recklessness. On the one hand we should demand foreign policy independence from the USA and come up with a progressive and ethical alternative. We also need to stop the war on terror at home. The erosion of our civil liberties may be "directed against Muslims now but it stays on the statute books against everyone".

While a number of criticisms can be made, especially of MF's rather fuzzy views on war and erroneous understanding of Marxism, it is still good to see Stop the War back in action locally. Its immediate focus is mobilising for the March 15 demo in London. But beyond that, hopefully it will go beyond the merry go round of demos and rallies the movement as a whole has been trapped in since its inception. For instance, Afghans and Iraqis displaced by the war have settled in Stoke. Linking up with them should be a key priority.


Leftwing Criminologist said...

I have to say, it does feel a lot like stop the war has meeting before a national demo, goes to that demo and then falls aslepp for another six months.
I find the anti-war movement in the US way more inspiring.

Frank Partisan said...

We are having a March 15th demo here in Minneapolis.

Your group is going to lead a high school contingent.