In responding to John Rees’s brave but ultimately quite feeble and amusing attempt to dissociate Stop the War coalition from accusations of Assad apologism, here’s a document list of all the apologist stuff Stop the War have said over the past few years. Much of the stuff has been taken down from their website, but a lot of it was retrievable from archived links.
List of Stop the War Coalition UK’s apologism for the Syrian regime
1. “Yet in Syria, our leaders have been siding with such radical groups in their war against a secular government which respects the rights of religious minorities, including Christians.
When the bombs of Al-Qaeda or their affiliates go off in Syria and innocent people are killed there is no condemnation from our leaders: their only condemnation has been of the secular Syrian government which is fighting radical Islamists and which our leaders and elite media commentators are desperate to have toppled. I’m confused. Can anyone help me?”
2. “Next up came Ahrar al-Sham, another sectarian, intolerant al-Qaeda affiliate, which managed to secure op-ed pieces on both sides of the Atlantic recently. Earlier this month, Labib al Nahhas, who is apparently Ahrar al-Sham’s “head of foreign relations”, used a column in the Washington Post to proclaim the organisation as a “mainstream Sunni Islamic group” with deep support within Syria, yet “unfairly vilified” by the US administration.
Then, last week, the same man was this time commissioned by the Daily Telegraph and berated former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who, during a democratic, parliamentary vote in 2013, urged against UK military intervention in Syria. Nahhas once again insisted that his deadly, fundamentalist group is moderate and mainstream – cuddly, almost – and he cautioned the West not to wait for a non-existent “perfect” moderate group as an ally, which is like telling us not to hold out for our ideal partner, but “settle” for a violent, abusive one instead.”
3. “Even more unrealistic are US plans to build up the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as a counter weight to the IS. The FSA is Sunni and has the same objective as the Islamic State, ousting the Assad regime in Damascus. Although the Assad government is determinedly secular, its senior officials are Alawites, an off shoot of Shia Islam, making the government in Damascus an important target of the Sunni insurgency. The FSA and the IS are actually allies. American aid to the FSA in the past has unquestionable contributed to the success of the Islamic State and continued aid will likely continue to do so.
The Assad regime is a natural US ally, not an adversary, in the battle with the IS. And of all the forces in the region resisting the IS only the Syrian army has had any success. Another natural American ally is Iran which is overwhelmingly Shia and closely allied with the governments in Baghdad and Damascus. Iran also has significant military capacity and a long border with the Islamic State in northeastern Iraq.”
4. “Ukraine is latest of 35 countries where US has supported fascists, drug lords and terrorists…
Everyone involved understood that Syria would be a longer and bloodier conflict, but they gambled that the end result would be the same, even though 55% of Syrians told pollsters they still supported Assad. A few months later, Western leaders undermined Kofi Annan’s peace plan with their “Plan B,” “Friends of Syria.” This was not an alternative peace plan, but a commitment to escalation, offering guaranteed support, money and weapons to the jihadis in Syria to make sure they ignored the Annan peace plan and kept fighting. That move sealed the fate of millions of Syrians. Over the past two years Qatar has spent $3 billion and flown in planeloads of weapons, Saudi Arabia has shipped weapons from Croatia, and Western and Arab royalist special forces have trained thousands of increasingly radicalized fundamentalist jihadis, now allied with al-Qaeda.”
[Important note: this 55% is one of the most pieces of misinformation that have come about Syria, and probably shaped many minds on the conflict. It comes from an internet poll based on a survey of 1,000 respondents from 18 countries in the Middle East, in a country where only 18% have internet access]
5. “And for the past few years the United States has been engaged in overthrowing the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. This, along with the US occupation of Iraq having triggered widespread Sunni-Shia warfare, led to the creation of The Islamic State with all its beheadings and other charming practices.”
6. “ISIS is the child of war. Its members seek to reshape the world around them by acts of violence. The movement’s toxic but potent mix of extreme religious beliefs and military skill is the outcome of the war in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003 and the war in Syria since 2011. Just as the violence in Iraq was ebbing, the war was revived by the Sunni Arabs in Syria.
It is the government and media consensus in the West that the civil war in Iraq was reignited by the sectarian policies of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. In reality, it was the war in Syria that destabilized Iraq when jihadi groups like ISIS, then called al-Qaeda in Iraq, found a new battlefield where they could fight and flourish.
The resurgence of al-Qaeda–type groups is not a threat confined to Syria, Iraq, and their near neighbors. What is happening in these countries, combined with the growing dominance of intolerant and exclusive Wahhabite beliefs within the worldwide Sunni community, means that all 1.6 billion Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s population, will be increasingly affected.”
7. “But Syria isn’t part of the coalition is it? Because President Assad’s a horrible dictator who oppresses his people, right? And now President Obama’s saying it might take a while to get rid of IS and meanwhile he’ll give support to the Syrian opposition, right?
Well hold it right there. Didn’t I read somewhere that ISIS is a split from the al Nusra front, which the United States funded until recently as part of the Syrian Free Army? Now I’m really confused….”
[Note: this is the most ridiculous, amateurish thing I’ve ever heard – on a number of levels. Nusra Front has never ever since its establishment ever been part of the FSA, declaredly or otherwise; it has always intentionally declared itself from the very start as separate from the FSA, even when this put it at odds with the rest of the armed movement which during 2012 was almost unanimously FSA (the other such exception was Ahrar al-Sham; meanwhile those that were initially part of the FSA but then left to form other coalitions included ere other groups such as Jaish al-Islam), and I’m willing to put money on anyone who can prove otherwise. Secondly, the reality is that the Nusra Front (and the people in its vicinity) has of course been pummeled by the US, in the sorts of massacres which the US-led “international coalition” committed between 2014-15 in rebel-held areas that Stop the War Coalition never covered due to the embarrassing contradiction it would pose to their “Syrian Spring all about undermining Iran” narrative (which they are surreally still persisting with today, whilst unprecedented diplomatic rapprochement and trade deals worth billions are being conducted between the West and Iran). In pushing the idiotic lies that the US is “allied with Nusra” Stop the War negated the tens and hundreds of civilians that have been killed from the US attacks on areas with Nusra presence that they didn’t cover (or more accurately, covered up). This is beyond of course saying the unsayable (since the likes of STW will accuse you of being Jihadi sympathisers) that many of those who joined Jabhat al-Nusra (whose name is indicatively scarily always repeated in Arabic, when of course its translation is simply the “Support Front”) joined so not out of ideological affinity or agreement but because it was a powerful, well-disciplined and well-funded insurgent actor that had experience from fighting the Americans in Iraq and had an effective clandestine funding network as part of the Al-Qaeda franchise. Thirdly, ISIS never split from Al-Nusra, ISIS was based in Iraq whilst Nusra was in Syria. In fact, Nusra’s leader Abu Mohamed al-Golani was “dispatched” from Iraq to Syria by his superior Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS]
8. “If Isis is to be combated effectively, then the US, Britain and their allies need to establish a closer relationship with those who are actually fighting Isis, which currently include the Syrian Army, the Syrian Kurds, Hezbollah of Lebanon, Iranian-backed militias and Iran itself.”
[Note, I have heard this sentiment being directly expressed by Stop the War officers and figures, not just in online articles]
9. “The armed opposition to President Assad is dominated by Isis, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the ideologically similar Ahrar al-Sham”
[Ahrar al-Sham consider themselves to be “revolutionaries” and have repeatedly criticised and clashed with Nusra. They argue for a pluralist, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and multi-confessional state. They may be at the conservative end of the Islamist spectrum, but they do not profess to be dictatorial Islamists and state that they believe in rule with legitimacy stemming from the people (unlike Al-Qaeda). But who cares, they’re all al-Qaeda anyway]
10. “The real enemies of Isis and terror groups in the region are Syria, Iran, the Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and Turkmen people. If the US and Britain really want to fight Isis and terrorism – rather than using the Isis savagery to further their strategic aims of dominating the region and its resources – then they should reverse the policies they have been pursuing for decades. They should stop backing the armed groups in Syria and Iraq, and instruct their obedient allies in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to do the same.”
11. “…The US and its allies have responded to the rise of Isis by descending into fantasy. They pretend they are fostering a ‘third force’ of moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and Isis…”
[Another of STW’s amazing contradictions on display here: Yes Assad is brutal (though they only say that when they’re forced to of course, as in Rees’s statement), ISIS are brutal, but Syrians in between are either completely cowardly to arm to defend themselves (unlike the fetishised Kurds, despite their far fewer numbers) or are all inherently “extremist” (or sympathisers thereof – a theme pointed out in the above article – that ISIS has a “natural consistency” amongst Sunnis simply because they are bound to reject “Shia rule”). The fact that there are in fact millions of Syrians who are attesting to the presence of a “third force” which is in fact a “first force” (rebel batallions by far outnumber both native Assad regime loyalists and ISIS) is to be ignored – a bit like when right-wingers ask “where are the moderate Muslims”, get a response saying “we’re here” and then continue nonetheless “they don’t exist”. Of course, the racialist implication that a constituency of “millions” opposing the regime, as Assad himself once let slip (declaring that “millions of Syrians are harbouring terrorism”), is commonplace amongst both sections of the far-left and the far-right – leading to what has been termed a “red-brown alliance” on Syria]
12. “And remember – it can work. In August 2013 NATO was all set to go to war on Syria on the grounds – entirely unsupported by evidence – that President Assad was waging chemical warfare against his enemies in the civil war unleashed by … NATO, its member states and allies…
And while the situation in Syria remains dreadful, it’s surely nothing like as bad as it would have been with the additional devastation of millions of tonnes of NATO bombs. Just look at the failed states we have created in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to see how bad things can get.”
[Regardless of one’s own view on intervention – and you don’t have to be pro-intervention to not be a pro-Assadi fascist apologist – the idea that Libya is worse than Syria today is just ridiculous, not that it’s a competition. This is not least because in Syria you’ve had a regime that has used an airforce on a daily basis for 5 years to the scale of World War two levels, an unprecedented use of a government’s airforce inside its own borders, something that didn’t happen on this scale in Iraq or Libya, and something completely appeased – and collaborated with – by the West]
13. “Six ways to tell a moderate Syrian rebel from an ISIS extremist” (Article)
[Note: Of course Stop the War have been one of the main propagators of the slander that from the millions who protested in 2011, all disappeared and none remained as “moderate”. The Pentagon’s failed “Train and Equip” Programme, which resulted in the training of 100 or so fighters, is often used as a triumph to the “no moderate opposition to Assad exists” brigade (a brigade it should be noted that STW have been part of since 2012). What they never seek to mention is that the programme failed because it stipulated that members of the programme sign a declaration not to use their weapons to fight the Syrian government]
14. “Even as the US is bombing IS it is already paving the way for the formation of ‘moderate rebel’ enclaves in Syria that will be used to attack the Assad regime…
How can Saudi Arabia train ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, as Obama is now proposing, when IS came from those same rebels?”
[Note how for these “leftist” pro-War on Terror neocons, the genocide in Syria which is mainly and empirically not due to ISIS, or the sectarian repressive dictatorship that the US left behind in Iraq is not the issue, but ISIS. Repeat again, ISIS ISIS ISIS.]
15. “The “enemy” appears to be both sides in a civil war – Islamic State and the Syrian regime”
[Note subtle deletion of the most numerous side of the civil war, Syria’s hundreds of local rebel battalions, but of course they’re all really closet al-Qaeda anyway]
16. “We, the West, overthrew Saddam by violence. We overthrew Gadafy by violence. We are trying to overthrow Assad by violence. Harsh regimes all – but far less draconian than our Saudi allies, and other tyrannies around the world.”
[Far less draconian – a regime that’s killed more than 181,000 civilians (according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights) and 95% of civilian casualties (both SNHR and Violations Documentation Centre – the latter which only draws up statistics for casualties it can name, and which 4 of its activist members were kidnapped by what they accuse to be a rebel brigade, just to get out of the way any questions of “bias”) – is “far less draconian” than Saudi. A regime that’s raped thousands of Syrian women in a rape epidemic that will probably only be talked about in ten years’ time is “far less draconian”.]
17. “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East
Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS.”
[Yes, of course. Because when you want to strike a power like Iran the first thing you do is give them air-cover and weaponry, as Iranian militias are currently enjoying in Iraq. And another way is relieve sanctions on them instead of tighten them whilst they’re engaged in a couple of counter-revolutionary sectarian wars. This is exactly why Iran got a sanctions relief deal whilst it has thousands of troops stationed in Syria, why Hezbollah was taken off the “terrorist list” after it literally invaded another country, and why American “proxies” Iraq and Lebanon are prime (and unrestricted, unlike the Syrian opposition’s allies) providers of thousands of sectarian pro-regime militia loyalists and all the weaponry that comes with them.
This was incidentally one of the worst things I read, when I came across it after the Paris attacks I was livid. To use such a sensitive issue to attack what they call “extremist Sunnis” – whilst most Muslims would call the “extremists” the genocidal regimes in power that ruled and oppressed with the world’s appeasement in the name of “secularism” (from Mubarak to Sisi to Assad to Saleh) whilst calling those who oppose them as “resistance”, was disgusting; in placing the emphasis on the “bearded” extremists rather than the far more murderous clear-shaven Westernised and War on Terror-serving dictators this represented nothing less than Muslim-baiting to defend their fetishised “secularists”. Furthermore, it should be noted that of there have been 3 incidents where extremists carrying out attacks in the West have cited cited selective Western action in Syria – i.e. attacking ISIS whilst leaving Assad. This included Amedy Coubali, who stated that “I think of those who had to put up with Bashar al-Assad in Syria. He tortured people. Nobody did anything for years”. That such things are relatively unknown is because of a selective coverage and their going unreported by much of the authoritarian left’s “alternative” media.
18. “Isis appears to have solidified its position roughly where it intended, entrenched in control of a Sunni statelet. Syrian and Iraqi regular troops have clearly lost the will to fight this enclave. Effective opposition has come not from western bombers or recent, farcical attempts to “train” insurgents, Bay-of-Pigs style. It has come from motivated Hezbollah and Peshmerga troops, reportedly being reinforced by Russian units. The only intervention likely to work in Syria just now is from Moscow.”
19. “The final bankruptcy of American and British policy in Syria came 10 days ago as Islamic Front, a Saudi-backed Sunni jihadi group, overran the headquarters of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) at Bab al-Hawa on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey…
In so far as the FSA and its civilian counterparts ever represented anyone in Syria they do so no longer. The armed opposition is dominated by Saudi-sponsored Islamist brigades on the one hand and by al-Qa’ida affiliates on the other.
All US, British and French miscalculations have produced in Syria is a re-run of Afghanistan in the 1980s, creating a situation the ruinous consequences of which have yet to appear. As jihadis in Syria realise they are not going to win, they may well look for targets closer to home.”
20. “Was it a good idea to fund Islamist rebels in Syria, either directly or with the same proxy states that have now joined in Obama’s grand coalition? Isn’t it odd, that the West should find itself fighting ‘extremism’ with the assistance of Saudi Arabia, a corrupt tyranny which has done more to promote IS-style jihadism than any other state, with the exception of the United States? How can Saudi Arabia train ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, as Obama is now proposing, when IS came from those same rebels?”
Stop the War try to victimise themselves and essentially state “we’ve been accused of being supporters for both ISIS and Assad”. Of course this argument is the one that pretty much anyone can use, as liberal Zionists routinely do when they say “we’re being attacked by radical pro-Palestinians and radical Zionists at the same time, we must be doing something right” – but incidentally one thing’s for sure: the one side they’ve not been accused of supporting has been the rebels, the resistance, the revolutionaries – because these are precisely who they’ve spent most of their time attacking over the past 4 years.
Stop the War’s argument that it is being attacked simply because it is “anti-intervention” is a worn-out lie. It is being attacked for its smearing of the Syrian rebellion as an extremist plot against a secular-fetishised inflictor of genocide.
Stop the War’s claim that they “do not take positions in civil wars” is another lie. Beyond all the obvious bias above, is that why they invited Houthi speakers to speak against the Saudi airstrikes, one of whom literally read out a statement from Houthi central in Yemen, instead of finding a Yemeni who’s against the airstrikes and against the Saleh-Houthi counter-revolution? Is that why they invited Assad apologists, such as Isa al-Shaer and Mother Agnes, to come speak on their platforms (instead of say anti-intervention pro-revolution Syrians)? Is this why they invited PYD members (a part of the “civil war”) who directly ask for Western airstrikes at one of their meetings, because they are “neutral in civil wars”?
[Originally written in 2015]