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News, Society 11/10/2016

Why I confronted Jeremy Corbyn on Syria


If Aleppo is our Guernica, some on the left are cheering the Luftwaffe

On Saturday 8 October I attended the 15-year anniversary conference of the Stop the War Coalition where I questioned the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, former chair of the body who was due to give a speech, on his position on the war in Syria.

While making headlines was never my intention, I did intend to hold Corbyn to account for his views on the conflict in Syria. The Stop The War Coalition has had an appalling position on Syria from the very start of the conflict, refusing to show any solidarity with Syrians facing extermination. 

The statement I released following the event went as follows:

'The responsibility to protect civilians is a fundamental precept of international law. The British government, along with the United States and the powers of the world have abdicated their responsibility towards Syrian civilians and turned to a policy of appeasing the principle forces responsible for 95% of civilian deaths in Syria, the Assad regime, Iran and the Russian military.

What is happening in Syria now is a genocide under every working definition of the term, the silence of British political parties towards this is tantamount to complicity in Assad’s genocide.

Jeremy Corbyn has been at the forefront of this appeasement policy, as his allies at the Stop The War Coalition continue to deny platforms to Syrian voices yet providing voices to those who openly back Assad’s criminal war such as Tariq Ali and George Galloway.

Jeremy Corbyn’s official policy of “peace negotiations” for a “unity” government make no mention of accountability or justice, and provide nothing for Syrians facing extermination. Rivers of blood flow daily through the streets of Syria, and the British Labour party’s only response is to ask for more talks while demanding the slaughter is allowed to continue unabated.

The late MP Jo Cox called for the Labour Party to support civilian protection measures in Syria; I call on Jeremy to listen to Jo and stop ignoring Syrian activists. The bloodshed in Syria cannot be stopped while continuing to refuse to hold Assad accountable for his crimes. We must act to protect civilians now, a sea-enforced deter and retaliate no-bombing zone would be a good place to start, as would aid drops to civilians starving under Assad’s brutal ‘submit or starve’ sieges.

Enough of the silence, enough of the complicity, it is time to act now to protect Syrian lives.'

Alison McGovern remembers Jo Cox's efforts for Syria in Parliament

Today's parliamentary session on Syria, while welcome and important, only further strengthens the hostility people who have followed the Syrian conflict closely feel towards both the British government and the Labour party. 

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry used her parliamentary platform to repeatedly call for the Government to back UN Syria envoy Steffan de Mistura's calls to personally escort "jihadis" out of Eastern Aleppo. This call is not only an unworkable fantasy but legitimises the Russian slaughter of civilians in East Aleppo. There were no "jihadis" on board the humanitarian aid convoy deliberately attacked by the Russians, nor are there "jihadis" at the hospitals consistently and deliberately targeted by Russian or regime military jets. Furthermore, Thornberry used the platform to repeatedly praise the UN's response to Assad's brutal submit or starve siege of Homs, in what is widely seen as an act of ethnic cleansing by the Assad regime. The official Labour party policy it seems is to continue asking for peace talks while cynically watching the genocide in Aleppo.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who has previously praised the murderous Assad regime, had a much stronger response to the slaughter in Aleppo. However, his position, outside of the heavy rhetoric, matches the Labour party policy of refusing to uphold international law and calling for empty peace talks almost to the letter.

There are some that would say that Corbyn's position on this is naivety, this is not the case, as the speakers at the STWC event made clear when discussing the Israel/Palestine conflict, peace talks are pointless without justice and accountability. The Russians, the Assad regime and Iran are making a mockery of international humanitarian law in Syria. By continuing to promote a policy of appeasement and cowardice in the face of the senseless and inhumane slaughter of civilians in Syria, both Labour and the Conservative Government will simply continue to be nothing more than an audience to this barbarity.

John Woodcock MP was right to compare Aleppo to Guernica. However, in 2016 there are segments of the left, including friends of Jeremy Corbyn, who are cheering on the Luftwaffe. It is a moral obligation to hold these people, our elected representatives, to account. History will not forget them.

Oz Katerji is a journalist, writer and filmmaker with a focus on the Middle East.