The response from much of the left to parliament’s vote to commence air strikes in Syria has been characterised less by their usual collapse into the “anti-imperialism” of supporting your enemy’s enemy, than by an absence of commentary.
It is good that most of the left have shifted from an (at best) implicit backing of reactionary regimes as long as they clash with UK-US imperialism, or feel that such a position is no longer popular. Yet in most of the left, what has replaced this is either a lack of commentary on Daesh, or at worst an ill-explained ″blowback″ argument.
Socialist Worker editorialises that ″the same politicians lecturing us on the need to ‘defeat Isis’ are responsible for the destruction of Iraq and the group’s rise. They set the region ablaze — now they’re dousing it with fuel.″ Whilst the British and American state carry a large responsibility for the bloodbath that Iraq became, and the bombing campaigns being led by the UK, US and France now will not stop Daesh and may possibly make them stronger, painting the situation in the whole of the Middle East as simply the result of western imperialism ignores independent political tendencies. Social forces of the Middle East are not just simply passive pieces in the west′s game.
Protests against UK intervention were dominated by generic ″no more wars″ peace-nik politics. This is understandable from left-minded people as a reaction to the UK′s role in Iraq and Afghanistan, but actually the UK is not starting a war. A war is already going on in Syria, and has been for four years. Hundreds of thousands have died, four million refugees have fled to other countries, eight million are internally displaced. That is the result of the Assad regime, Daesh and other Islamist groups — not UK imperialism.
An article by political commentator and author Matt Carr posted on the Stop the War website has caused outrage with its apparently favourable equation of fighters joining Daesh with the International Brigades. The political comparison of choice, after Hilary Benn described UK-US airstrikes as in the spirit of the International Brigades, has been much analysed. Carr′s article states: ″Benn does not even seem to realise that the jihadist movement that ultimately spawned Daesh is far closer to the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove the International Brigades than Cameron’s bombing campaign — except that the international jihad takes the form of solidarity with oppressed Muslims, rather than the working class or the socialist revolution.″
Carr is telescoping a large part of 21st century history into one sentence, and as a result makes a pretty ugly and clumsy comparison. He also lumps together all those travelling to the Middle East, to join a variety of groups, in the last 15 years. Most damningly, and making the article sit well with the Stop the War version of the world, he appears to be uncritical of the ″international jihad″ being about ″solidarity with oppressed Muslims″. Again this removes from the equation all independent political ideologies, and reduced political Islam to a ″blowback″ against oppression.
Yet there are some grains of sense in some of his article. His description of ″solidarity with oppressed Muslims, rather than the working class or the socialist revolution″ is true of much of the left who have, over the last period, abandoned a class analysis of Muslim-majority countries.
The left’s failure to reach out to Muslim-background people in the UK on a class basis has left a political vacuum has been filled by the religious right.