Is Dropping More Bombs on Syria the Way to
Solve the Refugee Crisis?
We must resist attempts to turn humanitarianism into
a pretext for war, says Kevin Ovenden, for it is wars, above all,
which create refugees.
By Kevin Ovenden
September 07, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Stop
the War Coalition"
- FROM THE Greek island of Mytiliene to
Munich we are seeing something of the power of ordinary people and a
collective counterweight to racist exclusion, poverty and war.
In Britain, it has forced notoriously anti-migrant
and anti-refugee papers, such as the Sun and Daily Mail,
hypocritically to claim they care for those facing death in the
Aegean. That has left the likes of Peter Hitchens on an ever
diminishing island of
bigotry, committed to the absurdity of Britain staying
exactly as it is – or as he imagined it was.
Whatever contortions the tabloids and politicians
make this weekend, it is not they who have led the upsurge of human
First, the refugees and newcomers to Europe are
fighting for their rights. And winning many battles. No state or
inter-governmental agency airlifted or brought them to Munich or
other European cities.
They themselves battled across one border after
another to get there.
That, and the
shocked reaction to the image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi,
has brought a groundswell of solidarity. That in turn is moving more
In Britain, there is a growing focus on those
trapped at the Calais camp who would like to cross the Channel.
Governments across Europe are feeling some
pressure and are having to work out what to do. David Cameron is
cooking up a political response.
He and a section of the British establishment,
including on the right of the Labour Party, are concerting an
argument for bombing Syria. The latest is
former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.
The moral depravity of what Cameron is doing is
sickening. He is not even trying to make a convincing case for how
dropping more bombs on Syria will somehow bring to an end the
many-sided war there, which the West’s policy has helped foment.
He knows there is no compelling case. That’s why
he is so nervous about pressing ahead. Unlike Tony Blair over Iraq
who went to war despite a deep division in parliament, Cameron says
he will move only with parliamentary consensus.
So why push for bombing at all, with so much doubt
even among the military top brass, and with an unworkable policy of
both regime change and stopping ISIS?
At this moment, it is in order to avoid having to
break with the inhuman asylum and immigration policy and to allow
refugees in. Something that is 100 percent guaranteed to help and
not to make matters worse.
It is to exploit the suffering of millions of
people who are on the move in order to justify an enhanced British
military presence in the Middle East, even though that will create
more refugees. It is to use deaths such as Aylan’s to cement
alliances with countries such as Saudi Arabia, which is
bombing neighbouring Yemen and has not taken one single
Syrian. Not one.
The callousness and cynicism are staggering. From
ordinary people we are seeing a spontaneous upsurge of solidarity.
Cameron is seeking to use the immediacy of the shock at what is
happening to divert that solidarity into support for wider war.
That’s why it is absolutely right that the
organisation of solidarity from below is going hand in hand with an
argument to stop Cameron doing that and to force him to do at the
very least what the German government has been
obliged to do in accepting many more refugees.
Most people quite rightly smell the opportunism of
politicians trying to exploit a tragedy. “Keep politics out of it”
is an understandable reaction. But it is not enough to stop what
Cameron is up to or to “keep the politicians out”.
That’s because with the likes of Lord Carey and a
pliant media governments present bombing as a non-political
humanitarian act. It is the opposition to bombing which is then
rounded on as “bringing politics into it”. This is what they will
try to do this coming week.
They will try to shift public opinion – which is
very conflicted both over bombing and over taking more refugees (see
the polls quoted in the article linked to) – politically to
manipulate humanitarian instinct along pro-bombing lines.
Just saying keep politics out of it will not be
enough to stop that. And it can end up echoing the right wing’s
political attack on those opposed to war.
That’s what people like Bob Geldof and Bono have
frequently ended up doing. I’m all for prominent figures and
celebrities joining the solidarity movement. It’s great that the
German football club, Bayern Munich, has followed the lead of a
large section of its fans and is donating and making clear its
support for refugees.
initiative from English football is in the pipeline.
But those things are different from celebrity
politicos who are wheeled out to support an establishment argument.
It’s because politicians are so generally distrusted that they so
often these days have to rely on celebs to push a difficult
The choice of who to focus on and what images to
use in the media also subtly serves to frame the issues in ways
which crop out the views of the people involved and the demands of
the movement which is developing.
So there are few pictures right now of the second
dangerous route, next to the crossing from Turkey to Greece, into
Europe for people escaping war and devastation: from Libya across
Earlier this year two boats went down with many
hundreds of people aboard within a few days of each other. Some of
them will have been the same age as Aylan Kurdi.
Europe’s leaders do not want us to include those
images – and the media follows that cue, because it maintains that
what the politicians and celebrities say is more important than
The reason is that we have already bombed Libya.
Four years ago the British government led the way in exploiting
people’s heartfelt solidarity with those suffering in Libya in order
for Nato to bomb, to enforce regime change and to… to end up with
devastation and a refugee crisis from one end of the country to the
While the media has moved on from Libya and drawn
a blanket over that Nato-made disaster, a lot of people in Britain
and Europe have not.
There is a deep understanding among a section of
the public that Western bombing will create more refugees not end
That is true among people I know on the island of
Mytilene (Lesvos) in Greece. They were charged with people smuggling
because of their actions in helping refugees.
The campaign around their court case is what
caused the current Greek government to change the law so that
helping people ashore in the Aegean is not a crime.
The popular assistance for refugees in Greece
which has been organised by ordinary people for many years has
fought many political campaigns. It has resisted attempts to exploit
suffering for military purposes.
So as this movement of solidarity builds towards
a day of action across the continent on 12 September
let’s follow that example.
That means choosing to listen to the voices from
below across Europe. It means saying that we have a genuinely
humanitarian politics, which will reject false attempts to separate
those fleeing Western-stoked wars and disastrous interventions into
“deserving” and “undeserving”.
And we will resist all attempts to turn
humanitarianism into a pretext for war. For it is wars, above all,
which create refugees.
Source: Stop the War Coalition