Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Drone strikes for refugees

Football supporters groups across the UK are planning to show support for refugees.

In Frankfurt and other German cities, leftists and antifascists have organised moving rallies to welcome refugees to Germany.*  Hopefully, we will see the same in London too.

II. Don't underestimate the significance of this.  Throughout the entirety of my adult political life, all trends have been in the reverse direction.  When I first became a socialist, asylum seekers were the hate figure of the day.  Widely demonised as spongers, parasites, liars, frauds and criminals, they were the subject of constant media vilification.  In essence, this was part of the same system of ideological representations that justified cutting benefits for the disabled, for single mothers, and for the unemployed.  It was about designating an underclass problem population that needed to be policed, controlled and deterred.

New Labour, in an attempt to triangulate the Tories, began to emulate their rhetoric and policies on the issue.  Barbara Roche was sent down to Dover to make a show of inspecting lorries, to see if any undesirable foreigners were hidden in the back or clung to the exhaust pipe.  Jack Straw accused Roma gypsies of shitting on shop doorways.  The government removed all cash benefits to asylum seekers and put them on a stigmatising and privately run voucher system, presumably on the basis that foreigners couldn't be trusted with proper British pounds.

Most disgracefully, they set up a network of detention camps where people who had committed nor crime where locked up in centres run by abusive private security firms.  But at long last, the arbitrary cruelties of the system have induced an all-party parliamentary group to call for the abolition of these camps

III. But, while there has always been a solid anti-racist minority, it's taken some time for this to become the basis for a political counter-movement against the anti-immigrant consensus.

The official response to this development is to attempt to canalise the humanitarian sentiment into a license for escalating the bombing in Syria, on the insane pretext that this will somehow alleviate the refugee crisis.

What this concretely means was illustrated in The Sun's front page this morning, about the "British jihadis" whom the government says they have killed with a drone strike.  The cover says "Wham Bam, Thank You Cam", which as tabloid witticisms go is somewhere in the region of "Gotcha".

IV. There is a lot to say about the reactionary adventurers who go off to Syria or Iraq to join a fanatical religious organisation whose dominance anywhere is characterised by the most severe brutality, and whose propaganda quite explicitly justifies enslavement and rape of women.  Why a young man from Cardiff feels even remotely tempted by this prospect is a very good question.

However, the ra-ra reaction to the drone strike is troubling, to say the least.  Let's keep a few things in mind.

First, the majority of those killed by drone strikes are civilians.  As the charity, Reprieve, pointed out last year, for the forty one men supposedly targeted by US drone strikes, 1,147 people were killed.  This is quite a significant finding, because we're often told that these strikes are "surgically precise".  No such thing, evidently.

On top of that, many of those supposedly targeted were reported as having been killed several times over.  This demonstrates the casual, almost offhand way in which the military bullshits people, with a generally complicit media.

Perhaps worst of all, in developing justifications for the drone strikes and the numbers killed by them, the Obama administration cheerfully changed the definition of a civilian.  As the New York Times reported in an extraordinary piece of journalism, it turns out that any "military-aged male" - that is, fifteen years or older - is now considered a "militant" or a "combatant".

V. This is just to underline that just because the government says they have killed some very bad guys is no reason to suspend your critical faculties, to take their word for anything, and to start cheerleading.  It is also to point out that, while drone strikes may not be a major factor contributing to refugee flows, they are unlikely to help.

One might add that if the brief is simply to reduce the contribution that ISIS makes to the refugee flows, the evidence is that after the bombing began, ISIS's global recruitment increased to a thousand per month.  Within the first few months of war, the Pentagon admitted, 19,000 jihadis had been recruited from overseas.  So, the drone strikes aren't in any way, shape or form, reducing the threat posed by ISIS to civilian populations.  This is all too predictable since the core of ISIS was formed within the furnace of the occupation of Iraq.

Of course, some people claim that the real answer to the refugee crisis is to support the British military going in, full-speed, to overthrow the Assad dictatorship.  After all, the argument goes, it is Assad's military offensive, not that of ISIS, that is responsible for the largest number of deaths, and the largest number of refugees.

However, even if you can somehow subscribe to this notion that the British military is something like "the armed wing of Amnesty International", as I believe was actually claimed at around the turn of the millennium, there is a country immediately adjacent to Syria that has, in fairly recent memory, been invaded and occupied.  This was ostensibly to free its people from a brutal dictatorship.  

In the first three years of that war, alone, an excess of 600,000 deaths were recorded - and that excess is over and above the number of deaths that would have resulted from the twin despotisms of Saddam and sanctions.  The list of cities that were defiled, cut down to rubble, their electricity and water destroyed, hospitals flattened, thousands killed within, homes destroyed, is extensive - off the top of my head, I think of Fallujah, Rafah, Tal Afar, Al-Qaim, and Haditha.  This is to say nothing about the big flows of refugees produced by the war, and the disgustingly callous British government attitude to the small number of Iraqi refugees who actually sought protection in the UK.  Who would have thought they could take a country in such dire straits, with a wrecked economy and infrastructure, where the sanctions regime was considered genocidal by its administrators, where the dictatorship's apparatus was unforgivingly violent, and make it worse?  Yet, they did.

VI. Of course, not every invasion is Iraq.  Sometimes, the ensuing debacle is far less severe than this calamity.  Libya is not in great shape, and suffered a few tens of thousands of deaths in part due to the war, but it's not Iraq.  Kosovo has had its troubles, and the war left us with two bouts of ethnic cleansing, first against Albanians then against Serbs and Roma, yet Pristina is not Baghdad.  But since when was that a stunning recommendation?  "Not As Bad As Iraq?"  Oh, you didn't murder quite as many people this time?  Do you want a fucking Blue Peter badge?  

Anyone who says that the British military must escalate drone strikes and bombings "for the refugees" is either a cynic or a sap.  And those who are marching this weekend mustn't let anyone usurp their stance.

*As mood music to this laudable development, a 22 year old anti-Nazi song has risen to the top of the German pop charts.