Anti-Islamophobia, genuine and cynical: a reply to Aaron Kiely on Kurdistan (and Bosnia and Kosova and Afghanistan and Chechnya)

Submitted by AWL on 18 October, 2014 - 10:14 Author: Sacha Ismail

During the recent row in the student movement about Kurdistan, five members of NUS national executive who are active in NUS’s Black Students’ Campaign issued a statement.

This article is not a response to that statement as such. What pushed me to write this was who one of the five signatories was: Aaron Kiely, a member of the "Student Broad Left" group, a front for Socialist Action.

In the context of the rise of ISIS, the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and Western intervention, the statement talks about “blatant Islamophobia” and “the demonisation of Muslim peoples”. To put it bluntly, this is appalling, utterly cynical hypocrisy coming from a member of a group with a long history of supporting anti-Muslim violence and aggression – so long as the forces doing it are anti-US.

What am I talking about?

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, the first international issue I was concerned about was Bosnia. Workers’ Liberty was active around it, but I was not yet a socialist; I heard about the issue from Muslim relatives and friends of my father. I was young and thought I knew a lot, but didn’t; later I learnt a lot more about the horror of what had happened there.

This may sound like ancient history to some, but it is highly relevant.

As Stalinist Yugoslavia broke down after 1991, the central state apparatus was transformed into an agency for the imperialism of the biggest nation in the federation, Serbia. As they broke away, Serbia attempted to conquer the other nations of Yugoslavia – and the full violence of the Serbian army and Serb nationalist militias was unleashed on the multi-ethnic state of Bosnia.

Bosnian Muslims, who made up 45 per cent of the population and more in some cities, were subjected to attempted genocide: rounded up into concentration camps; at least tens of thousands killed, tens of thousands tortured and tens of thousands raped – alongside many Croats, smaller minorities and Serbs who resisted Serb nationalism. There were atrocities on all sides, but the overwhelmingly majority were carried out by the Serb nationalist forces. Muslims were the number one target. This was ethnic cleansing and also religious persecution: in the areas of Bosnia seized by the Serb nationalists, every single mosque was destroyed, hundreds across the country.

In Kosova, overwhelming majority Muslim, Serbia established an apartheid style regime until it turned to outright ethnic cleansing in 1998-99.

The US, Britain and other Western powers refused to help the Bosnians, for instance enforcing an arms embargo which meant that Bosnia was disarmed while Serbia inherited the bulk of Yugoslavia's military hardware. But Serbia was allied with Russia, and when its predatory drive caused too much instability the West intervened to limit it, before imposing a settlement which handed over much of Bosnia to the Serb nationalists.

Many on the British left, the SWP for instance, refused to side with the victims and resisters of Serbian imperialism, saying they opposed all nationalisms! Others, influenced by Stalinist nostalgia for “socialist Yugoslavia”, went further, backed Serbia and justified its war crimes. “Left-wing” Labour MPs sponsored a “Committee for Peace in the Balkans” to support Serbia in league with Tory right winger Sir Alfred Sherman, who had invited Jean-Marie Le Pen to Britain, claimed the US was turning Europe into "Islamistan" and declared at the committee's founding meeting that he had “nothing against Muslims” but that they were not “civilised” or “democratic” – unlike Serbian death squads and concentration camps, of course. (In general the European far right enthusiastically backed Serbia.)

This is the point: hardly anyone on the "left" went further in supporting Serbia than Aaron Kiely's Socialist Action comrades.

I am told there was discussion at the time about Socialist Action’s direct links with Serb nationalists. But in any case, no one – least of all SA themselves – could deny or tried to deny their pro-Serbia position, which was developed over Bosnia and consolidated over Kosova.

This was not an aberration: SA had backed Russia’s colonial war in Afghanistan and to this day they support Russian imperialism in Chechnya (and many other places, Muslim and non-Muslim, which is why their comrade Alan Freeman recently attended a far-right pro-Russian conference in Russian-occupied Crimea).

Since 2001, as Islamist forces have clashed with US imperialism, Socialist Action have changed their rhetoric. But they have not changed their politics. They still think they were right to back Serbia in Bosnia and Kosova, Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya and so on – even when it meant justifying genocidal anti-Muslim slaughter. For them anti-imperialism does not mean support for democracy and self-determination, but support for whoever is in conflict with the US and its allies.

On Kurdistan, whether or not SA back the Kurds, for them it is undoubtedly far less important than opposing the US. Hence too their support for the Assad regime and its sectarian war against Sunni Syrians.

Despite our loud and clear denunciation of Israel's oppression and violence against the Palestinians, some on the left call AWL anti-Palestinian - because we think a single state solution would have to be voluntary and therefore advocate two states as an immediate demand. Imagine what they would say if we actually justified Israeli violence! Yet that is what Aaron Kiely's group has done in connection with anti-Muslim violence many times.

I believe anyone who talks about defending Muslim peoples against imperialism, and means it, should repudiate the politics of Socialist Action, SBL and Aaron Kiely – not sign joint statements about these issues with them. Agree or disagree with my politics, I hope people will think about this.

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