Hezbollah were among the organisations represented at the “World Against War” rally in Friends’ Meeting House, London on 25 February, with the Stop the War Coalition seeing fit to give a platform to the clerical fascist Lebanese militia.
Reflecting the StWC’s eclecticism, this utter reactionary was speaking alongside Tony Benn, who gave his usual upper-class liberal speech about why the United Nations should be stronger and why we should learn from the Bible’s lessons of contrition.
Introduced by Communist Party of Britain member Andrew Murray to rapturous applause from the 250-strong audience, Ibrahim Mousawi shied away from the misogynistic, homophobic, anti-semitic rhetoric which his organisation peddles in the shanty towns of Beirut. Instead, he told us that Hezbollah are oh-so reasonable — “why do the Americans ignore the real terrorists at the expense of us, the bridge-builders?”. Hezbollah are not led by a bunch of gangsters, but “engineers, lecturers and people from all walks of life”.
Indeed, Hezbollah are fully willing to arrange a lash-up with the rest of the Lebanese ruling class, for example the pro-Western parties behind Prime Minister Siniora, to resolve the political crisis which has seen the country without a president for three months. He said that all Hezbollah want is to be able to veto anything the government tries to do - isn’t that reasonable? Along with this, Hezbollah are strong proponents of Lebanon’s sectarian political order, whereby seats in parliament are distributed according to religious group and politics is staged at the level of horse-trading between the leaders of competing faith and ethnic communities.
Crashing full frontal into Bond villain-esque self-parody with his long leather coat and black shirt, the speaker — editor of a Hezbollah newspaper and former manager of a TV station which put out soap operas about the Jewish World Conspiracy — claimed that the problem in his country was the lack of a strong government, and argued that since the Lebanese government cannot be relied on to keep order and stand up to the Israelis, Hezbollah have every right to arm themselves and patrol the streets. At pains to deny that he hated the Jews (the western Trots don’t really like that kind of thing, but it’s fine for Lebanese TV), he appealed to “a man’s right to protect his family” from Zionism.
The other speeches were rather less spicy. Lindsey German, the Socialist Workers’ Party candidate for the London mayoral election, gave a dull talk about the hypocrisy of the British establishment and echoed much of Benn’s liberal sentiment. For example, she talked at length about the “dodgy dossier” used by Tony Blair to make the case for war, and why he should be “taken to a war crimes trial in the Hague”.
But who does she think polices “international law”? Last time I checked, the United Nations was a cartel run by the imperialist powers victorious in World War Two. Making no reference to socialism or workers in the Middle East, she did however attempt a “radical” pitch — “Those who support the right of Hezbollah and Hamas to fight back are characterised as extremists. If opposing the government is extremist, then we’re all extremists”.
The only person on the platform whose views were worthy of respect was Hassan Jumaa, leader of the militant Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions which has waged several strikes against privatisation and looting of Iraq’s major resource, demonstrating the potential of the working-class movement despite nightmarish circumstances. Although the union is non-sectarian and organises all oil workers, Jumaa seems to be influenced by the soft-Islamist Shi’ite Fadila group, and so said little about the workers’ movement’s opposition to clerical reaction in Iraq.
Instead, he focused on the question of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the destruction the US and UK have unleashed. He commented that “the Iraqi workers will win victory for the oppressed Iraqi people” — given that the American mission’s success is reliant on stable control of Iraqi resources, strikes represent a significant challenge for the occupiers. Indeed, Jumaa’s attitude to the troops was stark, “you should not be taken in by those who say that the withdrawal of troops will bring death and destruction. The longer they, the source of death, stay, the worse it will get”, and said that at the last two May Days the union had raised a call for the troops to leave Iraq. Without doubt, this was an optimistic characterisation of events, but Jumaa’s understanding of the situation is certainly worthy of our attention.
Unfortunately, the audience was not allowed to ask any questions or make any comments, so we could not find out more about Jumaa’s support for political Islam or how workers organise against the home-grown bourgeoisie. After all, in the eyes of the Stop the War Coalition and its SWP and Stalinist leadership, letting activists talk to the leading trade unionist in Iraq is not as exciting as giving a platform for a fascist to rant in defence of Hezbollah. It seems that for these “socialists”, the workers’ movement is just one part of the cross-class spectrum of “The Movement”, and so giving a token ten minutes to someone like Hassan Jumaa is sufficient to cover their left flank.