Written By: - Date published: 8:18 am, February 13th, 2015 - 417 comments
Categories: class, Ethics, human rights, International, iraq, Left, socialism, Syria, war - Tags: gerry brownlee, International, john key, war
Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is expected to ask New Zealand to join the international fight against ISIS when he meets PM John Key, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee in Auckland. Our Government is expected respond positively and to make a commitment to a training role (though I bet the SAS will also be there as undercover cover).
I’d prefer it if Key didn’t resort to weasel words. Gerry Brownlee apparently feels the same way, ham-fistedly slapping the PM down in Parliament, then later claiming he meant to insult UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond instead. If we are going to war, then say so, John. This is not about being in the ‘club’ or the ‘family’, it’s about doing the right thing when the opportunity arises. We should be proud we are being asked and even prouder that we are going.
Now, on the surface, that might seem an unlikely position for a lefty to take. Especially one who was opposed to the occupation of Iraq a decade ago. The rise of ISIS clearly relates to the disastrous decision to invade Iraq on the pretext of a dodgy dossier which claimed the Saddam Hussein regime had weapons of mass destruction capable of being launched in a mere 45 minutes. Well, the West and allies trusted Bush and Blair and that 45 minutes has stretched like interstellar travel into a second decade with the loss of thousands of lives and no obvious end in sight.
In addition, the West has sought to destabilise neighbouring country Syria and into the vacuum we have created has stepped the most backward looking, vicious and inhuman force the world has seen for eighty years. ISIS are fascists hiding behind the Koran.
Their perverted version of Islam is not the issue, however. At heart, they are no better nor more Godly than the Axis forces the world faced in the 1930’s and 40’s. Their clever use of social media has disguised the fact that they treat conquered communities as slaves or worse. While we focus on youtube posted murders, disgusting as they are, behind the digital front, they are daily destroying the lives of the living on the ground. They must be stopped. And if not by us in the west, then by whom?
We in the west have created this mess and we are responsible for cleaning it up. Taking an isolationist stance (not our problem) or hiding from the threat (if we take part we’ll be targets too) is not how the left should look at this. Nor is conflating issues as Martyn Bradbury has mindlessly done on the Daily Blog. We in New Zealand have always been at the forefront of opposing fascism. The Kiwi left recognised it for what it was in the thirties and we fought it then, mainly as individuals, but sometimes as organised labour. Some brave souls made their way to Spain, the wharfies stopped the loading of ships bound for the fascist bloc. By the late thirties, we had no choice but to fight as a country because the fight was coming to us whether we liked it or not.
Bill posted a few days ago about the echoes of the Spanish Civil War in the fight for Kurdish independence. As usual, he was remarkably perceptive. There are real similarities. Last year, I spent some time in Northern Spain. Urged on by memories of my late comrade Tom Spiller, who fought in the International Brigade*, I visited two strangely ignored memorials to the dead of the Civil War.
The first was the town of Belchite, near Zaragoza. It was bombed to rubble by the Republican forces and after the victory of the Fascists, Franco ordered that it not be touched and instead be left to show ‘the savagery of the left’. It remains as it was, and weirdly, it’s hardly signposted, let alone fenced off and respected as it should be. It’s a spooky, mournful place. Dust and bones.
The second and more poignant memorial was El Fossar de la Pedrera. This was a Barcelona quarry used as a grave site by the Francoists to bury hundreds of executed leftists. Nowadays it’s well looked after and contains the tomb of Lluis Companys, the first and, so far, only leader of an independent Catalonia. Companys was shot on the hill above the quarry in 1940. Again, though, it’s not a well signposted memorial and even the staff at the nearby Mont Juic cemetery were confused about exactly where it was and how to get there. Even in Republican Barcelona, some memories are painful to recall.
So what’s my point? On the left, we fight the good fight not for glory, not to be celebrated, not even to be remembered. We fight because it’s the morally correct thing to do. We fight in solidarity with the oppressed and downtrodden. As Hemingway’s character Robert Jordan felt in For Whom the Bell Tolls ‘the loss of liberty anywhere, was the loss of liberty everywhere’. Being left means being internationalist, not isolationist. The tyranny of distance does not shield us from the tyranny of ISIS.
War, huh? What is it good for? Well, it’s never good. It’s ugly, awful and without doubt to be avoided where possible. But we have an obligation to the people of Iraq, Syria and the Kurdish homeland not to turn away from their suffering. We can and must come to their aid. We owe them our solidarity.
*Tom talked about his experiences in this Radio NZ program. It’s not an easy listen in parts, but it’s a very moving story.