This is the text of a speech I gave at the ‘End Intervention in Syria’ rally on Saturday 17 March, 2012. I try to outline why I believe Syria is worth defending against imperialist intervention of any kind, and I urge the British anti-war movement to learn from its mistakes in relation to the war on Libya, and to put aside its differences with the Syrian state in order to close ranks and defend Syria from imperialist and zionist aggression.
Many people ask me: why do I defend Syria. I was born in England, and I’ve lived all my life here. I have no personal or family connection with the Syrian state.
So why defend Syria?
It’s really very simple. I defend Syria for the same reason that Hugo Chavez defends Syria. For the same reason that Fidel Castro defends Syria. For the same reason that Hassan Nasrallah defends Syria:
Because Syria is a crucial part of the global resistance to imperialism and zionism.
Because Syria is an independent, socialist-oriented, pro-Palestinian, Arab Nationalist, internationalist state.
Because Syria is the country where Palestinian refugees are treated with dignity and respect, as equal citizens.
Because Syria is the only Middle Eastern country that provides military, financial and practical assistance to Hezbollah - which we all know is the most successful military movement against zionism in the world.
And because my many Syrian friends describe their homeland as a beautiful, historic country where people can lead a dignified life - regardless of their religious views - without having to bow down to the empire. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
That is why I defend Syria - its people and its government - and that is why the United States, Britain, Israel, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait and so on oppose it and wish to see it on its knees.
What a farce to see the likes of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar criticising Syria! Where have these obscure monarchies been hiding their democracy? Where have these cowardly colonial creations been hiding their resistance to the fascist state of Israel?!
What other Arab country has stood up to Israel and the US so consistently as Syria? Syria could have had a very easy time if it had taken the route of Egypt and signed a separate peace with Israel. Syria could have had a very easy time if - like Jordan or Saudi Arabia - it was in permanent collusion with Israel, Britain and the US.
Perhaps I have a rose-tinted view. Some people tell me that I do. I appreciate that Syria is not some kind of utopian society. And the fact is: you look around the world and there is no utopian society. Britain considers itself a ‘democracy’. We think our democracy is so good that we should export it everywhere else! But here in Britain you can get arrested for a Facebook status. Teenagers can get imprisoned for stealing a bottle of water.
Yes, Syria has its problems, just as all nations have problems. Syria is not an isolated country in the middle of the ocean with no contact with the outside world, that can quietly and happily develop a nice democratic socialist utopia. It’s in the heart of the Middle East, and has part of its territory occupied by the zionist entity! It is under permanent intense threat from the empire. Is it any surprise that it has some practical limits on political freedom?! And frankly, compared to other countries in the region, it’s a haven of political pluralism.
The bottom line is that the Syrian state works hard for its people. It makes mistakes, there are differences, there are problems, there are complaints, but it is under threat from the greater enemy - imperialism and zionism - and we must unite to defend it.
What do I mean when I say ‘unite’? I mean putting differences aside and closing ranks with the Syrian state and people against ALL forms of intervention - including sanctions, including financing and arming the opposition, including the campaign of slander and demonisation that is serving right now to win popular support for war against Syria.
It’s simple. You’re my friend. We might have disagreements, sometimes serious ones. But if someone comes along and starts threatening you and bullying you, I will defend you, no question. Disagreements can be resolved later - right now the priority is to close ranks and fight the aggression. This is the meaning of UNITY.
The anti-war movement in Britain has to ask itself some very serious questions. It totally failed to mobilise against the war in Libya. One of the main reasons is that it had so completely swallowed the demonisation of Muammar Qaddafi that it simply could not bring itself to unite with the Libyan state and defend Libya. And now what do we see in Libya? We see 50,000 dead. We see tens of thousands imprisoned and tortured, simply because they don’t agree with the new government. We see the lynching and torture of black Libyans, targeted because of the colour of their skin. We don’t see any of the ‘democracy’ that we were promised. We were told that the Libyans were suffering so badly under Qaddafi - that they didn’t have freedom. But whatever they had, they had a stable, prosperous, independent nation. Now that is just a memory. A tragedy has taken place in Libya, and the British anti-war movement didn’t lift a finger to prevent it from happening.
We know that a similar tragedy awaits Syria if the government falls. Everybody recognises that the lunatics of the Free Syrian Army (more accurately described as the Free Salafi Army) will cause a devastating sectarian civil war that will set Syria back decades and cost thousands of lives. Everybody knows that the kleptocrats-in-waiting of the Syrian National Council will end Syrian support for Palestine, will turn over the Syrian economy to foreign corporations, and will break Syria’s links with Hezbollah and Iran. This is clear! Is that what we want to see?! Surely, in the face of such a prospect - a prospect that Israel, Europe and the US are drooling over -, surely we can find room for unity with the Syrian state?!
My plea to the anti-war movement is this: don’t make the same mistake with Syria as you did with Libya. Take the chance to get some credibility back. Expose the lies, don’t support the lies. Mobilise public opinion to defend Syria. Syria needs friends. Be a friend.