Hackney Stop the War: Real discussion needed

Stop the War Coalition in Hackney held a teach-in on Saturday June 7 to discuss the situation in Iraq and the way forward for the coalition. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, there was in fact little discussion on anything at all. Anne McShane reports

The meeting began with a welcome from a representative of Halkevi, the community centre which hosted the event, run by the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). Then there were five speakers from the platform, mostly from human rights organisations. The most interesting was Abdul-Hadi Jiad, a long-standing journalist on the BBC Arabic service, who was summarily sacked along with another colleague on February 19, just before the war began.

There was no reason given for the dismissal and it appears to be entirely politically motivated. An Iraqi who fled Saddam’s regime in 1989, Jiad was clearly not trusted to put the official BBC line on Iraq. Therefore he had to be dumped.

He spoke about the ‘embedded’ journalists used to fight the propaganda war - stating that they were a concept developed in the US in 1996. These “weapons of mass deception” meant that the independent media was under threat in all aspects. In fact proportionally more independent journalists - including, most notoriously, those employed by Al Jazeera - were killed in Iraq than in any previous conflict. The National Union of Journalists is backing Jiad and details of his campaign for reinstatement can be found at www.ujustbbc.co.uk.

Another interesting speaker was Sabah Jawad, secretary of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation. He spoke passionately against the invasion, while at the same time condemning the previous regime. He said that secular opposition forces were also growing in strength, with the Iraqi Communist Party undergoing a revival. This is welcome, if accurate - from all we see it appears that religious groups are in the ascendancy in Iraq.

There was only time for a few short interventions from the floor before the break and the second part of the meeting. This was easily the dullest part. Instead of directing their remarks to the subject, the speakers spent the majority of their contributions talking about the evils of Bush and Blair. An exception was Mustafa Kandemir, representing the Day-Mer Turkish and Kurdish Centre, who addressed the need for joint-community initiatives to bring together the anti-war forces in Hackney.

Leading Socialist Workers Party member Chris Nineham, speaking on behalf of the steering committee, reminded the meeting several times of how we “came very close to stopping the war”. Blair had been on the verge of resigning and the US would not have wanted to go it alone. This fantasy is clearly the official line of the SWP, as can be evidenced from a cursory reading of any of their recent publications.

As well as being clearly wrong (Blair was never in danger of losing the vote and the US would certainly have gone on their own in any event), it has the (almost certainly desired) effect of stifling any criticism of the STWC. Two local non-aligned members tried to raise some criticisms of the campaign during the 30 minutes given over to the floor. Heckling, led by the local SWP full-timer, brought their contributions to a halt, with the chair insisting there were too many speakers.

The two were accused of being demoralising. They were jeered. They were treated in the most undemocratic way. No criticism could be allowed. Everything the coalition had done was beyond reproach. The battle for democracy within the coalition must nevertheless go on. The fact that about a quarter of the meeting was made up of new forces shows the continuing political opposition to Blair on this question. It shows the potential for real political regroupment. Another teach-in will take place later this month on Palestine. Hopefully this will be not be another rally-type event. Real discussion is needed.