Unity with al Sadr
Anne Mc Shane reports on the "international conference" organised by the Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM)
The Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM) held what they advertised as an "international conference" on October 13 in Dublin.
IAWM is one of three Irish anti-war campaigns, and is dominated and run by the Socialist Workers Party. This was heavily reflected in the composition of the platform, although SWP speakers, true to form, did not introduce themselves as such. The first session - on 'Islamophobia and the war on terror' - had three SWPers out of four speakers: Simon Asfar, who was introduced as a Lebanese journalist, Dave Crouch (Media Workers Against the War) and Alycs Elica Zaerin (Campaign Iran).
The second session did include one non-SWP member - Haydar Nassar of the al Sadr group in Iraq. He argued that his group stands to unite the peoples of Iraq and that they want to bring justice to the poor and needy. The response of the SWP was ecstatic - this to them seemed to be the equivalent of a declaration for socialism. The al Sadr group was praised by leading SWP member Richard Boyd Barrett for its bravery and courage against the imperialist forces. Not one critical remark was made about the reactionary nature of its programme or its sympathetic view of the Iranian regime. Instead those that raised criticisms were denounced as islamophobic.
My point that we should show solidarity with the Iranian people was met with clear opposition from SWP leader Kieran Allen. He was "completely for democracy" and "of course against all repression", but "we must focus on our own ruling group, which is the United States, and not on Iran". Alycs Elica Zaerin told us that "it was not our place to say what should happen in Iran". Indeed she reassured us that "the democracy movement there is very vibrant" and all the western rhetoric about the Iranian regime was "simply firing up the Iranian government, around which the people are bound to unite against an outside threat".
The second session of the afternoon was to discuss 'Democracy and resistance in the Middle East'. Speaking were Simon Assaf, Haydar Nassar and two Hezbollah speakers, including Ibrahim Musawi from Al Manar, the party's TV station. Kamil Madhi, introduced as an Iraqi academic, also declared himself a Hezbollah supporter.
Given the politics of Hezbollah and al Sadr, you would not expect to hear much criticism of the Iranian regime from those speakers. But what was particularly marked was the defence put forward by the SWP leadership. All views which supported the struggles against Ahmadinejad were rebuffed. Leading SWP member Marnie Holborrow accused Hands Off the People of Iran of being "patronising towards the Iranian people" by suggesting that there were actually struggles there with which we should show solidarity.
While nobody said they supported the Iranian regime, no criticism of it was allowed. In fact Dave Crouch and Alycs Elica Zaerin made a point of defending Ahmadinejad from recent media accusations of anti-semitism on the basis that he is bound to be misrepresented in the current climate. There was no similar concern to defend the people of Iran - instead our reports of working class and democratic struggles were denounced as CIA-inspired misinformation.
When a Socialist Party member said that the SWP was too soft on Hezbollah, he was met with jeers and heckles. He argued that they were "whitewashing opposition movements in the Middle East" and that defence did not mean covering up sexism and homophobia.
The Hezbollah speaker replied to these points by asserting: "Yes, of course, as a muslim I am anti-gay, just like if you are a christian you are anti-gay. That does not mean I want to kill them." This last comment produced sympathetic laughter among the largely SWP audience - an indication of the extent that they were getting carried away with their love-in with Hezbollah and al Sadr.
Andrew Murray, officially representing the Stop the War Coalition, replied to earlier arguments when he spoke in the last session of the day. He said that he wanted to make clear the STWC's position on Iran: it "is up to the country itself to decide and we cannot impose democracy from outside". While "people [in Iran] have the right to oppose sexism and homophobia, we cannot use that struggle as a reason to withhold support".
The "breadth and unity of the STWC will be preserved and we will not be diverted from our present position on Iran", he continued. In fact, "We have no view on what should happen in Iran. It really does not matter what the outcome is there, as all we have to do is oppose the US." The reports of demonstrations in Iran are "all part of the lies and hysteria being created in the present period".
Earlier I had met Murray on his way into the conference and tackled him about the refusal to allow Hopi to affiliate to the STWC. He replied that I was "absolutely correct" about the exclusion and hurried away. His subsequent speech and the attitude of the SWP leadership left me in no doubt as to the real reasons behind this ban. The STWC leadership is determined not to undermine their relations with their Hezbollah and al Sadr allies. To raise the genuine struggles of the Iranian people would put them in direct conflict with these forces. So, in order to prevent this, Hopi is portrayed as being in the pay of imperialism and all struggles in Iran are denounced as lies.
I did not find the same opposition among ordinary SWP members, some of whom agreed that the points we made were valid. They did not want to speak out publicly against the leadership but in private confided their doubts about the line. There was also support from others in the audience. This, of course, is not surprising. To all but the most determinedly blinkered, the only principled anti-war stand is one that opposes both imperialism and the islamic regime.