Unless we abandon our addiction to military intervention, the world’s refugee crisis will never come to an end, writes
NEARLY 5,000 people have already died in the Mediterranean in the last 17 months, trying to get to a place of safety. Thousands of Rohingya people have died in the Andaman Sea trying to save themselves. And many bodies have been discovered in unmarked graves in Malaysia.
Across the world people are seeking to flee oppression and violence. They are often victims of war that is being conducted in the name of Western militaristic adventures and the quest for natural resources, and it is ordinary people who suffer.
The Mediterranean death toll included people from Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Libya and, of course, Syria. Refugees from Afghanistan desperately trying to escape deepening violence and increasing poverty try to travel overland to Europe, entering from Turkey into Greece.
The Daily Mail reported this issue with what must be one of the most disgusting newspaper articles of all time, in which it complained that tourists on the island of Kos were having their holidays spoilt by homeless Afghan refugees sleeping on the streets. The Mail had not one word of concern for the poor Afghan people, but only for the discomfort of the tourists.
The war in Syria has now become a four-way civil war, with Kurdish groups defending their area, the Western-backed free Syrian army trying to attack the regime and at the same time Isis fighting on all fronts, including over the border in Iraq. US bombing in Iraq is having a limited effect and cross-defections between all forces in Syria are creating an ever-deepening humanitarian crisis, with at least two million people forced into refuge in neighbouring countries. The 21st century is shaping up to be possibly the most warlike century ever.
By comparison the last decade of the 20th century was a time of serious discussion about long-term disarmament and arms conversion, as conflicts, while not expiring completely, were certainly reduced in their intensity. The turning point came with September 11 2001, with the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. There was pause for a few hours while the US administration wondered what to do and then George W Bush essentially declared a war on everybody, with the enthusiastic backing of then British prime minister Tony Blair.
A few weeks later Western forces bombed and occupied Afghanistan and in a very few days claimed to have defeated the Afghan army and occupied and pacified the whole country. Fourteen years later, the death toll huge, the flow of refugees enormous and the poverty deeper than ever.
In September 2001 the Stop the War Coalition was founded at a huge public rally in Friends House in London and there were many prescient speeches there. People were alarmed not just at the willingness to bomb Afghanistan, but what the long-term implications for neighbouring countries would be and, indeed, for the politics of western Europe and north America.
The Afghan war played straight into the hands of the US far-right thinkers who had been working hard on the project for the New American Century, which sought to promote US militarism all over the globe. While there was wide support for the Afghan war in parliamentary circles, there was huge public scepticism and that scepticism grew stronger as Blair and Bush moved from a limited war in Afghanistan to a general global conflict and war with Iraq.
This so-called Operation Enduring Freedom was accompanied by the growth of the Taliban and al-Qaida as a force in Afghanistan, Pakistan and all across the region and, as one war leads to another, Iraq developed into a war in Libya and north Africa and the death toll has grown ever since. There has to be a much deeper understanding, both of the causes of wars and their consequences for everybody.
The Stop the War Coalition exists to unite all those who are opposed to wars but also to promote a greater degree of dialogue and understanding. On June 6 there will be an international conference at the TUC in Congress Houses entitled Confronting a World at War. Palestine National Initiative chairman Dr Mustafa Barghouti is one of the more prestigious speakers and there will be a variety of sessions covering subjects such as Palestine, the back to an east of Suez policy (which Harold Wilson retreated from in the 1960s), Britain’s establishment of a new military base in Bahrain, Latin America and imperialism, the destabilisation of elected governments in Latin America and the war of resources, the changes in civil liberties, intolerance and racism in our societies, the return of the neocons in the US and how we promote the campaign to scrap the Trident nuclear missile system.
There will also be a session on the development of a US-Asia pacific strategy to promote tensions with China, Saudi Arabia and its role as the new US best friend as it tries to occupy Yemen. Plus there will be discussion on how the war on terror has extended to Africa with the bombing of Libya and Mali and the growth of Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as the continued problems in Somalia, the origins of Isis, the Ukraine and the role of Nato’s eastward expansion and growing tensions between Russia and the West.
And if you’re still not satisfied that migration is a consequence of war this crucial subject will also be covered in our discussions.
War is not inevitable, but unless we understand the commercial, military and xenophobic forces that are able to promote war, we will have great difficulty in stopping the wars of the future. It’s going to be a very useful day, so get yourself along to it.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
Confronting a World at War is on Saturday June 6 from 10am-5pm at TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. You can book online at stopwar.org.uk or call (020) 7561-4830.