Syria – no easy or good answers, but bombs don’t lead to peace

Photo credit: Vlaudin Vega, original here.

Speech given at the ‘Syria: Stop the Bombing’ protest called by the Sydney Stop the War Coalition, 18 April, 2018. Other speeches from Maher Jamous, Dima Al’Msody and Mehreen Faruqi.

Why are we protesting outside the US consulate this evening?

Not because we have one iota of support for Bashar al-Assad, the butcher who hasn’t shrunk from any outrage in his monstrous war against his own country.

Not because we think Western missiles and shells are more deadly or more dangerous than the missiles and shells of other nations.

Not because, like some, we’re ready to give Russia or Iran a green light to murder more Syrians in places like Idlib.

And certainly not because we think that Americans bombing empty chemical weapons facilities is somehow worse than all their other bombings, which have killed thousands of Syrian people, civilians, since 2014, with the benediction of two presidents.

None of those is the reason we’re here tonight.

I think I can speak for everyone here when I say we’re progressives, we’re internationalists, we’re opponents of imperial wars. So we stand against the intervention of any power, whether that’s the US, Russia, or Iran, that dares to rob Middle Eastern people of their ability to forge their own future.

And, of course, we stand unconditionally against Assad and his slaughtering. There can be no just resolution in Syria while the butcher of Damascus stays in power. Calling for an end to the war while waving the Assadist flag, as some do, is to show contempt for the most basic demands of peace.

At the moment we’re outside the US consulate, but we should also go to the Russian and Iranian ones to protest against the swathes of death and suffering that those countries’ forces have cut through Syria and its martyred population.

But as people who live in the West, we have a particular obligation to protest against our own governments. It’s not that we automatically reel off the mantra that ‘the real enemy is at home’. Our real enemies are all those visiting death and suffering on ordinary Syrians, whatever flag they do it under, ours or someone else’s.

But protest is most effective when it’s directed against our own government and its allies. I’d like it if there was an anti-war movement large enough in this country to be capable of regular interventions outside Russian or Iranian embassies. But there isn’t, and maybe the best way to create one is to draw people in to protest against the governments they feel most responsible for.

If we want people here to also protest against Russia or Iran, and if we want Russians or Iranians to take a stand against their own countries’ attacks on Syria, then we have to show that we’re resolute in opposing our government and its allies.

So we’re here to condemn the cold-blooded cynicism of Trump, May, and Macron. They throw up their arms in horror at chemical warfare – as though their own nuclear arsenals don’t exist.

They profess their humanitarian commitment as they serenely continue pumping the world full of conventional weapons. Those weapons will do far more violence than the horrifying nerve agents deployed in Syria, unspeakable and criminal though they are.

By flattening some empty weapons facilities, Trump and his lieutenants presume to remind the world about how war should be waged properly, how it’s done by leaders who maim and murder civilians in only the most civilized ways.

We know what the civilized, Western art of war means: the wholesale destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, the infernal chaos in Libya, the millions upon millions of refugees and internally displaced people. It’s a political and human tragedy of mind-boggling proportions, brought to us courtesy of John Bolton and the other sociopaths of Washington, and supported by the contemptible, tokenistic me-tooism squeaked out by the likes of Turnbull at the same time he locks refugees out of Australia and tortures them on his prison islands.

If countries like the US and Australia are serious about their duty to protect civilians, they’d stop spending taxpayer dollars on warplanes and bombs, they’d abandon their ambition to shoot to the top of the league tables in arms sales, they’d stop supercharging their death industries, and they’d start committing to serious refugee and humanitarian aid so that people fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere can be safe.

There are no easy answers in Syria, and maybe there aren’t any good ones at the moment either. But one thing is certain: bombs don’t lead to peace. So when our governments commit our planes to this conflict, we’re obliged to protest, and to do so loudly. Western bombs aren’t just a disaster for Syrians; by endorsing the use of force as a first resort, they drag us all further away from a world in which peace is a real possibility, whether that’s in the Koreas, in Yemen, in the South China Sea, or in Syria.

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