The fund established to continue the work of slain Member of Parliament Jo Cox has come under attack from assorted far right forces (and unfortunately someone once associated with the British left) for including in its list of beneficiaries the White Helmets — the volunteer civil defence service that act as first responders to bombing attacks on Syrian opposition communities, digging dead and injured victims out of the rubble.
These people have long supported Assad’s bloody campaign of repression against anyone who dares to challenge his power, but their attack on the White Helmets carries this to a new level: not only do they cheer on the mass slaughter in Syria, they also seek to deny Assad’s victims the elementary right to rescue their loved ones and to bury their dead. This is akin to the ‘double tap’ attack favoured by both Assad and the Israeli air force: first you bomb a community and then you drop a second bomb to hit those who come out in response to the attack. But in this case the first attack comes in the form of the rhetorical onslaught by Anderson and his supporters, who seek to prevent the very existence of any form of civil defence in Syrian opposition communities—and then the real bombs drop.
This is a regression to medieval standards of warfare—as far as I know not even Lord Haw Haw objected when the British authorities appointed air raid wardens in the Second World War.
Most of those contributing to this campaign have come from various sections of the far right: Nick Griffin of the British National Party, British and U.S. groups associated with the ‘libertarian right,’ climate change deniers, and opponents of the great ‘globalist’ conspiracy to take over the world—which they describe as linked to Jews, to Freemasons, and of course to green lizards from outer space. One vociferous supporter of Anderson can be found on the internet engaged with white supremacists branding Nelson Mandela a ‘terrorist.’
An unexpected, recent denizen of this fetid milieu is erstwhile British leftist Tariq Ali, who has reposted one of the cruder attacks on the memory of Jo Cox and the White Helmets on his Facebook page.
However, while all this chatter is going on the White Helmets are going about their work across large parts of Syria, braving Assad’s bombs to save lives and recover bodies (some 50,000 lives saved in the course of their operations at the cost of over 100 of their own lives), with modest support from some western governments, from public fund raising, and from sympathetic bodies like the London Fire Brigades Union. This gives them an annual budget about one-third the size of the fire service for a small English city, which usually has nothing more serious to deal with than chip fat fires and motor accidents. Clearly the resources that Jo Cox’s fund will provide to them can make an important contribution to saving lives in Syria.
There is a bitter twist to this tale: Assad supporter Tim Anderson, who is intimately associated with this attack on the White Helmets, has been invited to speak at the Crossing Borders conference on the Greek island of Lesvos, where many Syrian refugees have landed after a perilous sea voyage, and where over 60 who died in the attempt are buried. These are some of the pearls of wisdom he wants to share with the Conference:
“Most civilians in the areas said to have been ‘barrel bombed’ left a very long time ago… Every attack on al Nusra is thus portrayed as an attack on ‘civilians’ and clinics, or on emergency health workers. Much the same applies to Medicin Sans Frontiers (MSF), which funds al Nusra clinics… in several terrorist held areas.”
“The photos of dead and injured women and children in the ghost towns inhabited by the armed groups are simply borrowed from other contexts…”
“The Syrian Army has been brutal with terrorists but, contrary to western propaganda, protective of civilians.”
The spectacle of a supporter of the Assad regime being feted at a conference ostensibly concerned with refugees, just metres from the graves of victims of that same regime, would seem to be something that could only take place in a particularly bad dream. Yet it is due to happen next month, with Tim Anderson speaking under the sponsorship of Stop the War and the People’s Assembly against Austerity, and with Tariq Ali also on the platform. Anderson’s supporters are already crowing at this recognition.
While two scheduled speakers have refused to take part in this absurd farce, repeated attempts by Syrian solidarity activists to persuade Stop the War to take a stand against it have met a stone wall.
The reputation of the British left, of peace activism and of refugee support movements, is being challenged here. Pause and reflect for a moment how Syrian refugees will feel on hearing of this event, of what it says about how much real understanding and concern there is in this country for their suffering and lived histories. Anyone with political understanding should appreciate how callous this act is; anyone with an ounce of moral conscience should feel compelled to speak out in protest to the conference organisers, sponsors, and speakers.