Global Solidarity With The Refugees

By Yazan Al-Saadi & Elia El Khazen

al-Manshour

We know all the numbers that need to be known.

We are aware of all the ratios of refugees to citizens in every country, from Lebanon to the UK, Libya to Greece, Macedonia to Canada.

We have seen all of the ruling class directly blame the refugees for their own policies’ shortcomings. The “refugee crisis” they insultingly call it, as if these desperate men, women, children and elderly were but a oncoming storm or a swarm of locus, an act of nature.

We have seen them channel the legitimate anger of workers towards acts of islamophobia, racism and petty nationalism, blaming the “other” for what neoliberalism’s destruction, gleefly utilized by legions of ruling elites, have brought onto us.

We have stood firm against the attempt of many authorities, and their ilk, to smear refugees entering various countries, describing them as an “invasion”. This label in particular is especially revolting when it in fact was various forms of historical and contemporary invasions, instigated, armed and politically covered by our own countries, that are why refugees were, and to continue to be, fleeing from their homes.

We have witnessed respective governments launch grenades and tear gas, fire rubber bullets and live rounds at refugees. We have witnessed these authorities watch silently as refugees helplessly sank in their boats, or cornered the refugees in pathetic ‘reception centers’ encircled by barbwire and are checkpoints. Any parallels with concentration camps arising from these scenes are clearly excused and to be expected.

These authorities have unashamedly denied paperwork, basic rights and services, affronted human dignity by their common use of torture, detention without trial, murder by negligence, and their constant vomiting of absolute hate against vulnerable refugees.

Our own government in Lebanon has gone even further by implementing a sponsorship system in which visa is only granted if tied to a property owning Lebanese citizen. Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR are forced to sign pledges not to work and to return to Syria when their expensive permits expire or when the Lebanese government demands it. Syrian refugees, and other so-called foreigners of the lower class, are subjected to illegal curfews that pepper the most affluent quarters of the country. These classist measures will only serve to compound abuses that are already burdening refugee communities.

As the Balkan route has been shut to more than 40,000 refugees and rendered their lives similar to the wretched squalor of Calais refugee camps in France, over a million refugees in Lebanon live under equally dire conditions every day. Already, as various reports have shown, the restrictive system has caused over 70 percent of Syrian refugees to fall below the poverty line. Many of them work in dangerous conditions for mediocre pay, with little to no benefits or legal protections, and they are in constant threat of arrest. Large numbers of Syrian refugees are trapped in a cycle of debt and indentured servitude, in addition to suffering from daily emotional, sexual, and physical abuses, in a nation that does not allow them free mobility within its borders.

Ultimately, the Syrian refugees are being punished for the Syrian revolution, an uprising that has captivated the world and polarized most of the ideological Left.

The traditional and Stalinist Left, both in the Arab world and in the West, have helped carry the message of Bashar el-Assad, which demonized courageous Syrian communities who rose up against his brutal and illegitimate regime. The echo his claims of a “security threat”, while others have repeated the horrendous discourse that these refugees are a ‘weapon’ in the hands of armed groups. While there are many different groups to blame, it is the Left, especially, that have made these refugees easy pray for neighboring and Western governments to ostracize, marginalize and exploit in the most offensive and inhuman ways.

This xenophobic discourse has also encouraged distracting competition between migrant workers and local workers, who are tricked into clashes with each other over mere scraps that fall off the ruling class’s bountiful table. In such a time, when the Leftist solidarity is needed most with the refugees, many of its members have betrayed the inherent principles under the justification of pragmatism and political allegiances. They can defend themselves in whatever way they think fit, but the fact of the matter remains: they are useful idiots for power-holders of today’s status quo.

A plethora of iNGOs and local NGOs are also partners in enabling this grotesque state of affairs, in which their actions have permitted the ruling class to reap the benefits of the absence of local states when it comes to services. INGOs and NGOs mainly turn a blind eye as oppression remains supreme, and only seek to offer cold comforts and small bandages to deep, deep wounds. For these organizations, it is the donor that is the priority rather than the refugees.

In the new chapter of the War on Refugees, the Lebanese government, along with its Turkish and Greek counterparts, have signed on to be foot-soldiers at the gateway to “Fortress Europe”. These ‘minions’ of the European strongholds are guilty of crackdowns on refugees merely to appease ridiculous European notions of “the spillover effect” of the Syrian revolution that threaten their tightly-held shores.

This is essentially why governmental aid are tied to magnitude of crackdowns, the ferociousness of security batons cracking skulls, and the containment of refugees in the not Western, ‘Global South’ parts of the world. The politicization of aid is but one cog in this dark machine. It will only result in the creation and furthering of more and more informal, abusive conditions for refugees, for children, for countless men and women.

For all these reasons and so much more, this Saturday is the first time since last year, when refugees stubbornly and rightly broke through Europe’s ever-expanding walls, that mass movements across 15 European countries along with Lebanon and Australia have coordinated various demonstrations to show solidarity with refugees in all places.

Join our call for solidarity. Organize in your city against the oppression, crackdown and scapegoating of refugees by your authorities. Challenge discrimination in all its forms.

Only solidarity prevails in the face of xenophobia, islamophobia, racism, sexism and classism.

Long live the refugee, the 21st century’s vanguard, who challenges the tapestry of repression by simple acts, and by their very humble existence.

Refugees of the world, we are with you. Refugees of the world, unite.

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Rethinking Solidarity with Refugees

al-Manshour

By Budour Hassan

In an attempt to challenge the rising tide of prejudice and incitement against refugees, world renowned artist Banksy sprayed a graffiti of the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs, on a wall in Calais Refugee Camp last month.

The piece depicted Jobs, himself the son of a Syrian immigrant to the United States, carrying an Apple computer in his hand and a black bin bag over his shoulder.

Banksy, who rarely comments on his art, wrote in a statement:

“We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7bn a year in taxes – and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”

While it is commendable that Banksy is dedicating his art and reputation to the cause of supporting refugees, he has provided an example of how even the most well-meaning initiatives to counter anti-refugee propaganda can get it completely wrong.

The problem with Banksy’s latest work does not solely lie in the fact that the move whitewashes Apple Inc., overlooking the corporation’s exploitation of workers and its flagrant and well-documented violations of their most basic rights.

Banksy’s action points to another profound problem: namely, the resort to a consequential argument in order to encourage more humane policies towards refugees.

While it is true that the myth that immigration is responsible for draining resources must be debunked, should our priority then be to saturate the media with individual success stories of immigrants to prove the propagandists wrong?

What position does this argument then force us into when confronted with the reality that millions of immigrants fail to become Steve Jobs? How will then we discuss those who were never granted the opportunity and privileges afforded to Jobs? Should they be dismissed? Of perhaps we agree they are worthy of vilification?

And even more still, what about those who cannot or do not want to be assimilated? Why should immigrants bear, in the first place, the burden to prove that they can “pay back” to the communities that absorb them, a burden with which a white male citizen isn’t encumbered?

In recounting the success stories of immigrants who turned out to be profitable to their host countries, not only are stories of wealthy, educated, and pioneering immigrants brought up. Some even go as far as boasting of those immigrants of Muslim origins who would go on to serve in the American army and fight in the Iraq war.

One can understand why Muslim immigrants facing blanket defamation would desperately try to prove their loyalty to their host countries. Yet was is not so readily recognized is that such arguments only further boost right-wing propaganda, reinforcing the notion that immigrants and refugees must constantly be obliged to prove their loyalty through assimilation—and that those who fail to do so are somehow the “bad immigrants” who then deserve our scorn and disdain.

The same applies to using the consequential argument that refugees, in the long run, will bring economic assets to their host countries.

It is likely that the migrants and refugees trapped in the Calais jungle will identify more with the sweat-drenched workers at the Apple factories than with Steve Jobs, the man who founded said factories.

It is also very likely that many of them will not be able to undergo such a dream transformation from being lost migrants to spectacularly successful businessmen.

That should not make them unworthy of reception, and they should not always be expected to beat impossibly tough odds to show that giving them asylum will provide the host country a sizable return on investment.

When advocating for the reception of migrants and refugees, our main argument should be a deontological rather than a utilitarian one. That’s not to say that there are not actual benefits for opening the borders. And those benefits are not just economic. The social interactions and multicultural diversity that open migration allows can only advance us a species. But it is the conviction that we hold a moral duty to open our borders and hearts to people fleeing war, poverty, persecution and other vulnerable statuses that should guide our attitudes towards refugees. Migrants and refugees should be welcome even if they fail to become the new Steve Jobs of this century or commit the very human sin of struggling to settle and succeed. In fact, human survival is dependent upon our consciousness of this moral duty not only to welcome refugees but to overthrow the man-made boundaries that restrict their movement.

“Only in a world in which the spaces of states have been perforated and topologically deformed and in which the citizen has been able to recognize the refugee that he or she is,” writes Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, “only in such a world is the political survival of humankind thinkable.”

In other words, our collective social, political and cultural survival rests upon realizing that we are all, in one way or another, refugees on this earth. As such, shaking the holy trinity of state-nation-territory, and dismantling the political, economic and bureaucratic regimes and structures that protect and buttress it, is our collective obligation.

Many might claim that this sounds too utopian and will be of little value when we face impoverished local workers who are convinced that migrants seek to deprive them of the scant opportunities they have and compete with them over the very limited resources at their disposal. It is inevitable that this perceived competition over meagre resources will lead an embattled working class to express antagonism and react with outright hostility towards migrants.

As the late historian Howard Zinn argues in his seminal book “A People’s History of the United States,” “the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.” This conflict is not solely fueled by the far right and the populist fascist propaganda. It is also the state, the political and business elite who also fan the flames as they thrive on the emergence and perpetuity of conflict amongst the different oppressed and marginalized groups. While the latter have the kind of rationality and political correctness that prevent them from employing the blatantly racist lexicon promoted by the far right; they incessantly work to alienate oppressed groups against each other to maintain the status quo and remain in power.

But just as abstract utopian principles will not suffice to overcome those very real and tangible tensions and clashes, neither will consequential arguments. Our empirical data to prove the opposite will matter little for those whose racist incitement against refugees is not grounded on facts and figures even if it is cloaked by them.

Highlighting the falsehoods of their claims is essential; yet more essential is to build alliances between the local working classes and marginalized groups and between refugees and migrants. The genuine conflict doesn’t take place between the oppressed but rather between them and the political and corporate elite. The latter are the ones monopolizing the wealth and concentrating resources in their hands while antagonizing their victims against each other and deflecting their outrage from the real oppressor to the most oppressed. Building those alliances and coalitions requires a long process but can only be achieved through intense and horizontal organizing on the ground and forming new networks of solidarity.

Such networks of solidarity are also important to build among the different groups of migrants and refugees. The starting point this process is for our advocacy not to be confined to legal definitions and classifications. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees only applies to those persecuted “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Excluded from this protection are those who leave everything behind in their home countries to escape poverty and economic deprivation and in search of a more dignified life.

Poverty is war by other means and is the result of a structurally unjust local and global systems. It is primarily funneled by the same global powers that fund wars. Incidentally, those are the same forces that create this division between refugees and labor migrants, barely accepting the former while completely dehumanizing the latter.

It is mandatory to move beyond this legal classification and adopt a humanist, universal approach, because, as Nigerian novelist Teju Cole puts it: “moving for economic benefit is itself a matter of life and death. Because money is the universal language, and to be deprived of it is to be deprived of a voice while everyone else is shouting. Sometimes the gun aimed at your head is grinding poverty, or endless shabby struggle, or soul crushing tedium.”

Rather than being embroiled in a formalistic debate on who is a ‘real” refugee and on who deserves protection, our vocation should revolve around supporting refugees and migrants in challenging the global capitalist system that dispossesses them by shaking the borders that protect it. Shifting the discussion from refugees vs. migrants to mobilizing for open borders. Our discourse has to be as radical as the sacrifices of those migrants and refugees risking their lives leaving their homeland.

Driven from country to country, they, in Hannah Arendt’s words, “represent the vanguard of their peoples.” They do so not only by virtue of their courage to pave the way for others and search for new routes; they do so by exposing the crisis of the nation-state and shaking the concept of sovereignty to its very core. Inspired by their courage, we should follow their lead and break with the narrow legal categorizations that only aim at protecting the modern nation-state and defending its sovereignty. As the slogan goes, “protect humans not borders,” and this stands whether those trying to cross the borders are asylum or job seekers.

No to US airstrikes on Syria and Iraq! All support to popular movements in Syria and Iraq!

No to US airstrikes on Syria and Iraq!

All support to popular movements in Syria and Iraq!

A statement by Syrian Revolution Bases of Support

As the US once more beats the drums for its “war on terror” we affirm our opposition to US/coalition airstrikes on Syria and Iraq. Such imperialist intervention will only lead to propping up the sectarian occupation regime in Iraq and the genocidal Assad regime in Syria. It will further pave the way for expanding US economic and strategic interests in the region (namely exploiting resources and supporting the Zionist State).

Obama’s move towards airstrikes comes following the assassination of American journalists and the persecution of minority communities (Christians and Ezidis) by the Islamic State. Such acts highlight the barbarity of the Daesh fascists but we question why Obama was not equally moved by the deaths of the countless Muslims who have been the primary victims of the Islamic State or the death of Syrian Muslim journalist Bassam Raeis who was executed by Daesh in August to no global outrage. The biggest terrorist threat remains the Assad regime which has killed thousands through daily barrel bombing of civilian neighbourhoods, chemical massacres, starvation sieges and torture. Such double standards show that humanitarian motives do not drive US intervention or international concern.

Airstrikes cannot defeat Daesh as they are spread through civilian areas. They would result in heavy collateral damage. Only boots on the ground (which the US has not offered and which have been rejected by the FSA) can defeat the Islamic State. The Syrian rebels, including Kurdish fighters, have been the ones fighting Daesh for the past year, know the local geography, terrain and people, and are the best placed to strike a real blow to the Islamic State. But to do this they must be provided with the weapons they need.

Attacking ISIS without toppling the tyrant Bashar Al Assad will only lead to exacerbating sectarian divisions in the region. Assad has been responsible both directly and indirectly to contributing to the growth of the IS, and until recently has not attacked ISIS positions focusing instead on attacking the FSA and civilians. Assad is now begging to be a partner in the US coalition, seizing the chance to gain international legitimacy. Any action seen as allying with Bashar Al Assad will lead to a backlash and exacerbate sectarian tensions. This fits well with America’s ‘divide and rule’ policy. We see in Iraq that the US is allying with the criminal government which is dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighbourhoods (recently committing a massacre at a school in Falluja) and using sectarian militias which are carrying out atrocities. The US has also focused its rhetoric on the Islamic State ignoring that popular elements (as well as remnants from the Baathist regime) are also rising against the Iraqi government. The US insistence that Malki steps down, but not doing the same for Bashar, again shows double standards.

Whilst we oppose US/coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, we are appalled by the position of sections of the “anti-war” movement and “anti-imperialist” left which have rallied around tyrannical states instead of supporting the Syrian popular uprising against both Assad and Daesh and for freedom from tyranny. It should be highlighted that the largest foreign intervention so far in Syria has been from the imperialist State of Russia and Iran which have provided massive military, economic and political support to the Assad regime to continue carrying out atrocities against the Syrian people.

The grassroots forces of the Syrian Revolution have shown over and over again their willingness and ability to resist in battle – and often to defeat – any reactionary armed force, be it regime or reactionary “Islamist.” How else explain, after three and a half years of genocidal attacks, the continued mobilization and self-organization for daily survival of liberated towns and neighborhoods throughout the country? We reject the calls of the pseudo-Left to rely upon condescending saviors, whether in Washington or Moscow, in Damascus, Tehran or Riyadh. The steadfastness of the Syrian Revolution originates in the regionwide revolution of which it is an integral part – a revolution which on most fronts is now in retreat, but whose renewed advance depends in no small part on support, politically and materially, for the grassroots Syrian Revolution.

Syrian Revolution Bases of Support

Statement by the Syrian Revolution Support Bases against Zionist aggression on Gaza

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From Syrian Revolution Support Bases
Since the beginning of the so-called “Operation Protective Edge” – Israel’s latest aggression against the besieged Gaza Strip – on 8 July, over 180 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been murdered in the worst escalation since the November 2012 aggression.

Israel’s unrelenting deliberate targeting of civilian areas, coupled with the desperate shortage of medical supplies caused by the Israeli-Egyptian siege, means the death toll will continue to climb rapidly.

We condemn Israel’s ongoing massacre in Gaza which was carried out not only to break Palestinian resistance, but also to halt the popular protests raging in occupied Jerusalem and across the territories occupied in 1948.
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[Video] No War on Syria: Demo in San Francisco

San Francisco. Video by Tom Vee. 

Photo by Rabia Keeble

Photo by Rabia Keeble

On Saturday, between 150 to 200 people gathered in San Francisco’s UN Plaza to protest the United States’ burgeoning bombing campaign on Syria. The rally and march were organized by Bay Area Resistance Network–a new network of folks from affected communities of U.S. colonialism. The network includes Arabs, Muslims and people of color living in the Bay.

The local callout said:

On this day, we will focus our attention on the suffering of the Syrian people. But yesterday it was Egypt; the day before that it was Gaza; before that it was Yemen, Libya, Iraq & Afghanistan. While these are some of the most televised examples of our day, we cannot ignore the militarization of the US-Mexico border, the funding of the Mexican military against the Indigenous Communities of that region, the propping up of brutal dictators across the globe, and an endless list of other acts of colonization.  Continue reading