Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic we’ve continued to relentlessly campaign against the British establishment’s addiction to war

2021 marked 20 years of the Stop the War Coalition and unsurprisingly it has been a year crammed with activity. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic we’ve continued to relentlessly campaign against the British establishment’s addiction to war and its many disastrous consequences, as we have done since Bush and Blair decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001. The marking of that anniversary was made even more important by the momentous events that have taken place over the past 12 months.

The Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, almost 20 years on from the initial invasion, was an utterly humiliating episode that will continue to serve as an epitaph for the failure of the War on Terror. The shocking scenes of desperate people clinging to the outside of airliners as they took off will haunt memories for years to come and epitomised the callous disregard which the Western powers had for Afghan lives. But as some commentators tried to spin the positives for the US and Britain it was clear to the public on both sides of the Atlantic, as it had been for many years, that this war was an out-and-out defeat for Western imperialism. As Lindsey German wrote at the time:

It has forced the worlds major power to admit that it cannot win militarily, that it has not won the hearts and minds of many Afghans, and that its strategy of regime change under the guise of humanitarian intervention has failed. US President Joe Biden admitted as much in his speech following the withdrawal when he said: This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan – its about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”

On the 4th of August we held an online rally, Afghanistan: A War That Should Never Have Happened, assessing the damage of the occupation and looking at the future for Afghanistan with Malalai Joya, Tariq Ali, Phyllis Bennis and Maya Evans. We also released a statement and challenged former Prime Minister and architect of the War on Terror to a public debate on the situation in Afghanistan and on the War on Terror more widely.

As the crisis escalated and Parliament was recalled we held a demonstration outside the House of Commons to call for a complete end to foreign military interventions and the safe passage of Afghan refugees to Britain. MPs including Zarah Sultana, Richard Burgon, Bell Ribiero-Addy and John McDonnell held the ‘No More Foreign Wars’ banner while speaking to the crowd. Former Labour leader and Stop the War, Jeremy Corbyn, also joined the protest calling for ‘a sober reflection on the disaster that has happened in Afghanistan’.

Our rally at Conway Hall a month later, Stop the War! An Event to Mark 20 Years of the War on Terror, also presented an opportunity for reflection and a chance to look at the threats and challenges that lie ahead for the anti-war movement. A wide cross section of speakers reflected the many faces and features of Stop the War as a movement over the course of its 20-year history. Stretching across communities and generations there were particularly moving contributions from Peter Brierly whose son Shaun was killed in the Iraq War, current NUS President Larissa Kennedy who emphasised the continuing necessity of the anti-war movement and a solidarity message from the US from Medea Benjamin of Code Pink. There was also a chance to pay tribute to a number of significant individuals who have made exceptional contributions to Stop the War, a few of whom are no longer with us. Both Lindsey German and Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to them and a minute’s silence was observed in their memory.

The different sessions of that day reflected the promises made in our founding statement; as well as campaigning against foreign wars we are also committed to supporting Palestinian rights, to the defence of civil liberties and to opposing racism and Islamophobia. These three issues remain central to our work in 2021.

In May, Israeli settlers continued their illegal efforts to forcibly displace citizens in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem – just the latest episode in the continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli settlers and their government. The Israeli military then resorted to type by dropping bombs on civilian targets in the besieged territory of Gaza, killing 256 people and wounding over 2,000.

The global outrage in response was huge and nowhere was it bigger than in the UK. London saw the biggest pro-Palestine demonstration since 2003 on May 22nd. That was just the largest in a series of massive, angry and determined protests over a two-week period. The sheer size of the protests showed that despite all the recent attacks on Palestinian solidarity, the movement in Britain is stronger than ever. It is crucial we continue to build this movement and to make the links between the US and UK’s recent war policies and their support for Israel’s barbaric treatment of the Palestinians. This was the focus of our Palestine, Biden & War in the Middle East online public meeting which took place the week after the protests.

It has also been a busy year in terms of defending civil liberties. We joined the Kill the Bill protests in opposition to the new policing bill which threatens the right to demonstrate and gives the police draconian powers to limit protests. We have also worked closely with others in the campaign to free Julian Assange. 2021 got off to a dramatic start with the news that the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States had been rejected by a judge at Westminster Magistrates Court – a hard fought victory for the activists who worked tirelessly for Assange’s release. Unfortunately, that decision has now been overturned, but the tireless fight to prevent extradition and free Assange will continue. Over the course of the year, we’ve supported several demonstrations, online events and even a birthday party for Julian – we won’t stop campaigning until he is given justice and released.

The fight against racism and Islamophobia also continues to be central to our work. We recently co-organised a protest with Stand Up to Racism calling for an end to Fortress Europe and the disgraceful treatment of refugees across the continent, including here in Britain. In late December, we joined a protest outside Downing Street against Priti Patel’s disgusting Nationality & Borders Bill which gives the government the ability to strip away British citizenship from millions of people with dual citizenship – a policy that will undoubtedly have a disproportionate effect on ethic minorities. We have also helped to organise anti-Islamophobia rallies in Bradford, where Jeremy Corbyn addressed an open-air rally, and Wakefield, where a very well attended conference highlighted the ongoing struggles against anti-Muslim racism across Britain,  particularly in Yorkshire.

Another major success was our 20th Anniversary exhibition which ran for two weeks in September at the Bow Arts Gallery in East London. No! 20 Years of Stop the War – A Visual Retrospective showcased the artistic legacy that the movement has inspired in the process of mobilising millions of people against foreign wars including artists, designers, filmmakers, photographers and musicians. The exhibition featured work from Banksy, Vivienne Westwood, Ben Eine, David Gentleman, Brian Eno, kennardphillips, Katherine Hamnett, Robert Montgomery, Martin Rowson, Ed Hall, Karmarama and many more. Over a thousand people visited the exhibition during its 10-day run.

These are just a select few of the events we’ve organised or been a part of this year. Other highlights include the World Says No to War on Yemen online rally, which brought activists from across the world together to stand up against the horrors Saudi Arabia is inflicting on its neighbour with US and UK support.

We also joined protests against the G7 in Cornwall, held very successful fringe events at both the Labour and Tory conferences and released two pamphlets (No Return to Blair Wars and We Are Many: The Story of a Movement) authored by Lindsey German and Andrew Murray. On top of that we joined the COP26 protests in Glasgow to emphasise the links between war and climate chaos, launched our archive at the Bishopsgate Institute and held a brilliant Xmas Fundraiser which help us to smash our 2021 appeal target!

And finally, the year’s round-up would not be complete without mentioning that at our 2021 AGM in February we elected the brilliant Shelly Asquith, a committed Stop the War activist and trade unionist, to be our new Chair.

As we enter a new era, we must stay alert to future threats of war. Just days after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US and Britain announced a military pact with Australia and set their sights on ramping up the new cold war with China. The AUKUS pact, as it is known, will see Australia become the key US ally in the region, armed with US built nuclear submarines. We instantly joined forces with CND to host an AUKUS: Why We Say No rally and held a Day of Action at the beginning of December with a number of local groups showing their opposition and spreading the message on the streets of towns and cities around the country.

This is just the beginning of our work on this front; as the West continues to ramp up the tension so we must up our opposition. In 2022 it’s vital we remain a vocal and active presence on the streets and ensure that anti-war voice is too loud to ignore.

22 Dec 2021

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