Stop the War’s John Rees spoke to Sky News about criticism around Jeremy Corbyn, Stop the War and questions about the Islamic State

Dermot Murnaghan: Now the Stop the War coalition has not been far from the headlines recently after the Paris attacks and vote for action in Syria but it’s the Labour leader’s ties to the organisation that have attracted the most attention. Jeremy Corbyn has attracted criticism from some people within his own party for attending the group’s fundraising dinner on Friday. Well I’m joined now by John Rees, the National Officer for the Stop the War Coalition and a very good morning to you. I hope it was quite a shindig, were you glad Mr Corbyn stuck to his principles and turned up?

John Rees: Yes, we were very glad because we think there is a double standard going on here. You see earlier in the year 40 MPs, which is more than you get in some debates in the House of Commons, attended an Arms Corporation dinner with a £250 gifted plate. Some of the people that went there, say Margaret Beckett, John Speller, Vernon Coker, are some of Jeremy’s harshest critics, some of the people who have been demanding he shouldn’t go to a Stop the War dinner when they went to a start the war dinner.

DM: So sauce for the goose so to speak, do you think there is a case for looking internally in the party whether those MPs really represent the views of the membership?

JR: Well I certainly think there is going to be a huge debate in the Labour party about this. This was trumpeted as going to be a huge test for Jeremy, well when it came a majority of the Shadow Cabinet, a majority of Labour MPs, the vast majority of Labour party members, backed his stance and the stance of the Stop the War Coalition over the Syria bombings so I would be surprised if there weren’t some fall out.

DM: Should he have given a free vote though? I suppose that was to hold the party together but would you have liked to see him saying, look, I firmly believe in this, I’m the leader, it’s happened before so many other times – you have to vote the way the leadership agrees?

JR: Yes, we would have preferred that and we wrote to Jeremy and to other Labour MPs suggesting that that ought to be the best course of action and you’ll remember of course that initially Jeremy himself took that view. Now I understand why they reversed up on that, I think they thought they’d have a series of high profile resignations from the Shadow Cabinet and that would be more damaging than the free vote but I stand by the idea that if you join an organisation then there should be some kind of collective discipline within it otherwise why join it? Why not stand as an independent?

DM: Well let’s talk now about the New Year and perhaps he’ll have a look again at that front bench and put people in there who agree with his way of thinking. Is that something that members of the Stop the War coalition would lobby for, who are members of the party?

JR: I think that’s an internal matter for the Labour party and Stop the War Coalition is a multi-party and no party organisation, there are people from the Greens, people from the Liberals, people from Labour, people from the far left, so it is not really up to us to say that but I’d be surprised if Labour party members didn’t want to see a leadership which more fully agreed with a leading member who they overwhelmingly voted for in the leadership election.

DM: Of course much scrutiny of the view, some of the tweets and blogs that have appeared on Stop the War Coalition’s website and other places, in particular this reaping the whirlwind, the powers reaping the whirlwind of western policy for what happened in Paris a few weeks back. That was taken down of course but you don’t actually disagree with that sentiment, the overall sentiment. That may have been inelegantly expressed but the fact is that you believe that western policy has a big role to play in terror attacks.

JR: Well I think there are two elements that we need to distinguish between here. We took that down because it was being taken to mean something like this, that the entirely innocent people who died in an horrific attack by an absolutely unjustifiable organisation like the Islamic State were in some way responsible for their own deaths. Now we don’t accept that and …

DM: But it’s a valid argument to be made and Ken Livingstone and others have made them, that terror attacks, as reprehensible as they might be, the people doing them have a motivation.

JR: And that’s the point that I was coming on to. While the victims of course are wholly innocent, the policy of the state, the French state or the British state, is not an insignificant fact in the causes of terrorism and in the causes of terrorist acts and that has to be part of the debate. You see, we talk about the bombing, well the Americans have been bombing already for 15 months now. In just the first month that they were bombing 6000 people joined the Islamic State. We know on their own figures that they think they have killed 15,000 Islamic State fighters but they also say that the Islamic State is exactly the same size now as it was when they began so for every one they kill another one steps into their shoes and that’s been our …

DM: But you have also talked about in the past, haven’t you, about military resistance and its validity and justification, in particular when it comes to Israeli policy within Gaza and other occupied territories and the right then to fight back, to fight military power with military power but in part does that not also apply, that theory, to Islamic State? In part Islamic State is fighting back, it’s military resistance against the Shia dominated government of Iraq.

JR: No, I think the Islamic State first of all isn’t a state, it calls itself a state but really it is a terrorist group that seized some territory in the Middle East so it doesn’t have either under international law or any other sense, a right to resist and it is an entirely reactionary organisation which as a matter of fact is seizing territory from other people.

DM: But they’re not fascists.

JR: I was always taught on the left that you shouldn’t spray the word fascist around to mean anybody that you disagreed with and I think it is more accurate to use it more precisely and historically. That doesn’t mean to say however, and I was somebody by the way who participated in Tahrir Square and in the Egyptian revolution and so I’ve got more reason than most for thinking that Islamic State, which is one of the counter revolutionary forces that has destroyed that progressive and democratic impulse in the region, is an entirely reactionary and sectarian operation but we have to look at the origins of it. We know that our ally, the biggest arms market for British Arms Corporation, Saudi Arabia, is promoting this ideology, the Prince’s funds were an initial funder on quite a large scale of the Islamic State. We know now that our NATO ally Turkey is bombing the Kurds who are the only people who are fighting the Islamic State, so there are some big questions here that need to be answered and Stop the War is here to make sure that they are.

DM: Well thanks for dealing with some of them. John Rees, very good to see you, thank you very much indeed.

Source: Sky News

15 Dec 2015

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