Over the last few years the English Defence League (EDL) has held irregular flashmob protests at the Jami Mosque at Victoria Junction, various spurious reasons have been given for this but behind it all is racism and an attitude of collective punishment. Anti-fascists have counter-mobilised against them at every opportunity.
The two most recent incidents have been in apparent response to the death of a former worshipper at the Mosque while fighting in Syria, with the racists accusing the Mosque of radicalising young men. Iftikhar Jaman from Southsea, 23, died in Syria in December while apparently fighting for ISIS, a jihadist group that has been accused targeting civilians and sectarian massacres. After their flashmob these utterly disgraceful racist thugs then went on to Jaman’s former residence, were his elderly parents live, for further vile intimidation and abusive shouting.
Whatever faction the men died fighting for their deaths, like those of the 7 other Britons who have died there, must be viewed in the context of the Arab spring. After decades of corrupt and savage rule by dictators, often backed and armed by the west, popular revolutions calling for democracy and social justice erupted. The Syrian revolution broke out when peaceful demonstrations for reform were repeatedly met with live fire, killing scores of demonstrators. The regime knew that, after years of looting the wealth of Syria for a small political and business clique, that the demonstrators had popular support; they responded the only way they knew how – with sectarianism and violent repression.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Syria since the conflict began; the government has used poison gas against civilians, bombarded residential areas and let loose militias notorious for rape and murder. Like all ruling classes they will defend their ill-gained fortunes by stooping to the basest levels. It is this savagery perpetrated on ordinary people that has caused young Britons to go to Syria to join the rebels. There is a grim logic to how the governments repression has led to some groups committing atrocities in reprisal. Though the politics of some groups in Syria have become deeply reactionary it must be stressed the majority of the rebels (many aligned with the Free Syria Army) are committed to democracy and against sectarian divisions. The wonderful banners made by revolutionaries in the liberated town of Kafranbel is something anyone doubting the revolutionaries legitimacy should study.
Stirring up hatred at places of worship is part of the EDL‟s campaign to set communities against each other; they can see no solidarity between people and wish to blame Muslims for social problems that have everything to do with capitalism rather than race or religion. All of us, non-Muslims and Muslims alike should do everything possible to resist this racist intimidation. Those of us who were active in the Anti War movement remember the Jami Mosque being welcoming of people of all faiths and none.
Some on the left suggest that because the Syrian regime is both secular and at times has opposed western imperialism that it deserves support. This is an appalling position that discredits those who hold it; even if you ignore their conduct over the last two years Assad’s regime has always been a deeply corrupt pro-capitalist power. They have murdered countless political opponents and trade unionists, intervened in the Lebanese civil war to repress Palestinians on behalf of Israel and joined the US attack on Iraq in 1991. I should also be noted that visitors to Syria to show support for Assad reads like a role call of European fascist scum, including BNP fuhrer Nick Griffin, while some Greek Nazi’s are actually fighting with his governments death squad army.
In this context it becomes understandable why those disgusted by these injustices might be moved to go to Syria to aid the rebels. As socialists we could not suggest people living in Britain go abroad to fight against even the most criminal governments, it is a tragedy that these young men have died in this way, and may be reflective of the racism they have experienced that they made that choice rather than be involved in other forms of activism and solidarity. However, we must show solidarity with both the genuine, popular and democratic revolution that is happening in Syria and with people under attack in Portsmouth due to their ethnicity or religion, if choose not to we are utterly betraying the politics we claim to hold.
For more information on solidarity with Syria please see:
To get involved with opposing racism in Portsmouth please visit Portsmouth Anti-fascists