There has been much self-absorbed, solipsistic ‘remembrance’ in response to the Paris attacks. Aside from the brave act of changing one’s Facebook profile picture, what can be done to stop ISIS and civilian casualties more generally?
There are a number of ways to proceed, including lobbying the government (local reps, large-scale petitions and demonstrations) to weaken ties with the Gulf dictatorships, divesting and objecting to state-corporate forms of ‘outreach’ and ‘friendship’, in particular with the Saudis. Supporting local Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), CND and Stop the War Coalition groups is also going to be vital if anti-interventionist policies are to be pushed into parliament. So right now, Britain’s leading arms firm, BAE Systems, is arming the Saudis while the hyper-fundamentalist Medieval theocracy is bombing Yemen, and it’s had a healthy relationship with the Saudis for many decades – even at the cost of Britain’s national security. According to court documents released in February 2008, the Saudis threatened to make it easier for terrorist attacks to hit London if investigations into their arms deals weren’t stopped. The investigations surrounded claims that BAE were making secret payments to Saudi princes to stimulate arms deals. In December 2006, Prince Bandar, head of the Saudi national security council and son of the crown prince, threatened ‘another 7/7’ and the loss of ‘British lives on British streets’ if investigations continued. Blair quickly ended the Serious Fraud Office investigation into allegations of bribery implicating Bandar’s family. Bandar’s thuggish actions led Lord Justice Moses to suggest that it was ‘just as if a gun had been held to the head’ of the British government. Conversations need to be had about how to bring these issues to the fore of public discussion.
Short of direct military intervention, the US and UK are doing everything they can to support the Saudi dictatorship, which continues to support ISIS and export Wahhabism, fueling attacks on Western and Middle Eastern cities. The goals are purely commercial and imperial, with no official military or national security objectives being presented by Whitehall or Washington. Indeed, the potential for commercial ties also likely explains Cameron’s recent meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who has supervised the killings of over 2,500 political opponents since overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. Red carpets and exchanged gifts solidified Britain’s relationship with the dictatorship, with an eye to future investment and trade opportunities. Laila Soueif, a professor and opposition activist, claimed that ‘Sisi is the head of the most oppressive and criminal regime Egypt has seen during my lifetime, and I am almost 60’. She added that Sisi’s police and army ‘have tortured and murdered with impunity. That the British government should receive him as an official guest does not surprise me in the least’. An early-day motion in parliament criticising the state visit was signed by 51 MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, while CAAT’s Andrew Smith believed that ‘[t]he UK should be calling for change in Egypt, not rolling out the red carpet for its increasingly authoritarian ruler’. CAAT noted that the UK had licensed £85m worth of arms to Sisi’s regime, stressing the incompatibility between supporting the Egyptian people and arming the state police and military. Throughout 2015, the Egyptian government has tried to draw international attention away from ferry disasters, repeated flooding and lack of hospital resources by pointing to its Suez Canal expansion project and its planned construction of a new £30bn purpose-built capital in the eastern desert. By supporting this official line and Egypt’s military, Britain plays a substantial role in the ‘international legitimacy’ now increasingly being attributed to Sisi’s regime. The Tory government’s approach to international law is, unsurprisingly, barely any different from that of the Blair government’s on the eve of the Iraq War, which advised Ministers to ‘burn’ and ‘destroy’ a secret document in which Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told the prime minister the invasion could be considered illegal. Issues of legality are typically considered a nuisance which interfere in the business of selling and deploying sophisticated armaments.
Similar approaches are being advocated in Whitehall towards Israel. Not only has Britain continued to arm Israel during the austerity years, but the Tories have actively launched crackdowns on those attempting to stop the weapons flow. In early October, the Tories began a clampdown on Labour councils boycotting Israel and the arms trade. Communities Secretary Greg Clark stated that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigners cost British jobs and ‘poisoned’ community relations. Clark equated boycotting an arms trade supporting an apartheid state with ‘the politics of division’. The £22bn per year defence industry was put at risk by these forms of social justice activism, Clark grumbled. In 2014, Leicester’s Labour council passed a motion permitting the boycotting of products from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Tories view this as divisive and anti-semitic, and in a briefing given the remarkable title ‘Dangerous Consequences of Hard-Left Policies’ stated that BDS had the potential to fuel community tensions. But as Paris clearly shows, the cause of tensions is not ‘hard-left’ anti-war activism, but Western support for the ISIS-backing Saudis, cloaked in officialspeak and ‘free trade’ mantras.