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Tuesday 8 September 2015

Stop The War: “Not appropriate” to hear Syrians at meeting on Syria

UPDATE 10 Sept: The Stop The War event referred to in this post has been cancelled.

Syria Solidarity UK letter to Stop The War Coalition:

7 September 2015

Dear Stop The War Coalition,
We understand you are aware of the open letter from Syrian activists involved in the Planet Syria campaign:


We are asking that you formally reply to the letter, and that you allow an activist of their choice to speak from the platform at the Stop The War Coalition meeting on 10th September.
Please respond ASAP to this message. We will be attending the meeting and will continue to raise this issue publicly if we do not receive a response from you.


Mark Boothroyd

Kellie Strom

Abdulaziz Almashi

Mario Hamad

Clara Connolly

Syria Solidarity Movement UK

Today’s response from Stop The War Coalition:

Dear Syria Solidarity Movement,
Thank you for your letter. The meeting on Thursday is to oppose UK military intervention. Nothing on Planet Syria's website opposes such intervention, therefore an invitation to speak is not appropriate.

The meeting is not a debate between those for and against intervention. Such a debate might be appropriate at some time, but in that case it should be discussed and agreed.

You are of course welcome to attend the meeting but I hope that you will respect the parameters and conduct of the meeting.

Best wishes,
Lindsey German
Stop the War Coalition

Below is the full text of Planet Syria’s open letter to Stop The War Coalition:

‘Stop the War’ Excludes Syrians Stopping the War

August 28, 2015

Dear Stop the War coalition,

It has come to our attention that you are hosting a panel on September 10  titled “Don’t bomb Syria” to discuss why you are against anti-ISIS strikes by the UK in Syria. You say the strikes will only lead to resentment and “more deaths and destruction. [1] The panel will be attended by Diane Abbott MP, Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. The Stop the War coalition is adamant that the best role the UK can play at this stage is to stay out of Syria completely. We understand why you are wary of getting involved in another war in the Middle East. We are grateful that people in the UK are giving this issue so much consideration. However, given that the Stop the War coalition’s pronouncements on the situation in Syria hold sway among a great deal of the British public we, as nonviolent Syrian activists, urge you to consult us on this grave matter. It is our own lives you’re discussing with such conviction after all and to that end, we believe it is necessary for a Syrian to participate on the panel.

To be clear, we are not taking a position for or against these strikes. The truth of the matter is, whether the UK intervenes to strike ISIS or not, it is not about to start or stop a new war in Syria. A brutal war has already been raging in Syria for the past four years and ISIS is but one of the parties wrecking Syrian lives every day. In fact ISIS has inflicted less casualties than the Syrian government, which has made a daily habit of launching air strikes on defenceless besieged towns. To date, the Syrian government has killed at least seven times more civilians than ISIS according to the Violations Documentation Centre and the Syrian Network for Human Rights, two reputable Syrian organisations. [2]

You claim that anti-ISIS strikes will increase terrorism but as activists working on the ground to build peace, we know very well that there are many factors driving the radicalisation of young hearts and minds in Syria. The main one by far is the crude and unsparing barrel bomb made of scrap metal and high explosives. Barrel bombs, which are cheap and easily manufactured, are dropped by government helicopters on a daily basis. They turn entire neighbourhoods to rubble, destroy schools and hospitals and tear apart families, neighbourhoods and communities. A UN resolution banned these bombs in 2014, yet more than 11,000 of them have been dropped on populated areas since that resolution was passed. [3] This is because the international community has failed to enforce its ban. Many of these bombs are dropped on areas like Ghouta where people have been living under a crippling siege for two years with no access to food, water or much needed medical supplies.

Syrians who have had to hold in their arms the bloodied disfigured bodies of their loved ones really wish they could take part in discussions regarding the fate of their own country, but they’re often not invited. It is regrettable that Syrian speakers who represent these victims and have lived the quintessential painful Syrian experience have not been invited to take part in this panel.

We are nonviolent activists who are part of the Planet Syria network, a group of over a hundred civil society groups in Syria. We work on the ground to shore up nascent civil institutions and to provide basic services to residents in areas outside of government control.  Our network has not taken any position vis-a-vis intervention on against ISIS because we consider ISIS a symptom of the problem rather than the crux of it. We are saddened that debates in the UK are centred around ISIS but wilfully ignore the Syrian government’s vicious aerial war on its own people. The government killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of Syrians long before ISIS ever materialised in Syria. If it’s human lives the UK public and the Stop the War coalition are concerned about, then shouldn’t people there get a chance to hear the perspective of those who have borne the bulk of the suffering? We believe that inviting a Syrian representative of the Planet Syria network to sit on your panel will enrich the conversation and make it more constructive.

We have been living this nightmare for almost half a decade now and we feel we are entitled to take part in conversations regarding our fate. We are dismayed at the number of anti-war panels and lectures that have taken place in the West which have failed to include Syrians in their impressive lists of participants. We hope you won’t continue to exclude us from these important conversations about the fate of our country because when you do so, you further disempower the very same Syrians who have been disempowered by various perpetrators in this conflict.

All we want is a chance to voice our perspective as Syrians who see potential solutions where others only see challenges. We can add a much needed layer to this debate which has remained stubbornly removed from the reality most Syrians are living. There is the status quo in Syria and there is the ‘Stop The War’ movement in the UK. Until you take that extra step to consider that what we have to say is indispensable to the conversation around Syria, your conversation unfortunately has little bearing on Syrians’ fate.

On the event description, you write that military intervention in Syria could be ‘catastrophic for the whole region.’ There is already a huge catastrophe in the region. Syria is hemorrhaging flows of refugees into neighbouring countries. Syrian migrants are drowning every week as they try to reach European shores on dinghy boats to give their children a shot at a decent life. But they’re fleeing so much more than ISIS, so our biggest hope is to broaden the UK debate to take that glaring fact into account.

We would like you to listen to us because right now, absent Syrian voices, the debate ignores the valuable real-life experiences of nonviolent Syrians who can offer solutions. We would be more than glad to send a representative of Planet Syria to the panel and we patiently await your invitation.

About Planet Syria: http://on.planetsyria.org/about/

Yours Truly,

Planet Syria


[1] http://www.stopwar.org.uk/events/stop-the-war-events-national/10-sep-london-public-meeting

[2]  These are the figures for 2015 only from 1 January to 31 July. If you go back to the beginning of the uprising the difference between the government and Isis is much larger, since Isis was born from the conflict and did not exist in 2011. Source: Syria Network for Human Rights and Violations Documentation Center (http://sn4hr.org/ and https://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/ ).

[3]  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (http://www.syriahr.com/en/ ). UNSCR 2139 was signed in February 2014. This is the number of barrel bombs from February 2014 to July 2015. According to the US State Department, more than 2,000 barrel bombs were dropped in the month of July alone. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/30/syrian-army-air-strikes-aleppo-islamic-state