Opinion

'Pro-Palestinian' Jeremy Corbyn Has Never Really Cared About Muslim Suffering

Iran. Kosovo. Syria. Libya. The U.K. Labour leader's carefully cultivated image as a savior of Muslims is a dangerous charade, and his systematic disregard for Muslim lives and freedom contaminates his support for Palestine

Then-MP Jeremy Corbyn joins Palestinian demonstrators in London's Trafalgar Square along with estimated 15,000 protesters marching against Israel's bombing of Gaza. Jan 3, 2009
theodore liasi / Alamy

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K. opposition Labour party, has spent many decades speaking about his life-long and principled stance against racism and Islamophobia.

For 20 years, Corbyn has made every effort to be in every photo opportunity where there has been an iftar (breaking the fast) event during Ramadan. He promotes an image that he is a political friend of Muslims and at the heart of this is his support for Palestine.

Yet too few have challenged this carefully cultured image, one that he has pushed forward on so many occasions, to examine its foundations.

Let’s look at a few examples where Corbyn’s actions raise troubling questions about his real commitment to the welfare of the world's Muslims.

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Let's start in 1999, in Kosovo. Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his paramilitary forces had already carried out the massacre of 8000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims – and had faced no concerted Western challenge.  

The Clinton administration and its European allies could see that Milosevic was planning the same genocidal strategy against ethnic Kosovar Muslims, simply for being Muslims and of Turkic heritage. Already heavily discriminated against by the state, they had been purged from their jobs, pushing them into a guerilla-type insurgency led the Kosovo Liberation Army against Serb forces.

The response to the insurgency from Milosevic was the forcible deportation of Kosovar Muslims, which took place from January to June 1999. Over 800,000 Kosovar Muslims were displaced; the aim was clear - to ethnically cleanse the area, much as Milosevic had brutally changed the ethnic landscape of Bosnia through violence and degradation. It was his modus operandi.

Kosovar Muslim men, women and children were murdered in a systematic manner; hundreds of people disappeared, only to be found dumped in shallow graves with gunshot wounds and brutal fresh scars – evidence of torture. All of the indicators demonstrated a genocide in the making and that very prediction was documented at the time by groups such as the well-respected Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The NATO alliance decided to act, to prevent further terrible civilian bloodshed and perhaps also to atone for their passivity during the Bosnian genocide. The March-June 1999 NATO air strikes were a precise and measured attempt to stop Milosevic in his tracks.

Fast-forward five years. In December 2004, Jeremy Corbyn signed up to the parliamentary Early Day Motion 492, which highlighted the "devastating human cost" of the "so-termed humanitarian invasion of Kosovo."

The motion based its claims on an article by reporter John Pilger in the New Statesman which pivoted on a comparison of the "great…lies…deployed by Clinton and Blair in their grooming of public opinion for an illegal, unprovoked attack on a European country" with those that led to the Iraq war.

A Serbian police officer kicks an ethnic Albanian during riots in Pristina, the capital of restive Kosovo province. March 2, 1998
AP

The piece ended with a dismissal of the then-ongoing trial of Milosevic for war crimes as a "show trial" and "farce" of a man whose only crime was his refusal to "surrender sovereignty" to the demands of global finance organizations. Needless to say, Pilger, together with fellow journalist Seymour Hersh, is also a leading light in the Assad apologist camp.

The motion "congratulated John Pilger on his expose of [a] fraudulent justification for intervening in a genocide that never really existed in Kosovo."

There was no "devastating cost" to the Serbian population apart from the unspectacular toll of those engaged in fighting with Serb and paramilitary fighting forces targeting Kosovar Muslims en masse. The "devastating cost" was borne by Muslims. And it is a cost that Muslims in both Kosovo and Bosnia continue to pay, as the world's far left and far right join together to deny any genocide occurred

Why would Corbyn be such a depressingly obvious backer of this kind of revisionism and apologetics for the genocide of Muslims?

As a confirmed anti-imperialist, Corbyn would have objected to NATO intervention and U.S. involvement in particular, despite the threatened murder of Muslims. Throw in the fact that there were close connections between Serbia and Russia.  

Corbyn has never answered for his stance on Kosovo, nor has he acknowledged the mass displacement and systemic murders of Kosovar Muslims that took place.

But give the Pied Piper a photo opportunity at a mosque and he is there looking like the "magic grandpa" of his fans’ online iconography, surrounded by young Muslims who know little about his political history and how little his solidarity with Muslims in danger is really worth.

From Kosovo, we move on to Iran. There's been more coverage of Corbyn’s time as a presenter on the regime mouthpiece Press TV channel – for his work from 2009-2012, he was paid around $27,000. 

Corbyn tends to insist that he used the opportunity of appearing on Tehran TV to challenge the human rights record of Iran, a regime that routinely murders political opponents, created and supports Hezbollah and a plethora of other violent Islamist terror groups, and has restricted religious freedoms to the point that Bahais, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians and other faith adherents have fled the monstrous regime leaving few traces of their long history and heritage.

Progressive, feminist and gay Muslims and those questioning the Iranian state's crushing interference in daily life face repression, arrest and even execution, on trumped up charges.

Muslims like me, willing to critique, challenge and reflect on some Muslim faith observances and practices, and opposed to enforced religious practices, would not stand a chance in Iran. We would be arrested, tortured or killed.

So how has Corbyn "challenged" the Iranian regime's human rights record and its determined assault on "disobedient" Muslims, even at the cost of their lives?

In 2014, Corbyn spoke at the Islamic Centre of England at a celebration marking the 35th anniversary of the Iranian revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Corbyn praised the "tolerance and acceptance of other faiths, traditions and ethnic groupings in Iran."

Last year, in a now infamous Channel 4 interview, he was asked no less than four times if he regretted having worked for Press TV. Increasingly irate, he kept repeating his "human rights" mantra – but determinedly refused to answer the question.

Either Corbyn was – and still is - deluded, out of his depth, or genuinely affectionate for the "tolerance" shown by aggressive religious theocrats in Iran that have destroyed so many lives, because he frames them as revolutionary brothers dedicated to fighting the Great and Little Satans.

Whatever his reasoning, Corbyn's supportive comments for Iran's theocratic repression are an insult to the many dissenting Muslims who have suffered, been tortured and died at its blood-soaked hands.

Take how Corbyn voted against a no-fly zone when the bizarre Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi and his henchmen attacked his own citizens in the midst of the Arab-Spring in 2011. The brutality of Gadhafi was well known; his air force was attacking rebels and civilian residential areas.

A Libyan protester shows a sign thanking France's part in NATO-led air strikes during an anti-Gaddhafi demonstration in Benghazi. April 2, 2011
REUTERS

Those lives were also Muslim; they simply wanted the stifling yoke of dictatorship and torture lifted from their lives.

557 Members of Parliament supported the motion to enforce a no-fly zone. 13 MPs did not support this humanitarian move. One of those was Jeremy Corbyn.

On Syria, Corbyn took a similar position. He was fiercely against the U.S. – U.K. air strikes in April 2018 that were intended as a cogent warning to the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after he bombarded a town full of civilians with lethal chemical weapons.

Corbyn opposed both the humanitarian rationale and the function of punishing tyrants for their deeds – in this case, for Assad's killing of Muslim civilians, a tiny fraction of the death toll of hundreds of thousands for which he is responsible.

Indeed, he remained skeptical that Assad was indeed responsible for the chemical attack – a Kremlin playbook ploy adopted by the far left and right in both the U.K. and U.S. Asked directly outside of parliament if he thought Assad was responsible for the atrocity, Corbyn refused to say he was, or even to mention him by name. 

Syrian walk by posters of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018
Hassan Ammar/AP

Now we turn to the Israel-Palestine question.

It's no surprise, of course, given Corbyn’s political history and engagement with hard left groups, that he would gravitate towards an uncompromising pro-Palestinian position and a barely disguised hostility towards Zionism. For Corbyn, Palestinians are by definition anti-colonialist, and Israel an irredeemably colonial venture. 

From the mid-60s to the mid-90s, Corbyn's ideologically formative and activist years, Israel was seen as the capitalist, colonialist opposition to the pro-Russian, Marxist and Arab socialist revolutionary currents flowing through the Middle East and especially though the various Palestinian "freedom" fighters.

Corbyn has never seemed to be too picky about the specific nature of Palestinian groups, their proximity to or embrace of terrorism, and their actual views about Israel's future existence.

Thus his warm welcome to his "friends" in Hamas and Hezbollah. Thus his laying a wreath on the graves of two members of Black September, the perpetrators of the Munich massacre against Israeli Olympic participants.

Perhaps it was years of imbibing the conspiracy theories of the far left as well as political Islamists that led his "pro-Palestinian" activism into the realms of virulent conspiracism in relation to Israel, and the whitewashing of Islamist violence, for instance when he peddled the idea that Israel had been behind the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in August 2012.

His interviewer asked: Would "a Muslim go against his Egyptian brother and open fire?" and he answered: "It seems a bit unlikely that that [an attack by Islamists] would happen during Ramadan - to put it mildly - and I suspect the hand of Israel in this whole process of destabilization."

Fittingly, the forum for this piece of ugly geopolitical theater was Iran's Press TV channel.

The fact is that Islamist militants were wholly committed to the attack in an attempt to destabilize the Sinai region. Yet to Corbyn, all roads in his conspiratorial mindset lead to Israel, and away from his "revolutionary" Muslim brothers, no matter whose (Muslim) blood they shed.

Jeremy Corbyn has consistently packaged his positions as true expressions of a fighter for human rights, and a champion particularly of Muslims' freedom. But the interventions he despises so much, from Kosovo to Libya, saved Muslim lives and gave the people of those countries a chance to breathe, at a time when they were stifled by political repression and torture.  

He showed equal indifference to interventions that could have reduced the rivers of Muslim blood that Syria's Assad has spilled, and still he won't denounce the Muslim lives suffocated and extinguished by the Iranian regime.

The "Cult of Corbyn" has tried hard to frame Corbyn as always being on the right side of history because he is led by an unquestionable morality. Many still see him as a deeply ethical politician standing for the weak against the decade long austerity of the Conservatives.

Yet where was that morality for the people of Kosovo? Were they not Muslim enough for Corbyn? Did they interfere with his totalizing anti-imperialism? Were they too disconnected from the pivotal issue of Palestine to bother him?

Were they not entitled to self-determination and to live free from a potential genocide in the making, or was that Muslim suffering all a Western "false flag" operation? Did they not make good enough photo-ops?

So next time Corbyn speaks to young Muslims about Palestinian self-determination and rights, they might just want to ask him whether his blatant disregard for Muslim lives elsewhere, and his support for Muslim dictators with blood on their hands, let alone the institutional anti-Semitism within the Labour party that's occurred on his watch, contaminates his support.

They should ask him why he takes such a pick and mix approach to human rights. Which Muslims does Corbyn really consider worth protecting - and why?

Fiyaz Mughal OBE is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters, an organization dedicated to countering extremism in Britain. He is the Founder of Tell MAMA and a trustee of the U.K's National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Twitter: @FaithMattersUK