The Stop the War Coalition is a curious organisation. It isn’t so much opposed to war as has accrued a sorry reputation for supporting the other side in every conflict it has pretended to oppose.
Whereas at one time you would be barred from speaking-platforms if you supported a fascist regime, because of the peculiarities of anti-imperialist politics you are likely today to receive top billing at a StWC event not in spite of your atrocious politics but because of them – so long as you are sufficiently bien pensant about United States foreign policy.
In this respect, Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix fitted the bill to a tee. A Catholic nun working in Syria who describes herself as an advocate of peace and reconciliation, Our Lady was due to speak at the Stoppers’ annual conference later this month. She withdrew over the weekend, however, after a storm of protest over her pro-Assad take on the Syrian civil war.
Mother Agnes is the Syrian equivalent of one of Hitler’s brown priests. She is on the record as saying that the video of the August 21 sarin gas attack on Ghouta in Damascus by the regime of Bashar al-Assad was staged by the Syrian opposition. In her 50-page dossier on the atrocity, she claimed that the corpses of gassed children that appear in the video were not really corpses at all, but rather ‘seem mostly sleeping’ and ‘under anaesthesia’. Mother Agnes told me:
‘Vidéos no. 1-6-11-13 and others related are fake, staged and prefabricated. Saying this I do NOT incriminate anybody and do not innocent anybody. I have no expertise in the matter of chemical attacks but in the videos that are proposed to our visioning I have detected sufficient evidences, especially that some victims are children abducted from the Lattakia mountains.’
In other words, Mother Agnes is at best a crackpot and at worst an apologist for one of Assad’s worst atrocities. As Peter Bouckaer of Human Rights Watch put it, 'There’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes' and 'no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated’.
The fact that a Ba’athist nun was on the roster for a far-left anti-war conference would scarcely matter if the Stoppers weren’t continually lent respectability by the mainstream. To his credit, Independent columnist Owen Jones pulled out of the conference after learning that Mother Agnes would be appearing; but other speakers were less discerning, with former Shadow Minister Diane Abbott, Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbin and Guardian columnist Seumas Milne all still due to appear alongside Our Lady as of the weekend — despite Mother Agnes’s pronouncements on Syria being widely circulated.
The real question is why any respectable person would think it ok to appear at a Stop the War event in the first place. In inviting Mother Agnes to speak the Stoppers were simply sticking faithfully to their own ‘anti-imperialist’ worldview — hence why the organisers still see nothing wrong in having selected her as a speaker. It was after all the organisation’s National Officer John Rees who once wrote: ‘Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.’
It isn’t just Rees, either. As Andrew Gilligan reported in August, Stop the War’s Vice-President is Kamal Majid, the founder of the something predictably execrable called the ‘Stalin Society’. Majid last year described the Assads as rulers ‘with a long history of resisting imperialism’ who must be supported ‘because their defeat will pave the way for a pro-Western and pro-US regime’.
The Stop the War Coalition are not anti-war; they are a malevolent Leninist front whose leadership has a long record of lining up alongside any movement or tyranny that is sufficiently anti-Western. Mother Agnes would have fitted in very well.