Originally published in Liberation Newspaper, October 2015
Only truly shameless people could exploit the heartbreaking image of a drowned three-year-old boy to justify new military aggressions. But that is precisely what the Western imperialist powers and their media outlets have done with the death of Aylan Kurdi, one of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees now escaping their war-torn country to make it to Europe.
The media are whipping up the usual “humanitarian” war hysteria. “Something must be done,” they crow, adding the lie that the West has “done nothing” in Syria. The war-hawks call for a larger bombing campaign against the Islamic State and fast-tracking weapons, money and U.S. Special Forces to assist the reactionary rebels fighting the Syrian government.
In fact, the U.S. government has already intervened extensively in Syria. Along with its imperialist allies in the European Union and NATO, and the governments of its regional allies Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it is directly responsible for creating the conditions that have led to the massive influx of refugees. In its ruthless effort to overthrow independent governments like Iraq, Libya and Syria, it has armed, funded and supported opposition forces that include extreme reactionary religious groups. It has stoked destructive sectarian proxy wars and imposed crippling economic sanctions—shattering existing states, giving rise to the Islamic State, and leaving millions with no option but to flee.
The refugees are not limited to Syria. Thousands of others from Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen—all countries that have been targets of U.S.-led imperialism—are being forced to risk their lives in the Mediterranean on tiny boats as they try to reach the shores of Italy, Greece and Malta. Just in the year 2014, 140,000 refugees are estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean, while thousands of others have drowned. Those who make it to Europe face the risk of being turned back or held indefinitely in inhumane conditions in detention centers.
In the Iraq war, half of the country’s population was displaced internally or externally. Syria was the largest recipient of Iraqi refugees, providing over 1 million with health care and housing. The Syrian civil war in 2011 changed all that, fueled by financial, military and political support from imperialism.
The number of refugees from Libya in 2010, before the NATO intervention that overthrew the secular, nationalist government led by Muammar Gaddafi, was only 2,039. As a result of the war, Libya turned into a “failed state” in a perpetual state of civil war with desperate living conditions. The economy has collapsed and NATO-backed militias roam the streets carrying out racist lynchings and mass executions. As a result, in 2014 there were between 600,000 and 1 million Libyan refugees in Tunisia alone.
Earlier this year, the U.S. client regime in Saudi Arabia along with other pro-imperialist governments began a bombing campaign in Yemen to remove from power the Houthi political movement, which they perceived as being close to Iran. The U.S. military is providing logistical and intelligence support to the operation, which has caused an enormous humanitarian crisis that raises the prospect of mass starvation. The long, brutal U.S. occupation of Afghanistan had been similarly devastating.
As progressives and revolutionaries in the heart of imperialism, it is as critical as ever that we expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and its partners as they try to use the recent refugee crisis as another shameless pretext for wider intervention in Syria and elsewhere.