– US airstrikes on Syria: Hypocrisy and murder
– Spanish lifeguards: When saving lives becomes an illegal political act

A World to Win News Service for 8 April 2017 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.

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US airstrikes on Syria: Hypocrisy and murder

7 April 2017. A World to Win News Service. US President Trump’s cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase can only ratchet up the horrors being inflicted on the Syrian people by multiple rival enemies. It is part of a stepped-up US-led intervention in Syria and Iraq that has already killed about 3,000 civilians, according to Airwars.org. Further, it threatens wider wars in the region and the whole world.

Although Trump claimed to be motivated by the sight of pictures of children choking and dying due to chemical weapons allegedly used by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, his attack came in the wake of US airstrikes that killed many hundreds of adults and children in Iraq and Syria, not with chemical weapons but high explosive Hellfire missiles and huge bombs. In March the US-led coalition bombed a mosque, school and bakery in Syria and then levelled apartment buildings in western Mosul in Iraq, killing as many as 230 people in that attack alone. It is very clear that Washington wants to defeat Daesh (ISIS) not to do anything good for the people of Iraq and Syria, who have been Islamic fundamentalism’s main victims, but to impose its own domination and beat back other rivals. The same applies to the US strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase. It had nothing to do with protecting people in Syria and everything to do with the US’s strategic interests in the region and globally.

If you want to know what kind of regime the US would welcome in Syria, look at Egypt. Nothing better illustrates what US domination means in this region than Trump’s meeting with Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a few days before this attack. Trump told Sisi he was doing a “fantastic job in a very difficult situation” and publicly declared, “You have a great friend and ally in the United States and me.” Sisi’s rule began with a military coup in 2013. Its opening act was the massacre of more than 800 Islamic Brotherhood supporters demonstrating against the toppling of its elected government. After attacking a protest camp, troops moved through a hospital systematically exterminating patients and staff. Since then, Egypt’s prisons have been engorged with as many as 60,000 political prisoners, including not only Islamists but members of the secular youth organizations that spearheaded the 2011 Tahir Square uprising and dissenters of all stripes. Sisi now presides over a country where young people are called “the jail generation”. The main difference between Sisi and Assad is that Sisi is in the US’s pocket and Assad is not.

It is hard to imagine anything more hypocritical than Trump’s claim to have undergone a “change of heart” about the Assad regime because of the suffering of Syrian children. The “heart” of Trump and the imperialist power he heads beats with the blood of hundreds of millions of its victims. From the nuclear bombs that murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War 2 to the carpet bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the extensive spraying of poisonous Agent Orange during the US war to dominate South-east Asia and the use of depleted uranium shells in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the deployment of weapons of mass destruction against civilians has been a hallmark of American warfighting.

The US had no objection when the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, back when it considered Saddam an ally, used poison gas to inflict some 100,000 casualties during the Iran-Iraq war. The US enabled both sides and, along with Germany, the UK and France, knowingly supplied the chemicals. The US even blocked UN action against Saddam after his forces gassed the Iraqi Kurdish town of Hallabja, killing 5-8,000 people, including a very high proportion of women, children and elderly.

Further, as many people have pointed out, a man and a regime that ordered that not a single refugee be accepted from the war the US has been fuelling in Syria, even keeping out children scheduled to undergo life-saving medical procedures, cannot claim to act in the name of Syrian children and other victims. The same can be said of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who claimed to be “appalled” by the “barbarism of the Syrian regime”‘, when she herself has long been at the forefront of European Union policies that amount to deliberately letting Syrian and other refugees drown while fleeing crossing the Mediterranean. May shut down the British government programme to accept child refugees from the Mideast, which was originally slated to take in 3,500 children – itself a paltry number – after accepting only 350, on the grounds that there was “no more room”.

This demonstration of the US’s murderous power was meant to signal that it does not intend to let Arabs, Iranians, Kurds or anyone else but the US run the region. It was also a threat to North Korea and elsewhere. Right now it is hard to predict Trump’s next act, or how the consequences of this one will unfold, internationally and within the US. But some of those who are already sure that this will be a “one-off” US action were – until today – arguing that Trump is all bluster. He has repeatedly said about nuclear weapons, “I don’t want to rule out anything.” The gravity of this situation should not be underestimated.

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Spanish lifeguards: When saving lives becomes an illegal political act

7 April 2017. A World to Win News Service. Some Spanish lifeguards once patrolled a pristine Mediterranean beach not far from Barcelona. But simply sitting and watching the television news of people drowning a mere 15 metres from the shores of Greece seemed outrageous and unacceptable to them when these deaths were preventable. So in September 2015 they decided to act and set off for the Greek island of Lesbos. Initially swim fins and wet suits were their only tools to save lives.

They were joined by other lifeguards from various countries in Europe and worked alongside Greek fisherman to provide medical care and basic necessities to those they were able to save. But then Europe’s governments began to take new steps to create a fortress Europe to keep out refugees fleeing the misery and war that they themselves helped to create. A clampdown began in Greece.

In January 2016 two lifeguards from Denmark and three firefighters from Spain were arrested in a harassment campaign launched by the Greek authorities against the many volunteers in Lesbos. “A preliminary investigation has been opened,” a coastguard spokeswoman said, adding that the suspects were likely to be charged with “attempting to facilitate the entry of illegal migrants.” The charge of people-smuggling can lead to ten years in prison.

Released after a few days in jail, the accused lifeguards said they had been treated like “terrorists” and held in a small, filthy cell. Other lifeguards were arrested and briefly held on bogus charges of stealing life jackets left behind by refugees. They had intended to use the life jackets as bedding. The police regularly issued parking tickets for the lifeguards’ vehicles which they’d parked while out trying to save people.

As Europe closed off the Turkey/Greece route and shut down search and rescue operations, exacerbating what was already a human catastrophe for migrants fleeing war and terror in their homelands, the Spanish lifeguards realized they needed to expand their rescue abilities. They shifted their focus to the coastline off Libya, where nightmarish conditions have created a surge in the flow of migrants. They set up a non-profit organization called ProActiva Open Arms and received generous contributions from individual donors. An Italian entrepreneur even donated his 30-metre luxury sailing yacht, the Astral, which was quickly refitted for life-saving.

On one occasion, working franticly from dawn to dusk, the Astral crew pulled overcrowded rubber dinghies and a leaky wooden boat crammed with hundreds of people to a port in Italy, saving 1,000 people fleeing oppression, including children and their parents. Four pregnant women gave birth while being towed to the port. The crew recounted poignant moments as those who survived tiptoed delicately over the lifeless bodies of those who did not. (5 October 2016, Dailymail.co.uk)

According to UN spokesperson William Spindler, the number of people fleeing across the Mediterranean decreased significantly last year (1,015,078 in 2015, and 327,800 from January to October 2016). However, the death rate spiralled from 1 in 269 refugees in 2015 to 1 in 88 in 2016. On the sea journey trek between Libya and Italy, the rate climbed to one death for every 47 survivors. The Libya/Italy route is particularly perilous. There is a deliberate lack of robust search and rescue mechanisms from European governments, and people smugglers are using cheap inflatable rafts that sometimes don’t last the length of the journey, or wooden boats crammed with people and susceptible to capsizing in the waves.

Despite the small size of the Astral rescue ship and the handful of full-time organizers and occasional volunteers, these heroic lifeguards are contributing to some of the most important humanitarian work in the Mediterranean alongside other NGOs like SeaWatch, Médicins Sans Frontiers, and SOSMéditerranée. They have saved more than 140,000 people and continue their crucial work on one of the most dangerous paths to Europe. Their mission: ”We do not want to lose one more life to the sea, neither do we want to allow the sea to silence the injustices that happen there.”

But the drowning of thousands of people at sea is exactly what the European governments are counting on to prevent the arrival of these victims of the rapacious, unjust workings of the capitalist-imperialist system. Fabrice Leggeri, head of Frontex (the agency in charge of the European Union’s external borders), blasted NGO rescue operations, claiming that saving lives is a “pull factor” attracting more people to Europe. He accused the NGOs of giving priority to rescue operations instead of cooperating with police against migrants. Coming from a police agency, this was a threat. Medicins Sans Fronteirs labelled the charges “extremely serious and damaging”, stating that following this directive would mean letting people drown. (21 February and 5 April 2017, TheGuardian.com). Saving lives means going up against these governments and, more, putting an end to the system that has produced and thrives on the conditions so many people all over the world find intolerable.

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