‘DON’T bomb Syria! Don’t bomb Syria!’ chanted a crowd of over 4,000 that blocked Whitehall opposite Downing Street on Saturday.
The mass protest was one of 18 events organised by Stop the War Coalition. Stop the War co-founder John Rees slammed right wing Labour MPs and shadow cabinet ministers who agree with the planned UK bombing. He told the central London crowd: ‘If bombing goes ahead, more innocent people will die. Learn the lesson of the Iraq war. Labour shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn voted for the Iraq war. He should learn the lesson of that war.’
He warned Tory ministers were lobbying Labour MPs and that a vote could take place as early as Wednesday. He urged Labour to get behind Jeremy Corbyn and vote against and called for another mass demonstration on the day. Singer and musician Brian Eno said: ‘It’s like a man using a hammer to crack a nut. We don’t like ISIL but by bombing, we’re doing everything ISIL want.
‘Start following the money. The people supporting ISIL are Saudi Arabia which supplies a lot of weapons. Turkey is buying a lot of ISIS oil. The whole of this century has been us digging a hole in the Middle East, so let’s stop doing that.’
Actor Mark Rylance is one of 39 actors, musicians, trade union leaders, MPs and academics who are signatories to a letter to Cameron opposing bombing Syria and urging the UK to ‘stop arming reactionary and aggressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that sponsor terrorist groups’.
Rylance told the London crowd: ‘I’m tired of being associated with terrorism. We are responsible in this country for terror. We have been involved in terror and I am tired of that.’ He urged the Tory government: ‘Stop dropping bombs and being the recruiting sergeants for terrorism.’
Former Labour and ex-Respect MP George Galloway asked the crowd: ‘Have you heard the one about Labour MPs demanding the resignation of their newly-elected leader because he won’t lead them into Cameron’s new war in the Middle East?’
Galloway continued: ‘The Turkish president has just complained Russia is bombing oil trucks coming out of Syria He has now confirmed Turkey is the main ally of ISIS. Let’s ensure our NATO allies are not collaborating with ISIS and Al Qaeda. Tell Saudi Arabia to stop funding terrorism in the Middle East.
‘Our enemy as a state is not ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Cameron wants to bring down the Syrian regime like Britain brought down the Iraqi regime.’ Citing the break-up of Iraq and Libya, he said: ‘These wars have made everything worse.’
Addressing the crowd, Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary, said: ‘David Cameron has not made the case for bombing Syria. At this point, I do not believe that bombing Syria will make it safe, any more than bombing Iraq made Iraq safe, bombing Afghanistan made Afghanistan safe and bombing Libya made Libya safe.’
News Line spoke to some of the protesters. Retired lecturer Linda Cadier said: ‘I voted against going to war in Iraq and I got my MP to vote against the last Syrian bombing motion. I don’t believe that bombing is the answer to problems that I believe are created by the United States of America. I believe the USA funded the opposition to Assad in Syria and the force they created just got out of control.’
She added: ‘This quest to restore so-called democracy in the Middle East is in fact a quest to control the oil resources of the region by the US. Cameron seems to be after some sort of world influence, like Tony Blair. The unions should take action in a general strike to bring this Cameron government down – something needs to be done.’
Linda’s daughter-in-law Jo Cadier added: ‘I disagree wholeheartedly with what Cameron and a large proportion of the Labour shadow cabinet are intending. I hope MPs will listen to Jeremy Corbyn. It’s obvious that bombing Syria is not the answer. The US and UK bombed Iraq and I was opposed to that.
‘If recent history shows us anything, it shows that military action is wrong. We need to show strength in numbers, stand together and show the government we are opposed to bombing Syria.’
West Indian trainee documentary filmmaker living in Lewes, Nicola Cross told News Line: ‘I don’t think they should bomb anyone – today it’s Syria, where next tomorrow? It’s not on. It’s all about power. It’s up to Syrians to choose their president and government. I don’t think you should make a decision from outside the country. It’s like Grenada when the Americans invaded it.’
Clara Glyn was with friends from Shepherds Bush 6th Form College. She said: ‘We’re here to show unity and to try to stop the bombing of Syria by the UK and US. I don’t think that will help. It’s only going to aggravate things and a lot of innocent people will get hurt and die. The UK started the whole thing by bombing Iraq. It’s just going to get a lot worse.
‘I want to get rid of the Tory government and get the Labour Party in. Although they are split, a split might be good so we’d get a more left wing party. The right wing Labour are so opposed to Corbyn. They want to please the people with money, not the normal or vulnerable people.’
Libby Freeman from Calais Action told News Line: ‘We’re opposed to bombing Syria. Going to war is not going to solve the problems. It didn’t in the past and it won’t now. Bombing is going to kill thousands of innocent civilians. It’s definitely an illegal war and it’s going to put the UK at higher threat of terrorist attack.
‘There will be even more refugees and the UK is still not taking extra responsibility for the current refugees. If there are bombs, the UK won’t take any in, they’ll just shut the borders. The unions should take action, everybody should take action. We have the power to change. And bombing will breed Islamophobia in the UK. We need to stand up against that, stand together.’
Young actor Saudiq Baoku from Brixton said: ‘To see a lot of people against going to war is good. Bombing Syria won’t solve anything. The trade unions should take action to bring down the government. Protests are good but striking, like the junior doctors’ strike, is more effective.’
Omar, a Syrian from Damascus studying in the UK, said: ‘I’m against the air strikes they are planning and the whole conspiracy against my beloved country by the US and Gulf countries. They are funding the terrorists. I hope David Cameron and Barack Obama can stop the funding of ISIS, also the air strikes.
‘Air strikes by the US and UK will be attacking the Syrian Army and innocent civilians. They will not attack ISIS. The British people shouldn’t listen to the Western media, like the BBC and CNN. They are pro-imperialist and Zionist. People in Britain should be more open-minded and educate themselves to what’s really happening.’