Revisiting Jeremy Corbyn’s Pakistan moment
I took a photo while Jeremy Corbyn – a British politician who is the leader of the Labour Party and the Opposition, and is the Member of Parliament (MP) for Islington North – Naila Hussain, and I were leaving for lunch in a rickshaw in Karachi, where we had gone to attend the World Social Forum in 2006. Tariq Ali, along with Corbyn, were one of the highlights of the forum. Dr AH Nayyar introduced me to Corbyn, since his elder, more radical brother was in Dr Nayyar’s research group at the Imperial College in London). Having heard Corbyn, Tariq Ali and other Stop the War speakers in London, it was wonderful to meet them in Karachi.
When I went to London for my studies, the Iraq war was about to start. There were huge anti-war demonstrations in London. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where I was studying, was the hub of anti-war activities. I joined the Stop the War group at SOAS and saw the length and breadth of London through protest marches with my group members Chirashree Dasgupta, Suchetana Chottapadhyay and Nina Balogh. It was an amazing feeling to march with hundreds of thousands anti-war protestors in London as compared to marching with 50 civil society members in Islamabad. It speaks volumes of Ziaul Haq’s influence on Pakistani polity which broke the back of left-wing politics in Pakistan.
Jeremy Corbyn, Tariq Ali, and other speakers of the Stop the War movement were in SOAS almost every week to galvanise student support and to participate in debates and events. I still recall Ali’s roaring speech outside the British Parliament on March 20, 2003, where he predicted that it is going to be a long war and it won’t be a swift breeze for the US and Britain. It was an amazing speech with detailed references to Iraq’s history as well as Islamic history. I had never seen Ali so riled up before.
Iraq, its civilians, and the whole Middle East is still paying the price of the neo-conservative Iraq war with their blood. When the photo of the young Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, went viral recently, I could not help think of the Iraq war whose effects are still ripping off the seams of structure and society in the Middle East.
While right-wing politics is highly on the rise in Pakistan, India, and the Middle East, it is great to see that left-wing politics is gaining hold in Europe. Zia’s policies decimated left-wing politics in Pakistan. Unions were broken, universities were taken over, the press was muzzled, the curriculum was changed to spread hatred of other religions, and the entire state and society was re-engineered along retrogressive right-wing lines. Pakistan has never been able to get out of the whirlpool and we keep on sinking deeper and deeper into the sea of violence and intolerance.
In such depressing times, it is nice to revisit Corbyn’s Pakistan moment, to remind us of a time that is achievable if we try.
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