This has been a pretty intense week. After a ten and a half hour debate in the house of commons on Wednesday the UK government voted in favour of extending air strikes to Syria and contributing to a bombing coalition with the US and France in that country. After the decision was broadcast, a lot of people took to social media to voice their opinions. I have personally seen far more comments against the motion than I have for, but it would be wrong to say that public opinion is unanimously or extremely against the strikes. Public opinion is never unanimous, and not everyone takes to social media to voice their opinions. There are a lot of arguments on both sides, and both are right in parts and wrong in others.
The idea that military action should never be an option is frankly un-realistic, and some people seem to have bought into the hype surrounding this vote and decided that it means the UK will personally start dropping thousands and thousands of bombs on innocent people. This is an overstatement. The UK is contributing a small number of air crafts to an existing operation, and it has basically been admitted that our contribution is unlikely to make a significant difference, they are also meant to be targeting Daesh only and avoiding civilian areas. They are not trying to target civilians and they claim that the RAF has not killed a single civilian during the already existing operation in Iraq, in reality this is very hard to prove because of the sheer depth of destruction in this region and dubious sources, and we may never know for sure if this is true or not. We also do not know and may never know how many civilians are going to be effected or killed by extending the operations in Syria.
Syria is already being heavily bombed by different, overlapping forces and there doesn’t seem to be much proof that it is helping to end or even significantly hurt Daesh, but if there was a proper ground force and a realistic chance at a peace settlement it would be a helpful to weaken them, scatter them and help cut off their resources. As we do not have these things, I do not feel the bombing campaign is the best course of action, and I have not been convinced by any of the frankly half baked, rushed or non-relevant arguments by the MP’s or those who support this.
Some things came up in the debate, including Cameron’s assertion that bombing Syria will somehow make us safer in the UK and all the hype about Hilary Benn’s speech. There is also a very important issue no one seems to be thinking about, which is very worrying as it is extremely relevant to our security and the future of Syria.
I’m going to attempt to address these, but this is a very complex and multi-faceted issue and I’m not going to pretend to know what the best course of action should be. It does worry me that these points don’t seem to have been acknowledged adequately by parliament.
Firstly, the idea that bombing Syria will make us safer does not make sense to me. And the reason for this is simple. Although Daesh currently has its headquarters in Syria, the attacks that happened in Paris were carried out by those in Paris, not in Syria. The people who carried out the attacks may have been to Syria, they were in touch with people in Syria, but they were born in and residents of the EU. So although people who support Daesh and subscribe to their views are likely to be in touch with people in Syria, and as we know hundreds of people from our own country have travelled to, and worryingly back, from Syria, if attacks happen in this country they are very likely to be carried out by people already here, and therefore bombing Syria will not stop their ability to carry out attacks on our countries, and is likely to make ‘revenge attacks’ more likely, as well as potentially so called lone wolf attacks, by people inspired by but not directly connected to Daesh.
There is another reason as well. It is not just extremists who dislike our respective governments and the actions they have carried out in the past and continue to carry out now. There are thousands of people who hate the very notion of religious murder and the whole idea of Daesh who also hate our government and their previous actions in the Middle East. There are plenty of people who see the war in Iraq as nothing more than a cold, calculated war crime and believe that those who were involved are murderers. And there are also plenty of people who disagree strongly with the decision taken on Wednesday, because they believe it is to do with oil and our governments collective greed. These are non radicalised and often peaceful people who hold these views. These are not limited to extremists. The reason Daesh’s propaganda works is because some of it is based on truth. Not the idea that there is some apocalyptic crusade in which they are fighting, and not the idea that murdering innocent people is going to result in some heavenly reward. But we do have a complicated, long running and often nasty history not just with the middle east but with most places around the world. This is not because people in our countries are abnormally evil, but because human history is full of people doing horrific things to each other all over the world. There is no way to excuse the murders these people have carried out in Europe or abroad. These people have murdered thousands within Syria and continue to stone, torture and execute any dissenters or anyone who even vaguely strays from their vision of Islam and their strict rules on behaviour. They have also filled mass graves with all the people they decided not to rape. And they have and continue to carry out horrific attacks outside of Syria, including our neighbors in France. These actions can never be excused; as human action goes these are among the most evil it could be and I hope everyone reading this is under no delusion that this is the case. But that does not mean that our countries actions over the last twenty years were any less terrible, that innocent people have not died during these ‘liberation’ wars. The ‘west’ are at least partly responsible for the hell that Daesh was born out of. This is by no means the only factor, but it is a factor, and until we stop ignoring our past mistakes we cannot hope to beat this propaganda. There is also the fact that these people want to be martyred, and they want the west to commit atrocities because it furthers their cause.
This does not mean military action is not an option, but it does mean we have to be more careful when applying it and ensuring that it is part of a comprehensive plan, not just war for the sake of looking like we are doing something.
Secondly, Hilary Benn’s speech was really not all that. In terms of rhetorical devices and the art of public speaking, it wasn’t bad. He had a good use of tone, he applied several effective rhetorical devices and he had good presence. He would have done any debating club proud. But the actual words he said did not offer anything new to the debate, in fact in terms of addressing the issues at hand he failed on several accounts. He played it in such a way that everyone could agree with it without him actually having to say anything of note, and it worked very well for him. His analogy with ‘facism’ was effective because it invoked our feelings about Nazism, but it did not address the issue. This is not the same situation as it was during the second world war not least because warfare has changed a considerable amount. This is not fighting them on the grounds, seas and skies, and fighting a clear army with equal footing, this is dropping a few bombs a week from a great hight and adding slightly to the destruction of a country.
Most of his speech concerned the need to fight Daesh in general. No one was disputing that we needed to take action against them, the issue at hand was whether contributing air strikes, and a small number of air strikes at that, is the right approach to tackle them, not whether we should fight them at all. And he does address that where he says: “Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobane. Now of course air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh, but they make a difference because they are giving them a hard time and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.”. I find that pretty weak, because whilst it may slow them down, it does not mean they cannot regain the territory fairly quickly without ground forces to stop them and as we have seen in the campaign that is already happening whilst they have been stopped in some areas, they have gained territory in others. Without an effective ground army to keep them from regaining this territory, bombing will at best have very limited success.
His mentioned the ‘ground troops’ that we are relying on to hold the territory being bombed “But I tell you what else we know: it’s whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number” is also not a strong statement, in fact it highlights how little we know about these troops we are relying on, especially as they are very likely to have their own agendas. Some of these fighters are fighting for democracy, and some for their right to their own country, and some are doing very well and establishing free societies within that country, but others are not. If we train and equip these people, it is quite likely if we are able to defeat Daesh someone else will easily be able to take their place. The PM has basically admitted that some, who knows how many, are from Al Qaeda, the people we spent the last ten+ years fighting. There are many interests at work here, and I think it is extremely naive to think we can unite them all and control them, especially if they are not sure what we are offering them at the end of all this. And his statement “We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.” is something I’m really not convinced about. I’ve tried to find a list of every country involved in this ‘coalition’, and so far I have found around 24 countries with varying levels of involvement, as well as an array of local forces within the region. If anyone has any information on the other 36 countries apparently involved please let me know, otherwise I fail to understand where this figure has come from.
It was not a bad speech, but I do not believe it, or he, deserves the hype. I do not feel he gave a convincing argument for whether the UK contributing to air strikes would make a significant positive contribution to this war. He did attempt address these points, although I do not believe he did so very well, but he spent far more rallying everyone up by making statements that are both easy to agree with and largely empty.
The third and perhaps most pressing point is that this war is far more complex then the MPs made out on Wednesday. It is not a case of a united country being invaded by Daesh that will go back to normal once they are removed. The civil war was not started because of Daesh, Daesh was just able to capitalize on it because of the chaos that was already happening. And the civil war will not stop with their removal. There are many differing and often un-compatible interests in Syria, and it is far more complex than it sounded during the debate. President Assad has most probably killed more Syrians than Daesh have, and many Syrian people have fought for years to remove him. So when and if we can defeat Daesh, there will be a few options, and none of them are ideal. Firstly, we could say that our sole aim was to defeat Daesh and now we will withdraw military action, in which case the chaos is likely to continue and a similar group will sooner or later have the opportunity to emerge, or that Assad will regain power (in which case see point three). We could go against Russia and say that we will continue to fight, and therefore fight Russia to remove Assad, which is likely to anger Iran and Russia and could potentially lead to World War Three. Wars have started for less. Or we could side with Russia and turn the country over to Assad, which is probably the most likely plan, which would be a betrayal of the Syrian people who have spent years in a hellish war. To say all of that was for nothing and that things would be set back to how they were before this all started is almost guaranteed to turn these people against us, and out of all the possible scenario’s the fact will remain that we will have proved to the world we only care about those who directly effect us and are perfectly happy to work with murderous dictators and turn a blind eye to their domestic policies as long as they are friendly to us. Some people are comparing this to Iraq, but it is not the same. It is not a case of us invading a country for no reason and removing a dictator with no end plan, many people in Syria have already risen up against Assad. We are not enforcing this from our comfortable plushy offices overseas, many people in Syria have fought for this for years.
There is no easy answer to this issue, all have the potential to be very messy and unpleasant, and I am not sure anyone really knows how to deal with it if and when it does come up. What I do know is that by rushing into an air strike on Syria we have thrown ourselves into a much bigger conflict than we would like to think about, and the assertion that it is hardly an issue because the borders are not recognized by Daesh is not the point. The point is that the situation in Syria is not the situation in Iraq, and now we have committed ourselves to something I am not convinced any of the MP’s really understand. I am not saying military action is the wrong approach, and at some point it would probably have been necessary. But I feel they should have spent far longer thinking about the immediate as well as the future consequences and thought up at least the beginnings of a solid plan before engaging these air strikes. The Vienna talks are intended to solve this issue, but I can’t see that happening any time soon, and until they do the situation remains uncertain with or without Daesh. This was not just extending the war. This was much more than that, and to say it is not is to lie to the public.
So, the past two weeks have been scary and intense. The Paris atrocities of November 13th, in which 130 innocent people were killed in seven terrorist attacks on the capital have understandably shaken Europe and the wider world, and you can still feel the aftermath here in the UK. There is no way to excuse these murders; the people killed were regular, innocent people, like you and me. The idea that you could be out with your friends on a Friday night, doing the things you have always done, and someone could just go and murder you because of some religious ideology that you have nothing to do with is beyond words.
Things have definitely changed in the UK in the last two weeks. There are police everywhere, personally every time I get a tube I feel like I am tempting fate and we may be only a week or two away from a full blown war. A lot of things are going on, and these are definitely scary times to live in. I’m going to focus on the issue of bombing Syria, but this is only one part of a must larger issue and we still have no idea how it is all going to turn out.
The Paris atrocities were just that; they were atrocities. Because those that carried out these murders say they are Muslims, and indeed want to create an Islamic state based on their take on Islamic law, a worrying amount of people seem to have become concerned about Muslims in general. If you go to any comment section on a relevant news story, you will see a number of people suggesting that the Koran is evil, that that we shouldn’t trust Muslims, you will even get people suggesting that we should deport all Muslims to Syria. I very much doubt we will get to the mass deporting of innocent people stage, but smaller levels of discrimination do appear to be on the rise, and both to keep the UK safe for all its citizens and to combat further radicalisation in our communities, this needs to be addressed. This is not just for political rhetoric and for the sake of being a good, tolerant person, but because terrorists want to invoke an ‘us and them’ mentality with the West as an all encompassing bad guy that must be destroyed. Attacking innocent people and treating them like the enemy isn’t going to help with that, and surely if we are going to try and stop radicalisation of people in this country we need to fight against this perception, not perpetuate it. Human history is full of people doing bad things to each other, and England’s history is a particularly bloody and often horrific one. That does not mean the majority of the population have personally done bloody and horrific things, or that they are responsible for these things, but we do need to acknowledge this countries past. In the same way you can’t blame all Muslims for ISIS, you cannot blame all Europeans for their colonial past or for the wars the leaders of these countries decided to drag us into. This does not mean we shouldn’t fight Daesh or that we should apologise for them, but we need to acknowledge our part in the context of these events before we can plan what to do next. I’m sure the majority of people don’t believe all or most Muslims are terrorist or Daesh sympathisers, but here are a few points for those that do.
Islam is not a uniquely violent religion.
That is not to say there are not very questionable passages in the Koran. It is true that there are parts that can be interpreted as promoting violence and even murder against non-believers and perceived sinners, and that people have carried out murders based on their take on the Muslim religion. Suicide bombers do follow a type of Islamic faith, although it is not the same beliefs as the majority.
However, it is not alone. The abrahamic religions have a lot of differences, but they also have a lot of similarities and it is simply untrue to suggest one is significantly more violent than the others. The Old Testament has a lot of passages that sound pretty dodgy to me, including but not limited to: ” Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31:17-18)” and “If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12)”. In the New Testament Jesus is reported as saying: “”Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34“.
Do these passages mean that all Jews and Christians are inherently violent? Of course not. Have people used these religions to justify violence? Yes. Of course they have. Murder in the name of religion is hardly a new concept. Here are some nasty titbits for you: During the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in the 1200’s, large numbers of Cathars were massacred by Christians due to their duelist religion, despite the fact they were mostly peaceful and pious people. Back in the day the Crusades were very real and lengthy religious war in which both Christians and Muslims murdered and enslaved each other in the name of their respective religions. During Tudor times in the UK, people were burnt alive for being the wrong kind of Christian. In numerous countries all over Europe those accused of witchcraft were tortured and murdered. In more resent times, the Ku Klux Klan of whom many considered themselves Christian, murdered and terrorized black people for decades. Human history is full of people doing bad things to each other and justifying it in one way or the other. People have done many bad things in the name of Islam, but you can’t say that because some groups of people start trying to force everyone to share their outlook and commit horrific acts in the name of their Gods, it means everyone who subscribes to a version of that religion wants to do the same. Because that would mean all religious people would be murderers as people have done that in the name of pretty much every religion at one time or another. I’m not saying religion is bad. I’m saying some people use religion to justify a whole array of things, and in that respect Islam is not unique.
The majority of Refugees do not pose a threat to our security
I guess I can kind of understand why some people have come to the conclusion that allowing refugees from the war torn countries of Syria and Iraq is a threat to our safety. Syria is an ISIS stronghold, the people who have committed atrocities have most probably been in touch with people in Syria and may well have gone there, and so therefore people coming here from Syria are all a potential threat. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case. As far as I am aware, whilst some of the terrorists managed to get through borders into France they were born and raised in Europe. As far as I am aware, none of those involved in the murders were refugees. Why someone would choose to commit these atrocities in their own home country is something I cannot begin to understand, but that appears to be what is happening. No, this does not mean we should start deporting people on the chance that they may be a terrorist, but it is true that we seem to face a bigger threat from people already in Europe than those trying to enter. It is true that out of all the refugees trying to enter the EU, a very small number may be be from Daesh and prepared to harm the European country they enter. But a far, far larger number are fleeing these same terrorists because they are in danger, and because they live in a war zone that has been in conflict for years, that is being bombed constantly, that is basically being destroyed. Most of them are genuinely desperate people who are trying to come here to protect themselves and their families, because they are likely to die where they are. A lot of them are leaving because they cannot stand what Daesh is doing in that region, because they know better than any of us here how they are treating people and what life is like in Raqqa. It is not a pleasant and easy route. Many men, women and children die on that trip. We should not turn our backs on desperate people out of paranoia. There was something in the Metro this morning about how the Conservative government have not met their immigration targets and net immigration is on the rise. Of course it’s on the blood rise! We are facing the worst refugee crisis since the second world war. Should we close our doors to fulfil a few targets? Is that going to sound good to future generations who are going to analyse our handling of this situation and judge us for it? Security does need to be tightened, and our countries need to work together to try and find known terrorists. Border security does need to be increased. But this does not mean we should close the borders and send these people back to the hell like war zone they were so desperate to escape. We need to be safe, but we need to be human as well, and I maintain all the things I said in my previous article.
We should not rush into Syria
I’m not normally a fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics (although I’m warming to the man himself), but I agree with his response on Syria. Paris was a terrible atrocity, but rushing into a war without a clear plan or sense of direction mainly out of revenge and the need to show our allies we are ‘doing something’ is not a good move, especially if the only action the government is willing to take is mostly symbolic. Dropping a few more bombs on a already heavily bombed area doesn’t seem like it is going to change much, especially as as far as I am aware there hasn’t been much success from the bombing already being carried out. You will probably kill a few terrorists, and maybe even some prominent ones. But there are others who can take their place, and in the mean time who knows how many civilians will be killed in the process especially as there is evidence that suggests members of Daesh will enter populated areas and use the civilians in that area as a sort of ‘human shield’, which means that even our apparently superior bombs are going to have a hard time distinguishing between terrorist and civilian. The fact is that you will kill innocent people. No matter how sophisticated the bombs that will be used, you are going to hit innocent people. That is a fact of war and sometimes it is unavoidable, but the benefits have to outweigh the costs for it to be worth it and I am not convinced that they do in this case.
Yes, we are already bombing Iraq. Is there evidence that that is helping? In the Metro today it detailed how ISIS is using tunnels in Iraq to avoid the bombs. Regular civilians are unlikely to have this luxury. I would suggest people read the testimonies of refugees from Raqqa and their opinion on the bombing, because they are the ones who are going to be most affected. And whilst they want Daesh to be stopped, most of them seem to think that bombing alone is not going to change much more than kill even more people than are already dying in that region. Incidentally, they are also questioning why all the decisions regarding Syria are being made without consulting the people who have fled this region and therefore are likely to know the most about it which is a fair point and something the prime minister should thing about. There is another point as well; The Syrian civil war wasn’t started because of Daesh, rather Daesh emerged out of an already existing conflict in that region. Assad murdered the Syrian people before the Islamic state did. And Britain was well aware of that, in fact we voted against fighting Assad in 2013. And the Islamic State has been around for a while now, and all the time they have been killing and controlling people. We’ve found the mass graves, we’ve heard the testimonies, we know this is happening. So it may well seem to the majority of people in Syria that we will turn a blind eye to the slaughter of local people in that region, and are now only joining in to seek revenge for Paris. And whilst no one can deny the events of November 13th were horrific, if we now say that we want to eradicate Daesh and in the process potentially keep Assad stay in power as the ‘lesser of two evils’, I can only see that turning more people in that region against the West, especially if they see they start to see us as the reason for the destruction of their city and the death of their families. I imagine free press, whilst it does exist, is hard to find and risky to access in this region and you would have to be very careful about what you say, therefore if people are desperate and they see destruction all around, a group that offers you a way out even if it is through your own death may start to seem attractive.
Yes, something does need to be done. But not just about Daesh. They are not the only terrorists in that region. If war is going to happen, there needs to be a guarantee that the West isn’t simply going to hand power back to Assad in the end and turn things back to how they started. Because that is not going to end the conflict, that is going to make it worse, and sooner or later we may find ourselves right back in the position we are in now. There are obviously no easy answers, and there is a conflict of not wanting to interfere in other peoples countries but also wanting to help make them better for the people who live there that isn’t easy to resolve, but this is why I think we shouldn’t rush into broadening this conflict without thinking about the end plan and the future.
None of us want to send ground troops to the Middle East, and at this time I don’t want to advocate it either, but without sending ground troops and solely relying on air strikes, it doesn’t sound like our respective governments are willing to properly commit to this war. Without committing properly and taking action that can be seen as not enough or even just symbolic, I don’t feel that it is worth it at this stage. They say there are 70,000 ground troops in Syria who can fight on the ground whilst the allies fight in the skies, but is that true? Who are these troops, and what do they want? The situation in Syria is very complicated, and many of these ground troops are jihadists themselves or fighting their own war against or for President Assad, which means that if we were to back those fighting Assad we may end up at war with Russia which would basically mean World War III. The PKK and some rebel groups do appear to be doing good things in that region, but they are also opposed by a lot of people in Syria. There are many mini wars going on within that context, and we can’t really rely on all of them to forget their differences and fight together. Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that it has to be a political settlement may not be enough and may seem naive, but at least he is thinking about how to end the conflict and create some sort of stability in that country. And his other point about cutting them off at the source, by stopping their money supply and stopping people buying their oil and selling them weapons is a good one, and it is something no one seems to be thinking enough about, perhaps because if we did it would incriminate some of the US and the UK’s very questionable allies. I don’t think he is just sticking to his ideologies without thinking about the situation. He seems to be the only one who really is thinking about the situation in the long term, and for what he believes to be the benefit of everyone, not just the people in Europe. Say what you want about him, but he has clearly thought about and maintained his position because he believes it is the correct one, and I think he may be right.
The UK is in danger. An attack is quite likely. I do believe that bombing Syria is going to make that attack even more likely, not necessarily from people in Syria but from those already in the UK, perhaps people who have never even been to Syria themselves. I question the idea that bombing Syria is going to make your average person in the UK safer, because the people who are going to attack them aren’t going to be in Syria. They are going to be here. And that is why we should try to combat radicalisation not just by fighting it, but also by disproving it. Our country has a long history of self interested blood shed, please let’s think about this carefully before we do any more.