I raised the matter of whether or not the UK should mount airstrikes against Syria, specifically in parts where ISIS operate, a week ago, without coming down on one side or another of the argument. I did recognize the things to consider were many and complex and expressed a hope that these would be fully aired and debated before a decision is made and whatever the outcome the refugee crisis, among other consequences of the conflict taking place, are grave and these need to be addressed. I am betwixt on where to begin on the matter for, as is often the case, I find the more I know the less sure I am as to what is needed, along with the added frustration that those who have the power, are unlikely to do what needs doing, and to an extent they are incapable of doing so because their power is limited anyway and the only power that can resolve the situation is not one governments and other power bases are prepared to submit to.
Before tackling the various but by no means an exhaustive list of considerations on the bombing question, bearing in mind this is happening anyway due to the action of several western powers, and the UK effort if approved will be a relatively minor contribution, I would like to turn to the other big story of the day, although given it has received far less mainstream news coverage compared to the Syrian crisis, one might hardly think so. This concerns the climate change talks taking place in Paris and how to reduce carbon emissions etc. The growing consensus is that if this is not effectively tackled (and the consensus also appears to be this has not been the case up to now) the net global warming that will take place will have catastrophic effects for the planet. While the UK government has shown tacit support for there to be action, some will argue that its other actions to date do not support its rhetoric. As I have said previously, climate change / global warming has not been an issue that has featured in my issue priority list and I have exercised a degree of skepticism as to how big an issue this is, whether we can do much about it and if the measures being proposed are a means to control nations and legitimizing the reign of the coming one world dictator. However, I have been open to reason on the matter and concede if concerted action is not taken the damage that will be result will be disastrous. Many better qualified than I have said as much, not least the current Pope, who the Washington Post has reported as saying: “The world is near ‘suicide’ on climate change; ‘it’s now or never’” because of what is now happening.
So back to the Syrian crisis and the big question that the UK Parliament is due to debate and vote on tomorrow – whether or not to authorize air strikes aimed at neutralizing ISIS forces. One alarming development is the shooting down of a Russian plane who was supposed to have violated Turkish air space despite being warned. Whether they had or not is an open question – the Turks claiming they had and the Russians claiming they hadn’t. The reason for the Russian military presence was to bomb ISIS, especially to stop it selling oil on the black market into Turkey. The alliances we are seeing may be rightly considered as unholy. In my earlier blog on the subject of bombing, I noted two years ago that Parliament had voted against bombing Syria, where the target was the Syrian President Assad and his brutal regime, yet he is now deemed as an ally by the Russians in their seeking to defeat ISIS.
Then there is the question of other Middle East involvement which with the exception of another unlikely ally, Iran, have kept out of the conflict and there is more than a hint that countries like Saudi, who the UK courts for its investment potential is supporting ISIS, and at the same time maintaining an alarming record on violating human rights. Then there are the sensitive questions of limiting collateral damage, whether air strikes alone will have the desired effect as well as there being no ground strategy to finish the job, learning from previous conflicts on the need to win the peace as well as stop bad people doing harm and whether such actions will raise further opposition and whether other actions can be taken, although I doubt that talking to ISIS will make any difference just as I doubt that without considering the bigger picture that bombing alone will defeat ISIS. Then there is the question of refugee support, which as far as the UK goes has hardly begun in terms of rescuing the desperate, and settling and re-settling the destitute. When a friend showed me a reply to letter he wrote to his MP about his concerns, the reply shows the government proudly claiming to be giving significant aid to the UN to help refugees, yet little went on supporting those who are worst affected, especially the Christians.
Notwithstanding their desire to win over the hearts and minds of MPs and others on the need to bomb Syrian targets, the government has failed (in the view of many) to convince and one wonders why this cause and not other “just” causes. It is one reason why I have some sympathy with political leaders like Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Jeremy Corbyn, who have not given their support to the government for acting in the way they propose for these very reasons. Corbyn has an additional problem given that his own party is openly divided on the matter, and while he has acceded, after no doubt some strong exchanges between and pressure from senior party colleagues, to giving his party MPs a free vote on the matter, it begs the question where the opposition stands on the resolution to be voted on. Some claim the opposition is weak and divided and therefore ineffective, but I hope that will not be the case because the government does need bringing to account on this and matters such as to do with austerity (which is ongoing, and where there is much discontent in the country), as well as that of climate change.
Going back to the link between the Syrian crisis and climate change, one of my Green friends responded to my request and kindly shared the following thoughts on the matter. Concerning the link between two subjects that may not appear to be related, I hadn’t thought concerning some of the points raised as much as I should have up to now, but these are worth sharing: “The refugee crisis in sub Saharan Africa has caused once fertile land to become desert. This desert has now encroached on a third of Syrian land which has destroyed the economy. When countries are run by unelected military leaders and suffer an economic blow like losing a third of the land from which they derive their income, it causes civil war and it also causes those who have nothing to nomadic ally migrate to regions where the climate allows thriving economic conditions creating surplus work. Many of those migrating have been caused to migrate from one war zone to another eventually looking to move their skills and labour to countries where they may benefit the economy and make a stable life for their families. The best estimate is that there are around 12 million Syrian citizens who live in abject poverty with little route to income under Assad who is backed by Russia and quietly by other European nations and there are around 100,000 members of ISIL but they are mainly mercenaries and guerrillas who cannot be wiped out because they cannot be found but also, they are so light in numbers and fighting on 5 fronts so the likelihood of them making attacks in Europe or travelling as sanctuary seekers is not even any type of reality. At the back of every civil war, mass migration and increase in numbers of these mercenaries is the destruction by climate change of both agrarian and to an extent, traditional industry as a result of desertification. This kind of civil war generally leads to dictatorships which in their turn create opposition in the form of terrorists and guerrillas which are a serious ideological problem to the west and the large industrial nations who’s inertia in aiding these regions has largely led to the civil wars. To see where this type of problem arises it is worth looking into the Rwandan genocide or the internecine struggle in Somalia”.
Addendum 02/12/2015: As one might expect, the news today is dominated by the Commons debate and vote later today on whether or not to authorize air strikes in Syria and since posting originally there have been developments. I was interested in reading today’s Sun editorial titled “why we must tackle this evil”. Unsurprisingly, the Sun has come down for a “Yes” vote but also laying out its reservations, many of which seem to me as reasonable and in line with what I have said. Besides things covered earlier, it reminds readers that such action has been sanctioned by the UN and that what is being proposed is an extension of what is already happening – to attack Syria targets as well as Iraq (which is already happening), and the need to show solidarity with our natural allies, for if we don’t how can we expect their help when we need it? A further matter discussed here and elsewhere concerns the 70000 moderate forces existing on the ground that could finish the job, which is both necessary and doubtful from the discussions. Another development is the (in my view) despicable plea by David Cameron for MPs to vote with the government based on the premis they would be playing into the hands of terrorist sympathizers (a dig at Jeremy Corbyn) if they didn’t, rather than focus on the argument. I like one Facebook post today that has Corbyn asking questions around the unchecked economic shenanigans that have allowed ISIS to continue. Yet another development and a surprising one but pertinent in my case, is a petition sponsored by a group of Baptists to urge NOT to support air strikes. Four (at least) of my left / radical leaning, community active, Baptist minister friends have supported this action (check out here for the statement, and here for a related more circumspect statement). I wrote on one of their Facebook pages: “while to a good extent sympathetic, this Baptist won’t sign” and one of the reasons for doing so is that I do not accept a theology which states Christians should not get involved in armed conflict and that there is a case for a just war. Finally, I should mention that I wrote to the two Southend MPs, sharing the link to this article. I did not want to argue which way they should vote but did encourage them to vote according to their conscience and cognizant of the facts, praying for them. If, hypothetically, I was an MP and called upon to vote, unless I could be swayed by the arguments in the debate, I would vote “No”, for though I understand there is a case to act urgently and even to become a lot more involved than at present, e.g. in ground action, but given there are all sorts of questions (see above) not yet answered satisfactorily, I can not side with the government in this instance but I will continue to watch and pray.
Addendum (2) 02/12/2015: So the vote has taken place and there was a decisive majority in favour of sanctioning airstrikes over Syria. Having listened to some of the debate (and there was 10 hours of it) I was impressed at the quality of the argument and the sombreness of attitude. Perhaps the best speech was by Hilary Benn (Shadow Foreign Secretary and son of one of my heroes – Tony Benn). If anything might have persuaded me to vote Yes that would have been it. This is neither the time for triumphalism nor despair. The facts of the case and complexity of the arguments remain. Whatever, the verdict the rightness of it would have been a close call and there would be much work to be done regardless. At my church prayer meeting tonight we prayed that God’s will be done and in that vein I will continue to work, for the challenge before us is huge.